This article originally appeared in ANA.

We all encounter media and news. Papers, TV, online sources, news apps—the channels are ever-expanding. With one of the highest global consumer penetrations of all industries and a global average of 76% of people reporting that they read or watch the news and TV, it’s everywhere. And Siegel+Gale’s latest World’s Simplest Brands study, which surveys more than 15,000 consumers in nine countries, analyzed the perceived simplicity and complexity of the omnipresent industry with consumers.

The global data suggest customers are consistently underwhelmed by the industry, finding these brand experiences anything but simple. Traditional media ranks 18th of a possible 25 sectors profiled in the global simplicity rankings and has fallen three places since the last edition of the World’s Simplest Brands.

In the US market, not a single news and media outlet breaks into the top 90 simplest brands this year. The issue is so pervasive that a significant proportion of global customers would even be willing to pay a premium for simpler media brand experiences.

Looking at individual moments across the customer journey highlights the specific issues consumers face and provides clues to unlock simple brand experiences.

What’s happening?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger audiences consistently rate critical moments across the brand journey as more complex than their older counterparts. This is likely because they’ve grown up in the company of simple digital media brands (social media and streaming services are a case in point here) and therefore, have high experience expectations that aren’t being met by traditional news sources.

The youngest audience group (18-24) reports that “finding the right news provider for me” is the most complex moment of all in the user journey, suggesting that these brands are struggling to connect emotionally and aren’t aligning their values with the worldview held by emerging consumers.

Without careful attention, traditional outlets risk losing a generation of young adults, who increasingly rely on social media to get up to speed on global current affairs and may decide to turn away from traditional news sources altogether.

Across the age spectrum, global customers find “learning about a new news provider” and “validating the information they read or watch from the news publisher with another source” to be two of the most complex moments in the entire experience, indicating brands are not doing enough to attract viewers and build trust. This is particularly problematic in the increasingly divisive media landscapes of the US and the UK.

What can be done?

To enhance the experience and build greater trust, traditional media brands must focus on distancing themselves from the polarization and ‘post-truth’ that plague our current media landscape. They should help make it easy for consumers lost in the online noise to trust in sound reporting. At the same time, they will need to work harder to align with the emerging values and simple experience expectations of younger audiences.

Leveraging authentic brand strengths of balance, clarity, and rigor will be key here. The diligence and slower speed of the traditional media industry facilitated its disruption by the faster and more chaotic enfant terrible, social media. And yet it is precisely this commitment to due process that furnishes legacy brands with the most potent differentiator against emerging media, AI and the proliferation of misinformation.

However, this positioning will only carry weight in the future if lived through a contemporary brand experience: the provision of simple tools to verify data and claims, an unwavering commitment to balanced reporting and editorial independence, holding space for solutions journalism, fact-checking made easy, consortiums of media brands committed to fighting misinformation together and a crackdown on trolling and abusive comments. Where regulators are not stepping in fast enough to provide spaces for healthy dialogue online, media brands must pick up the slack.

To reach younger audiences, these organizations must also balance reflective journalism with the dedication to continuously evolve their platforms, focusing on speed and connection.

This will look like an ever-decreasing reliance on the written word and traditional broadcasting to deliver meaningful media experiences: high-quality short-form video, live updates, animatic data visualization and comprehensive podcast coverage. It also means stepping up the decentralized dialogue, community spaces, radical inclusivity and transparency, verified citizen reporters and readers’ editors.

The days of handing down a one-way dictum are long gone. Today’s 20-year-olds were raised in a world where everyone can obtain access to a platform and a voice. It’s the job of future-thinking media brands to determine how to share the mic.

Suppose media and news brands can step away from divisive and weaponized politics. If they can lead by example, upholding the values of journalism, whilst evolving the platform through which it is delivered, they will position themselves as trusted brands of choice for enriching and simple reporting, benefiting us all in the process. That’s a story to stick around for.


Emma Lewis is Associate Director, Strategy.