Over the past decade, we have worked with some of the world’s top brands (Twitch, Amazon, Viacom, BuzzFeed, Toyota, Lexus, VW, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, among many others) to create engaging content for their audiences. Though we have produced broadcast commercials (once the crown jewel of advertising expression) the vast majority of our work focuses on shaping dynamic, interactive content uniquely suited for specific platforms.
You can easily label what we do as content marketing, but content itself is only one part of it. A crucial part. But there is so much more going on.
In this series of articles, I aim to explore how brands can break through the noise and thrive among platforms. And, in doing so, I hope to expose some new truths about our current moment that may even make brands themselves reconsider who they are and what they mean to their audiences.
The emergence of new media platforms
Advertising was once unleashed like a weapon: Creating a simple, unified message and dropping it through a network television spot or a full-page print ad, aiming at the largest amount of people possible. Somewhere down there was your target customer. Sure, there was data; but what there wasn’t was a precision delivery mechanism. Then came digital, online advertising. There was even better data, and you could track your target customer through cyberspace to make sure your banner ad popped up at exactly the right moment. Gone were the days when you could only speculate on the inefficiencies of direct advertising; now, the data was there to prove the inefficiencies of direct advertising. And, through it all, we experienced the slow and steady emergence of social media platforms that actively transformed the relationship between customers and brands. We now roam in a marketing landscape comprised of increasingly complex systems of online destinations and interactive experiences. No single message solution is going to drive your consumer engagement and your target customer could be anywhere.
What is ‘platform-based marketing’?
So what do we mean when we say ‘platform-based marketing’? Simply put, it means creating content tailored to the idiosyncratic behaviors that characterize a particular platform (or a specific community on a platform, but more on that below). On Twitch, live is key, and the ability to interact with a live audience drives more engagement. On YouTube, binge-able playlists do very well. Facebook, over the years, has grown more family-oriented. TikTok has gobbled up Snapchat’s audience, but its audience is young and its content playfully ironic. These are, of course, all broad strokes, but it points already to the variety of content and audiences on these platforms. All of these platforms work direct advertising into their architecture, but the audience is only marginally paying attention. In this series, our goal is for brands to be able to create content that can be the primary focus of platform audiences.
The community spirit
What characterizes behavior on a platform, rather than – say – a television audience or even playing a video game? On a platform, communities form (typically) organically. They form around particular games, or entertainment genres; around crafts, around sports franchises; around shared experiences such as motherhood or having been in college acapella groups, and so on. In this way, the audience tends to engage with the platform not as a place to find something to “watch” or “consume”, but rather as a place to talk to and do things with a group of people. Your target customer may even belong to multiple communities. Now, granted, there are plenty of trolls, and there is plenty of toxicity on platforms, however, a majority of the people on platforms embrace this sense of community, and celebrate it. Therefore, it is a fairly genuine space. When we first work with clients, we ask them whether they and their audience are in the same demographic, and if the answer is no, we encourage them to find someone in their organization (or bring someone into the organization) who is part of that same demographic, because it is that person who is going to be a part of those communities which your brand should resonate.
Where there is a community, there is an economy
Sometimes, this economy is built straight into the platform. On Twitch, for instance, users can give their favorite streamers subs, or a streamer can set up a way for their audience to use channel points, and there is even an economy to getting people to follow you. But there are also more subtle ways in which a community can develop an economy, such as circulating and evolving memes, developing emojis/emotes, or even advancing discourse. Fundamentally, the community itself will decide what has value within that community, and your role as a brand, then, is to either reinforce the values of that economy or become a value to that economy.
What brands really have at their disposal, then, is the media-spend dollars to provide to an online community content that has value to them. They can already create content for each other, of course, so the content that you are bringing into the communal circle is something that they could not have done on their own: Perhaps it means giving the community access to a celebrity; perhaps it is setting up an elaborate game; perhaps it is hosting a forum to discuss issues near and dear to the community; or perhaps it is an online event in which the community is given VIP treatment. These audiences are savvy, they know you are selling to them, and they don’t mind giving you their eyeballs as long as they understand that you are providing them value.
Clients often want to start the conversation here; after all, it is the most fun, coming up with content. But as we have mentioned in this article, there are so many other questions to ask first: What platform? What community? What are the values of that community?
Brand as person
I know it is a weighty concept, and one for which I am typically given the most pushback, but what we have learned is that when brands stop acting like companies and start acting like people, they tend to resonate more with their audience. A “company” can’t necessarily be part of a community. A person representing the company can; and you want to empower that person to speak for your company, to embody your company. The way platform marketing works is that you are in dialogue with the community. So, if every time you wanted to contribute to the conversation you had to send your messaging up the corporate flagpole to get approval, you are going to either sound flat or faint within that community.
We like people who are bold, who are kind, who are risk-takers, who stand up for others, who are funny, who are fallible and can own their missteps, who can admit when they are wrong, who have our best interests in mind, who advance ideas, who know that all ships rise and take steps to stamp out injustices that resist that idea. In other words, the people we like are typically antithetical to corporate America. And, by a brand being more like a person within these communities, the brand now has a societal responsibility to those communities.
Relationship and empathy
And we will close out this series with a look at where all of this leaves the brand/target customer relationship. It has the potential to be a strong relationship, one that is mutually beneficial, one that is endowed with an empathy that results when the community thrives on social media platforms. Over the last several decades, we have – whether consciously or not – been redefining what ‘brand’ means. The media tools that once made brands simply shout at us have been taken away. The data that allows brands to dog their demographics through cyberspace are being made inert. The materialism that once stood as the emblem of success is now something to shrug at. Now, it could just be you and your customer standing on an even playing field… What are you going to say?
So, in the coming months, we are excited to be able to explore in-depth each of the topics I’ve touched on above. We hope that this series provides a keen sense of how we see and understand the most effective applications of platform-based marketing. Join us next time when we deep dive into the emergence of new media platforms.
Cover image source: Joshua Rawson-Harris