Why brands are becoming their own channel

Many businesses find it hard to get attention in the media. Even if their story is uplifting, ground-breaking, or really valuable and interesting for their customers – nothing!

Many would describe PR as a highly trusted form of promotion because media coverage is generally “earned” media. In other words the stories are presented as balanced, unbiased editorial news content. And it is true – there is no doubting the value of a success story or company news told through the mouthpiece of a professional journalist. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70 per cent of people would rather learn about a company via an article than an ad.

Nowadays, the “earned” aspect of media coverage is a bit of a myth. The reality is that unless a business has deep pockets, it can no longer rely solely on the media and PR to reach their customers. It needs to look elsewhere.

So what has happened to the media? For years, the belief was that a story was only valuable and ‘newsworthy’ if the media gave it attention. But this idea is disappearing. More and more newspapers, magazines and websites are preferencing the contribution of advertisers.

With more publications shifting to a cash-for-comment model to survive, PR-as-media-coverage costs and looks a lot like an advertisement. If you want headlines, you may now have to pay for them rather than earn them. Your story may be labelled “sponsored content”, diminishing the trust value. And then you still have to wonder, is your real audience even reading it?

At the same time, the media’s role as judge and curator of what’s ‘important’ to us has slowly been eroded. As author and social commentator Alain de Botton observes in his book ‘The News: A user’s manual’, readers have witnessed the media perpetuate archetypal stories or stereotypes, or simply elevate what’s ‘popular’ and attracts the most clicks (like celebrity gossip) to dominate the front pages. The political views of the media corporations behind the news are often poorly hidden in the editorial decisions being made.

Is it any wonder more companies are creating their own content channels, realising that they are the better judge of their customer’s interests.  

So why not just connect with people via your own channel?

Your audience decides if your stories are valuable to them. And they are. Customers are now eager to connect with companies that are relevant for them, and are sharing content across their networks.

Today people are finding and filtering their own news and content, based on their own interests. Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook plus thousands of blogs and branded platforms are the new channels through which they connect and learn about what’s happening in their world. People share what’s important to them, as a form of self-expression.

There are many examples of brands connecting directly with customers, and sharing the story through their own channels. On its ‘Unbottled’ blog, Coca-Cola shows a video of its #smallworldmachines spreading happiness across borders. Vending machines installed in both India and Pakistan allowed people from both countries, who have long been estranged neighbours, to wave and smile to each other (or toast one another with a Coke) .

Blogs, videos, social conversations, even vending machines in Pakistan are connecting brands with people in a richer and more engaging way, bypassing the media’s marketing platforms.

The death of traditional PR means the birth of a new form of PR: content. Telling stories, sharing ideas, starting real conversations across multiple channels is the only way to engage a real audience.

Ironically, this model of PR more closely resembles James Grunig’s two-way symmetrical communication model, which I studied at university but rarely experienced in practice.

This new model of PR is far more dynamic and transparent than the media-centric broadcast model of old. But it requires a major step-change in strategic thinking, and a deep understanding about why people are interested in your brand, rather than a focus on why the media is interested in you.

If you want to achieve success with content, focus on what your audience finds most relevant.