Content Strategy

Beyond the Media Meltdown: Navigating a Brand-Driven Media Future

By Andrew Wheeler on March 12, 2024

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We're living through the decline of mainstream media, and as marketers, we have a role to play in filling the void.

Like many of you, I've been struck by the recent wave of sweeping layoffs and program cancellations at prominent publications like The Washington Post, Vox, Condé Nast, and NPR. No major media conglomerate has been spared. But while this may seem sudden, it's actually been a long time coming.

For years, Pew Research has reported a continual decline in the share of audiences following traditional media. Trust in mainstream media has hit record lows, as highlighted by Edelman's latest Trust Barometer research. Adding fuel to the fire is the rise of AI-enabled 'propaganda' outlets, which have seeded even more distrust in the media landscape.

Why does this matter?

Frankly, our customers are drowning in a sea of information, hunting down sources to confirm information, and sifting through garbage to find advice they can trust. They deserve better.

We have the opportunity—and responsibility—to become trusted voices in this environment. Instead of merely advertising through media, we can evolve into valuable sources of information that our customers can rely on.

So long as you play where you have the perceived right to, there is no reason that your brand cannot form a larger, more loyal audience than any media publication.

But here's the catch: earning that loyalty is harder than ever. Consumer trust in businesses, while still higher than trust in government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and media, has decreased in the past five years. It currently stands at close to 60%, down from 85% in 2020 when consumers looked to brands for guidance during the pandemic.

The good news is, there are tailwinds at work here:

Why are brands uniquely positioned to win audience trust and attention?

  • Share of mind: Nowadays, consumers most trust search engines when seeking out news and information. There's a big opportunity at play here to focus on owning key search positions and win over eyeballs that are sourcing information from search over traditional media, owned, and even social media sources.

  • Expertise: Brands possess insider knowledge and deep category experience that most media companies can't match. Your brand's professional expertise and specialized knowledge is at a premium. By maintaining impartiality, you can establish unrivaled authority in your information space.

  • Customer understanding & access: Brands have established relationships with customers who represent their target audience. By leveraging customer insights, you can deliver information that is more relevant, useful, and valuable to a broader audience facing similar challenges.

  • Ability to experiment: Brands aren't bound by the constraints of traditional media models. In fact, we're expected to experiment with formats, platforms, and storytelling techniques, to more quickly adapt to audience preferences. While media has been increasingly obliged to pander to advertisers and gate information, modern marketing channels thrive on content diversity and creative activations. They demand fresh approaches that can captivate and entertain audiences in innovative ways.

Despite the very narrow margin of trust over traditional media, brands hold significant potential to gain preference by becoming the information sources their customers rely on—if we can learn from past mistakes and listen to what people are telling us they want.

How to become a trusted information provider

Here's my advice to transform your brand from a name in the market to a trusted resource your audience relies on:

1. Own Your Niche: You're the expert in your category, so show it. Narrow your focus to your brand's specialized solution areas, then explore each area through the wide-ranging ways it impacts your audience.

IBM, a pioneer in technology and computing solutions, channels its industry knowledge into targeted publications like Security Intelligence, surpassing competitors covering the field more broadly.

2. Be Transparent: Own your expertise while transcending business and product biases. Demonstrate transparency by disclosing conflicts, embracing diverse perspectives, and acknowledging alternative solutions or competitors. Research suggests two fundamental components undermine consumer trust: vulnerability and uncertainty. Being transparent minimizes both, fostering a more trusting relationship between your brand and its audiences.

Patagonia has earned customer loyalty because they don't just talk about their gear. They actively advocate for environmental protection and educate consumers about sustainable practices while remaining transparent about their own business practices and environmental impact. This practice has further positioned the brand as a reliable source of information vs. a brand using content as an advertising platform.

3. Be Bold: People crave fresh perspectives, not regurgitated information. In fact, a Power of Provocation report shows that 91% of execs want B2B brands to show provocative, challenging, and forward-thinking perspectives. Provide fresh insights, challenge norms, and offer a strong point of view on where the industry is headed to differentiate your brand.

Red Bull has built a globally-recognized brand by never holding back when it comes to creating bold storytelling moments. Remember the 2012 Red Bull Stratos mission and accompanying documentary, Mission to the Edge of Space? This is an extraordinary example, but nonetheless a case study in how boldly demonstrating your commitment to your brand's mission (and documenting it) can have long-lasting positive impact on your brand's image and reputation.

4. Be Solutions-Oriented: It should go without saying, but responsible content creation is critical. Fear-based messaging is a tactic best left in the dust with disruptive pop-up ads. Our customers are too evolved to fall for the traps. Instead, focus on empowering your audience with solutions-based information, framing your content objectively and without exaggeration if you want to be taken seriously.

Tom's of Maine is an excellent example of a brand that's built a reputation around doing good. They've continued to grow the business with content marketing programs focused on empowering consumers to make informed choices about their personal care and household products. They provide educational content about ingredient transparency, product safety, and sustainable living practices.

5. Prioritize Subject Matter Authority: Collaborate with internal and external subject-matter experts to bring depth and diversity to your storytelling. I'm not just talking about influencer marketing, I'm talking about elevating the authorship of your owned content.

ADP reinforces its reputation as a trusted advisor in the HR industry by regularly publishing content authored by HR professionals, legal experts, and industry analysts, offering guidance and best practices for managing various aspects of human resources and workforce administration. Additionally, ADP hosts webinars and events where subject-matter experts share their expertise and insights on relevant HR and payroll topics. This approach helps ADP build credibility and demonstrates how immersed it is in the HR community.

6. Innovate with Content: Think like a media company and explore new mediums and methods for engaging your audience across channels. Now's the time to fill the gaps in podcasting, video, and interactive formats that media publishers are leaving vacant.

Hubspot excels at the art of content diversification and merchandising. They've invested serious time, effort, and resources into exploring each topic they cover in different mediums, serializing content across channels, and combining those assets into on-page experiences that allow people to consume information and proceed through the customer journey at their own pace.

The rise of brand-driven media

The information landscape is decentralized, distrustful, and ripe for disruption. Brands can become the new media kings, commanding attention and loyalty in ways traditional media never could. But staking that claim requires confidence, guts, and an audience-first perspective.

Are you ready to make your move?

Give me a shout, I'm here to help.


Andrew Wheeler

Andrew C. Wheeler is the Chief Executive Officer of Skyword.