Branding is dead, long live Crowdculture
By Lloyd Melnick
While many companies, both in the tech space and traditional companies, have invested billions in building their brand via social media, success stories are about as rare as a user acquisition company that does not promise better users for less money. While many companies have spent, and continue to spend, millions trying to tell stories and connect directly with their customers on social media, brands now seem less significant. An article in the Harvard Business Review,Branding in the Age of Social Media by Douglas Holt, shows that branding has been replaced by crowdculture. Holt writes that “Crowdculture changes the rules of branding—which techniques work and which do not.”
The history of branded content
Holt first points out that branded content is an outdated concept rather than an innovative marketing technique. Advertising campaigns like American Express’ Don’t Leave Home Without It (1975) and Nike’s Just Do It (1988) became part of popular culture by entertaining audiences. These campaigns worked because the entertainment media were oligopolies, limiting cultural competition. Only a few television networks and movie companies distributed content, so consumer marketing companies could buy their way to success by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.
Technology has allowed people to opt out of ads, first with cable and satellite television then to DVRs and finally the Internet. For the first time, advertisers had to compete with real entertainment. Companies adjusted by creating entertainment content, such as BMW’s short movies for the Internet. These early (pre-social-media) digital efforts led companies to believe that if they delivered Hollywood-level creative, they could gather huge engaged audiences around their brands. Thus was born the great push toward branded content. But its champions did not think about, or at least discuss, new competition. This new competition was not from existing big media companies but from the crowd.
The birth of Crowdculture
Holt writes, “historically, cultural innovation flowed from the margins of society—from fringe groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged mainstream norms and conventions. Companies and the mass media acted as intermediaries, diffusing these new ideas into the mass market. But social media has changed everything. Social media binds together communities that once were geographically isolated, greatly increasing the pace and intensity of collaboration. Now that these once-remote communities are densely networked, their cultural influence has become direct and substantial. These new crowdcultures come in two flavors: subcultures, which incubate new ideologies and practices, and art worlds, which break new ground in entertainment.”
First, social media has democratized and expanded subculture. Previously, people had to gather physically with limited ways to communicate on niche topics, maybe magazines or newsletters, or small meetings. Now there are now crowdcultures around virtually every topic: ice cream, bacon, poker, tarot reading, etc. Now these groups stretch the world, allowing people to interact and share ideas, products, practices, news and aesthetics, and most importantly bypass the mass-culture gatekeepers. Social media has made cultural innovators and early adopters the same.
Read the full article here: https://lloydmelnick.com/2016/04/20/branding-is-dead-long-live-crowdculture/