When you look around the current media landscape, to says its “changed” would be an understatement. Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of new media platforms, content producers and content platforms all buttressed by technology. The sheer volume of content being produced by content creators (and who we deem as content creators) is hard to fathom and even harder to decipher in terms of its value, integrity and contribution to society. What we do know is there is an appetite for content from audiences. And no one party is more equipped to satiate those appetites than brands.
At CBX, we exist in the world of brands- how to make, shape and market them. As content becomes a more powerful and integral force in people’s lives, populating their conversations and day-today behavior, brands have an opportunity to insert themselves into those activities. But they need to do so carefully as audiences today are more discerning and apt to call BS should anything appear disingenuous or inauthentic.
At our third #StraightTalk event, where we invite thought leaders and experts we admire from their respective fields to banter and dissect a topic together, we recently welcomed two guests: Evan Minskoff, Head of Marketing at Tumblr and Bryan Tucker, Co-Founder of The Kicker and Co-Head Writer at Saturday Night Live. The topic was “Content and Culture” and each brought a somewhat similar perspective- that of a brand and a platform. The varying factor was while Saturday Night Live and The Kicker’s content come from its roster of esteemed writers and comedians, Tumblr’s content creators are its users. In a conversation with our CMO, Dustin Longstreth, both addressed this new dizzying state of brand affairs:
Way back when (so maybe a few years ago?), brands had a soapbox approach to marketing. A one-way dialogue, in the form of a billboard or 60 second TV spot would convey a brand’s attributes and values leaving the consumer two choices- pay attention or don’t pay attention. Consume or don’t. Fast forward to today’s landscape where social media platforms, chat rooms and a dizzying array of ways to connect with other people dominate, brands are now forced to evolve their marketing strategies to accommodate this new era. However, many brands get it wrong; content is instead seen as a tactic that can be outsourced, brought back for a brand emblem to be applied, then delivered out into the world. This is incorrect.
“The proliferation of creative expression tools has led to more open democratic platforms for people to self-express through user-generated content. Brands are now forced to think about how they want to be a part of that content – how to facilitate and fan the flames of those conversations,” says Minskoff. In an era where rabid conversations are happening – from the irreverent to the mundane to the serious- the opportunity for brands is not just in the background but to be an active player and participant in stoking those conversations. Minskoff discussed a recent campaign Tumblr did to support “March For Our Lives,” where the platform not only live-streamed the march but did a virtual march users could join in digitally as well. He believed it was important that “Tumblr put the runway in front of kids; we didn’t want to co-opt the movement.”
Understanding who you’re trying to connect with, what they’re passionate about, and helping people further those conversations is the new form of marketing. As Tucker reiterates, “At The Kicker, we find the more specific we get, the more passionate the following. So instead of doing something broader with LeBron James, we instead do something with a Canadian hockey team and we’ll get 10 fans for life. If you can find places with communities and tap into them, that’s a good place to start.”
So if brands should now think of themselves as co-conspirators, are they supposed to provide messaging or tools? Can they do both? This is gray area that both Tumblr and The Kicker stated they were still trying to figure out, albeit with the understanding that entering and participating in conversations should be their new aim. Tucker states, “When we sit down with a brand, we look at it as partnership.” Because of the tight-knit and topics-focused community of The Kicker, its marketing department understand the value proposition of its platform and put it first. For a brand like The Kicker, their deep understanding of their nuanced community allows them to work with brands to craft the precise messaging to best impact them. On the other hand, with Tumblr’s value proposition is about “connecting people to their passion projects.” Tumblr sees itself as a tool for its users with Minskoff reiterating how the brand is constantly in pursuit of new technology to help further their goal. We wonder if perhaps Tumblr messenger is a not so distant option in our near future?
To cap off the night, both Evan and Bryan participated in a Q&A with our audiences:
Q: Bryan, does addressing multi-cultural audiences influence your storytelling? How in-tuned is Saturday Night Live with diversity?
Bryan: Saturday Night Live has been around since 1975 and constantly renews and changes throughout its history. It has gotten more diverse, and not because of a quota, but because we wanted to tell more diverse stories.
Q: Bryan, when you create content, what is your main focus- to be funny or to think about how it will affect audiences?
Bryan: It’s to be funny. And to be true to my style of funny. It’s always a collaboration and both environments are very collaborative. I think your real question is: How does a goofy white guy write for comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle? My first day on The Chris Rock Show, I asked Chris what I shouldn’t write. He said to me, “Don’t write black, write funny and I’ll make it black.”
Q: Evan, what is the main driver for change at Tumblr? Is it how people are using or other influences?
Evan: I’m unsure whether its technology or people that drives the change. But I would root for people. I see technology as an enabler and amplifier. If technology wasn’t what it was, I’d like to think people would still find ways to bring out those inclinations of connecting.
Q: Both, how do you get brands to buy into your vision? And how to get them to talk back?
Bryan: It’s a dialogue. The reason brands trust us is because we have years of experience; we have the proof of what’s worked for brands and that is our advantage.
Evan: I hope that on a human level, brands are inclined to protect subcultures. We can never force brands to buy into our vision, but we can help them understand their vision and how our platform can help bring it to life. When we can understand the psychology of those brands, we can better help them achieve their goals.