For the past 11 years, I’ve found myself in the somewhat unusual position of being a communications scholar who teaches in a business school. The business school crowd is certainly one for whom the notion of branding carries a tremendous amount of significance, which has been interesting since over the last decade or so we’ve seen media companies devote an increasing amount of attention to the notion of their "brands."
The accompanying video provides some examples of one of the better-known efforts by a media company (in this case, the ABC broadcast network) to develop a distinctive and resonant brand identity in a way that went beyond the nature of the content the company provided. At the time of this ad campaign (which encompassed not only TV, but print and billboards as well) in the late 90s, ABC actually received a fair bit of criticism for running ads that didn’t feature any of the network’s programming, but rather featured bits of humor like "If TV is so bad for you, then why is there one in every hospital room?"
The conventional wisdom in the media realm is that a strong “brand” represents one of the few viable antidotes to an increasingly fragmented media environment in which media users have increasing control over when, where, and how they consume media. Some data show, for instance, that people who rely heavily on their DVRs often don’t even know the networks providing the shows that they watch. Individuals who get the bulk of their news online via news aggregators or via links from blogs are demonstrating a similar tendency – essentially a growing disconnect between the information they consume and their knowledge about the sources from which they obtained it.
This is of course just one of the many fronts on which media companies are trying to preserve the value of their content and their audiences in today’s dramatically reconfigured media environment. Today, these efforts are all about trying to identify and exploit new, previously untapped, sources of value, such as the power of the brand, or the engagement (rather than the size) of the audience. Traditional notions of audience size and composition are diminishing in importance as metrics of success in today’s environment in which fragmentation makes compiling such audiences increasingly challenging and in which interactivity provides all sorts of new information flows and possible success criteria. This ongoing transformation is, coincidentally, the focus of my new book, Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences.