One of the effects of the emerging digital platforms is that every company needs to learn new ways to tell its story. It isn’t just the media that has to reinvent storytelling on new platforms, every company has to tell its story differently. In order to do so, they begin to behave a lot like media companies.
As we have reported several times, and as Matthew Ingram pointed out again this week in a blog post on GigaOM, many companies have already begun to morph into media businesses. He points to Gilt Group’s new cooking magazine and The New York Public Library’s news IPad magazine as the latest examples.
In this blog and in my book we have done stories on BestBuyOn.com, Gucci.com, RalphLauren’s RLX app, Urban Outfitters, Visa and American Express, all essentially building content divisions around their core business.
But Ingram’s blog ends on a very ominous note:
“So when everyone is a publisher, how do we know what to believe and what not to believe? How do we know when something is a marketing message and when it isn’t? The short answer is that we don’t. For better or worse, everything is media now.”
But in fact, we do know. We have to learn, but we do learn. In the past, companies have printed their own magazines to project an image they want projected, but readers ultimately know where the information is coming from and apply whatever filter they choose to apply. Magazines have published “special advertising sections” with editorial content for many years. For decades television has seen infomercials take up hours of time on channels every day. The AARP, AAA, American Express and hundreds of other companies have published magazines, some blatant in their attempt to promote the products of the publishers but others that look a lot like traditional media.
Through it all, the public figures it out. Few can actually disguise where they come from, and most don’t try to.
What we in the media must understand is that all of these things will have a place. Just because something that looks like an independent magazine is, in fact, published by a company that sells clothing, for example, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value to the readers. BestBuyOn.com can give viewers — especially those in the market right now — some of the best information on electronic devices. That includes user-generated reviews of all products. The media can no longer assume it’s message is the only, or even the best, message.
Again and again we are being reminded that consumers have a mind of their own and increasingly LIKE to learn about things from each other and the wisdom of crowds. The media must continue to do its job and in doing so highlight the value of educated, unbiased reporting and opinion. And those things will always be an important part of the mix, but the mix got a lot larger and richer.