It’s the End of the Media Department. And it’s About Time.

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The media ecosystem is more complex and fragmented than ever, and as we move into the future, traditional agencies must transform to survive. Since the late 1800s, reaching customers with a compelling buying message has been the bread and butter of our industry, and brands expected agencies to deliver high visibility campaigns with an optimal balance of reach and frequency.

Today, ad blocking and ad blindness are at an all-time high, digital media is rapidly evolving, and linear TV is going the way of the landline. With these developments, successfully reaching audiences has become a bigger challenge and plenty of media teams are feeling the churn.

Agencies that successfully reimagine marketing with the goal of brand engagement may hold the key to viability. Today’s consumers demand value beyond just the product, and they crave deeper connections based on shared values. Brands that engage in ways that satisfy these needs and cultivate authentic loyalty are bound to remain relevant. It follows then that agencies and departments should consider delivering brand engagement—rather than continuing to peddle media.

Looking at how media departments and agencies currently define themselves shows the need for an industry-wide rebrand. Our quick survey of 10 leading media agencies and departments found that all of them still brand their services as “media.” In addition, many integrated agencies still silo their various capabilities under labels like social, PR, experiential, or even online vs. offline.

Here’s how media agencies can transform themselves into a team of brand engagement strategists:

Understanding the Customer Journey in the New Experience Economy

As the consumer adapts to an environment where the physical and digital worlds are intertwined, these worlds must also feel seamless and cohesive. This requires moving away from working in silos and instead integrating traditional media with all other elements in the customer journey. This may start with branding and marketing, but extends to PR, customer service and internal communications. Every department has a touch point with the consumer, so brand engagement should be an organization-wide effort. By working holistically across teams to understand all phases of the customer experience, brands and marketers can determine the right intersections to invest their dollars and cultivate the pathway for increased customer interaction and influence.

Identifying Key Connection Points

Strong brand engagement is about connecting with consumers through meaningful moments of impact, conversations, and experiences. To leverage the best communication vehicles and connection points, marketers need to look at every one of their brand’s assets to determine how they can be leveraged. At Mechanica, we ensure that our clients have “No Lazy Assets.” This might even mean recommending smaller media buys or no media buys at all. Conversation starters between brands and consumers can be found in a variety of places from physical spaces and packaging, to social platforms, to other non-traditional channels. Last winter, Coca Cola used their packaging to connect with consumers by allowing them to transform the bottle’s label into a festive holiday bow. The design added a personal touch to the product and created social media buzz and appreciation.

Returning to Holistic Thinking

The explosion of data over the past decade has led to a hyper focus on audiences, but this segmentation causes many agencies to miss the larger context. While it can certainly help tailor communications, cut costs and increase efficiency, it can also end up over-customizing messages and zooming into categories and subsets, losing sight of the bigger picture. The more fragmented a consumer base becomes, the more difficult it is to deliver a cohesive message. It’s no longer enough to look at the “media consumption habits” of a consumer base. We need to take into account all of the different personas who may interact with the brand and offer content that motivates them to engage.

Providing Real Value Exchange

As consumers become desensitized from direct models of advertising, they’re also becoming hyper attuned to whether a brand is providing them with real, tangible value. Successful brand engagements can only happen when a concrete value exchange is taking place, whether the brand is delivering entertainment, education or inspiration. The more that agencies can help spur meaningful points of engagement, the more likely they are to build up authentic followings. Over time, this kind of following becomes a brand tribe and a live community, adding value to the brand and serving as an attraction for prospective consumers. For example, Mechanica partnered Saucony running shoes with Spotify to develop a custom playlist generator for runners. By providing value, we engaged hundreds of thousands of runners and connected on an emotional level.

Mastering Measurement

Ultimately, the goal of emotional and frequent engagement with consumers is to spark brand awareness, build brand affinity, and cultivate genuine loyalty — the kind that spurs word of mouth advocacy and builds communities of brand followers. Over time, impactful brand engagement will result in the growth of numerous key metrics, from a rise in followers on social channels and bolstered click-through rates, to growing fan bases and recommendations.

While media agencies face numerous challenges in the shifting landscape, the consumer’s desire for meaningful connections remains unwavering. By honing in on the customer journey and delivering brand engagement, “media” agencies and departments can help brands cultivate the kind of loyalty and affinity needed to win in increasingly competitive marketplaces.

Micah Donahue

Principal, Brand Engagement Strategy at Mechanica
Micah Donahue

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