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Brand principles for the digital age


Brand principles for the digital age


I was recently invited to share my not-very-scientific methodology for media brand creation at the curiously titled conference, ‘Brands are Back!’. A top conference it was, with lovely catering, but I did spend the day wondering, ‘did brands go somewhere and no-one told me? Did I miss that tweet?’

Of course brands can’t go anywhere because, at their simplest, brands are only perception. As a brand manager your mission is to alter that perception.

Michael Eisner, Disney CEO for 20 years until 2005, puts it beautifully: “A brand is a living entity, enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

And it has never been more important to manage those thousand small gestures.

The dismortifaction and transmogulation* of brands

For the past decade, everything has got way stuffed up (that’s a technical term). Complicated. Faster. Entwined. Disrupted. Scary. Different.

Consumers are savvy, and don’t sit passively on the couch while we feed them in 30-second increments. They are awash with advertising. Non-linear consumption is the name of the game. Sharing has become the new black. No one is watching telly like I did as a kid (when the highlight was watching the goodnight Kiwi go to bed before the screen went black. Yes, I grew up in New Zealand). The average Australian home has four internet-enabled mobile devices, and prime time for them is also TV’s prime time. Around 47% of us have used Facebook in the last month. Globally, there are almost as many tweets a day as there are people on the planet.

This dismortifaction and transmogulation* of brands is having a devastating impact on the brand guru’s comfort zone.

No longer can you hire a hot logo designer (although hiring a hot designer always helps, don’t you agree?), throw in a few colours (by the way, Telstra, you do know that imitation is the greatest form of flattery) and hey presto, brand done. Off to lunch.

Now we have to work really hard, across a dizzying array of channels and at breakneck speed, to hold our thousand small gestures together. But when we do, magic happens.

The church of the latter-day brand

How do we create amazing media brands that can keep pace with the consumer’s insatiable desire for change?

Amplify. Consumers are a distracted bunch. Unfortunately, they are not lying around, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for us to gently break their doze to tell them about a new TV program. Their life, like yours, is running at high speed and – shock horror – media is somewhere down their priority list after food and sex (for adult consumers anyway). Successful brands scream “LOOK AT ME AND WHAT I STAND FOR” periodically.

You have to get in their face with big, imaginative, brand-defining ideas like SBS’s most recent documentary success, Go Back to Where You Came From. Then they’ll get it.

Morph. Latter-day brands constantly morph into new channels, new forms. They tell their brand story in multiple places and multiple ways, and go where their audience is.

Relate. Brands have relationships – with humans. Humans are complex, and emotional. Brands therefore need to be complex and emotional too. Use the very best human collaborators to help you create your brand story. Use playwrights to write your scripts, artists to paint your pictures, digital natives to have your Facebook conversations.

And this is where Scotty comes in

Managing the thousand small gestures for a large multiplatform organisation like SBS is a challenge. I often feel like Scotty, the can-do engineer from the Starship Enterprise, who would scream when under fierce attack from Klingons: “I donner know if I canner holder her together Captain!”

You have got to hold it together.

Over the past few years, since launching SBS’s refreshed brand, ‘Six Billion Stories and counting…’, SBS has been amplifying (with powerful content that exemplifies our purpose), morphing (such as innovating quickly in social media), relating (creating emotive communications, often in multiple languages), and holding it all together as best we can ‘Scotty style’.

And it’s working. Our audience is telling us our branding is a great way to sell what SBS provides. Audiences now view SBS as braver, creative, relevant and intelligent. As a true multiplatform broadcaster we are well positioned for the changes taking place in the media marketplace with a brand that is built to last.

The dismortifaction and transmogaration* continues at a pace

Now we started this thing, we have to keep powering on.

In October, the world’s population increased to seven billion, so SBS’s brand has become ‘Seven Billion Stories and counting…’

Population growth, while offering another billion human stories to share, has a dark side which we recognise. So we partnered with the United Nations’ Population Fund to highlight the UN’s ‘7 Billion Actions’ campaign which address poverty and inequality, women and girls, young people, reproductive health and rights, environment, ageing, and urbanisation.

SBS shines a light on the most inspiring ideas and initiatives of the UNFPA’s ‘7 Billion Actions’ project in Australia, and encourages all Australians to take part with one action that helps to alleviate global pressures caused by population growth.

Go forth, be bold, amplify, relate and channel Scotty. I can’t wait to hear how you go.


* Yeah, made up words.

Jacquie Riddell

With over 25 years experience in media innovation and leadership, Jacquie has created TV channels, radio stations, new program formats, digital media concepts and led large television productions. Currently using her skills in marketing strategy and creative leadership within various organisations, she was previously director of marketing at SBS for 6 years, responsible for brand management, creative direction, audience research, content strategy and promotion, including the development of SBS' new brand platform ‘Six (now Seven) Billion Stories and counting…’

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