How Brands Can Adapt To Media’s Decline

Chris WrenAugust 10, 20173 min

The age of disruption is full of contradictions and exceptions. Reuters 2017 Digital News Report reminds us that the digital revolution has wreaked disastrous effects on the media. Not only does trust continue to decline, but news media especially in the US and UK are becoming more polarized, and in some countries including the US, a great number of people avoid the news altogether. This presents a number of challenges to society’s ability to stay informed and brands’ ability to effectively use paid and earned media channels.

Previously on Branding Strategy Insider, I provided a high-level overview of collective journey storytelling. One of the key implications for brands is that story is now porous, with the narrative river of the brand now co-mingling with the multitude of personal interpretations from individuals who invariably affect changes to the story the brand tells, and amplify the changed story to varying degrees of intensity. We can see collective journey also at work at the global level in politics and social issues.

When Jeff Gomez gave his TED talk in 2010 introducing transmedia storytelling (which evolved into the idea of collective journey), he warned that humanity was entering into a period of rapid change, and that one day soon, we will experience firsthand the dangers of the transmedia conveyance of “pseudo-facts and highly convincing movements that can become destructive.” He foresaw the advent of fake news years before it became an issue.

The polarization of news media doesn’t help with opposing sides dismissing each other’s story. Neither does the rise of niche politicized outlets, such as the far-left wing Aristegui Noticias in Mexico and the far-right leaning Breitbart in the U.S which cluster opinion and perception in a homogenous way. Low media literacy and lack of appetite or attention for critical analysis just adds to a runaway snowball effect that might leave audiences glazed over. It’s no wonder there is a perceived loss of confidence.

Just take the recent example of the Google engineer and his open letter regarding diversity. Instead of applying collective journey thinking and using the letter to drive healthy debate and conversation, Google squashed it. The observations in the letter are easy to refute either with existing data or through an experiment. Or Google could have reinforced its tolerance for diverse points of view, even when the company does not agree with them. The actions they chose only reinforce the polarized media state with right-leaning outlets championing the engineer, and left leaning outlets championing Google, and very little chance to engage either side in critical analysis and debunking the theory.

By using collective journey storytelling brands have powerful ways to respond in a time of media decline. Here are four of them:

  • One of the major findings in Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer was that peers are now as credible as experts. Smart brands will seriously capitalize on their employees and customers, finding ways to make them active players in the brand story. To the extent possible, unshackle your employees from complex approval processes to engage. Information jamming isn’t always pretty, and that’s OK. It’s real.
  • Really start to think transmedia. What are some smaller venues your brand could tap to get their story across? What about audio? What about moving your thought leadership blogs to LinkedIn pulse? How can you use social media polls to get information from your customers and show them the changes your making with their input.
  • Go direct and when it’s appropriate, allow executives and other personalities to get on the ground floor with your audience. You’d be surprised how simple, honest, authentic messages can be picked up by communities.
  • Listen and show you’ve listened. Audiences contribute to story in collective journey. Try to get their opinions. Incorporate what is compatible, and reject what is not. The time has passed when brands can appeal to everyone, consumers are interested in brands with a point of view, and that might mean disagreeing with somebody.

The Blake Project Can Help: The Strategic Brand Storytelling Workshop

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers


  • Danny

    August 11, 2017 at 7:11 am

    That engineer does not deserve a safe space when his role is as a gatekeeper.

    Also, the ‘right’ should applaud Google for having the ‘freedom’ to fire at will.

    The problem with your point about ‘trusting your employees,’ is that when you don’t have a diverse group of thinkers, you end up with an echo chamber, reinforcing outdated and insular ideas.

  • Jeff Gomez

    August 11, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    We’ve studied the issue of dissenting views and free expression in institutions, corporations, governments and entire populations around the world for several years now, and expulsion or other harsh punishments of individuals for having them has never resulted in anything positive for the greater community in the long run.

    Collective Journey narrative modeling acknowledges and validates the feelings of all people in a community—even if those feelings are misguided, unsafe, the minority or majority—and then does the hard work of coming to terms. The model is built upon the fact that if you leave hatred and ignorance under a rock, it will fester and eventually burst into the kinds of movements that have inflicted terrible damage on the world. If you simply kick them out to spare the feelings of the sensitive within your group, you will make an enemy that can eventually destroy you.

    Collective Journey is not about one ideology triumphing over the other. It’s about healing a broken system that forces ideologies to clash with painful, sometimes deadly force.

  • Moeskido

    August 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Google tried to have an all-hands conversation about this topic, but cancelled it after employees were doxxed by the alt-right.

Comments are closed.

Connect With Us