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Sophia Boudjemaa
| 24TH JAN 2024

Zeno Thinks: Mate marketing: the rise of direct-to-consumer media

There's been a huge power shift in the land of consumer media. Where once a select few news organisations held a monopoly, the playing field is now broader than ever. First Twitter turned us all into citizen journalists, then the rise of TikTok transformed the way stories are told and shared.

The net result of this is that brands are now on an equal footing with traditional media. The same direct-to-consumer tactics they have used for years in sales are now being applied to news - and the rise of the Brand Admin has only accelerated this.

Take KFC's recent fries launch. After years of chatter about their chips not being up to scratch, an incentive broadcast by its social media manager announced that "1 like" was all it would take for KFC to change its recipe. Cue an internet meltdown – and a slew of publicity for the new flavour.

It is a significant role reversal. Due to news outlets’ reticence to cover a story already on social, with the right content at the right time, brand owned media can be the origin of a story - lighting a fire that spreads thanks to traditional media fanning the flames.

Tesco took a similar media-led brand approach. For its first ever TikTok video the supermarket giant launched a competition to find the next voice of its self-service check-outs. Fans were encouraged to audition using the platform’s features to “duet” with the self-service machine and share it online.

Speaking the audience’s preferred style of digital language resulted not only in strong brand engagement with a younger audience (and the future Tesco shopper) but also created a story worthy of column inches due to the universal nature of the self check-out experience.

Mate marketing

This is fanbase marketing – or mate marketing – where brands build community, reward customer loyalty and seek to reach new audiences with “you heard it here first” intel on any company newness. The rise of this fandom phenomenon means that brand social channels are now an essential source of news.

Half of journalists in the UK say they consult a company’s social media channels when writing stories, and it’s not just established brands who are capitalising on this. Younger brands are making a big play for attention and are well aware of their power to disseminate information.

Corteiz, the streetwear brand, has taken the media-led brand concept to new heights. When it first launched in 2017, its private Instagram account (with a grand total of 50 followers) and password-protected website meant the only way to hear about it was through word of mouth. Exclusivity guaranteed.

Not needing to rely on press releases, paid ads, seeding or content on the explore page allowed Corteiz to own the narrative and build a community of true fans who hung on their every post. While its social pages are now public, the brand continues to launch new drops and hyped garments direct to its audience.

The feeling of exclusivity is reinforced by spontaneity, with last minute locations revealed using its own platforms as a news engine, generating maximum hype and virality.

So what’s a brand to do?

Whether a household brand looking to be more media-led, or a newer contender building an entire strategy on acting like a media owner, there is one thing this new generation of successful broadcasters have in common: they are obsessive about context.

Not just the industry context within which they operate, but what audiences are experiencing, feeling and caring about. The brands that win at both sharing their news in a way that builds loyalty and trust among their community while also achieving mainstream media success show hyper-sensitivity to what’s going on in the real world – and evaluate how they can authentically add value to people’s lives.

And yes, launching a competition to be the next voice of a Tesco till is absolutely contextually relevant. No matter how trivial it may seem, that voice is part of popular culture: a universal reality consistently present in all our lives.

Expect to see even more brands taking a “conversation first” approach to sharing their news because not only do journalists want to see the back of blanket press releases, consumers want a two way dialogue with brands that makes them feel like they’re being spoken to as individuals too.

Full report here