New market launches, experimentations in AR & VR, and – inevitably – a new identity: The year ahead for AOL’s CMO

Numerous “brand surprises” are on the cards for AOL this year, with US-only brands set to launch worldwide, experimentation in the realms of AR and VR content forthcoming, and that rumoured name change all but confirmed.

On the latter front, AOL’s chief marketing officer, Allie Kline, told The Drum at MWC that the company is working on a shift to a different brand name for its “house of brands”, which includes the Huffington Post, Tech Crunch, Ryot and Makers.

“Those plans are underway, and you’ll hear more on that from us soon,” she said, adding that “there’s no plan ever to take [the AOL name] away” from its mail and customers.

For Kline and her team, 2017 will be about strategising ways to help consumers jump freely between each of the AOL brands, without compromising – and even “celebrating” – the individuality of the titles in its arsenal. This distinction will be made clearer as some titles plan to pave new ground this year; for instance, Kline explained: “You’ll see Ryot [experiment in] and augmented reality, and 3D virtual reality.

“This is where as we look towards a future that might include Yahoo, so [we’ll] start to also have much bigger audiences to play with and expose our content to. So you'll see that investment – I would expect this to be a year of our brands lighting up all around you.”

The brands will also be lighting up around the globe, too. “You’ll see some of our brands that have had very aggressive ambitions to expand outside of the United States do that,” Kline added.

On which brands will be heading to the UK specifically, she hinted: “Well we’ve just launched Build, Makers is there as you mentioned…I think you’ll see a few others, how about that?”

These expansions will no doubt help the Yahoo/AOL/Verizon stack in its ambitions to be seen as the open-gardened, brand-first rival to the digital advertising duopoly of Google and Facebook. As a marketer, and not a tech strategist, where does Kline draw the difference between her brand and the search and social behemoths?

“[Google and] search is a great utility to find other brands and Facebook has a great social utility to find people you care about,” she said. “The difference with us is that we're actually building the brands you care about. So to us there isn't a gateway to something else – we are something else, and that something else is brand.

“Today brands like the Huffington Post, Makers and Tech Crunch are staples in people's lives. They are they're the equivalent of what we grew up with: following in the footsteps and watching what our parents watched on TV or listened to on the radio.

“Brand is what matters, brand is what's different and you'll see us lean even harder into that this year.”

Catch up with more news and analysis from MWC 2017 here.

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