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Why brands need to think like entertainment companies – not just publishers

Brands are constantly told that they need to act like publishers when developing a brand marketing strategy. And some major brands – such as Red Bull – have indeed become media companies that still happen to sell FMCG products.

Red Bull took the leap to become an entertainment company

However, with the proven ability of entertainment content to establish a special emotional bond with consumers, marketers perhaps need to broaden their mindset further and start behaving like entertainment companies – not just publishers.

A recent study by research firm Edelman Berland found that 58 per cent of UK consumers are as likely to share entertainment content as they are to share information about their friends. This suggests that brands which successfully deliver compelling entertainment to consumers stand to gain through positive word-of-mouth and association.

So how can brands start thinking and acting like companies that create and distribute music, films or video games?

1. Focus on the content idea, not the format or channel

Entertainment companies don't limit themselves to video, so why should brands? Come up with a great idea that reflects your brand’s positioning and values and put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Is it something that would interest them? Is it an entertaining idea?

2. Think of your content as a piece of intellectual property

Stop seeing your content as a brand marketing tool that will help sell more products or services. Start thinking of it as a piece of intellectual property (IP) – an entertainment idea with a story that can be brought to life in a variety of formats and told in different ways.

3. Let your idea come to life naturally

TV shows, video games and even theme park rides are all pieces of entertainment IP that can evolve into another form, such as films or musicals (and vice versa).

So rather than having preconceived ideas about the physical shape of your content idea, let it develop naturally. Could it be well represented and brought to life as written digital content or a short online video? Could it be a song, music video, concert or a stage show? A mini-series perhaps? Could it be a comic book, video game or a range of collectible toys? Or maybe all of the above?

4. Consider the potential evolution and lifespan of your content

Your content idea may have the potential to grow into something else. So keep your options open to an always-on or ‘evergreen’ property as part of your strategic planning.

This entertainment approach may not have been applied to’s meerkats from the outset, but the outcome is reminiscent of an entertainment company’s approach to IP. We’ve seen characters from TV ads become part of popular culture, with a catchphrase, celebrity TV appearances, collectible toys, books, short films and games.

5. Distribute content, don’t ‘push’ it – there’s a difference

Entertainment companies' approach to distributing their IP properties is inherently different from brands. Their audiences are already passionate about their lifestyle interests and have existing emotional bonds with films, music or video games.

So let your brand take a back seat. Does your IP idea stand up on its own merits as a piece of engaging content? Does your story suspend disbelief? Or does it bring audiences back down to earth with a bump?

By changing your mindset, and applying the entertainment companies' emotion-led approach, your property can be something that audiences want to seek out, engage with and share with friends.

For example, Jaguar launched the new F Type by teaming up with Ridley Scott's production company to create a short film starring Homeland's Damien Lewis. As well as a dedicated website, they maintained authenticity by releasing a teaser trailer, full trailer and film poster. A collaboration with Burberry (who supplied the actor's tailoring) meant PR coverage extended beyond car magazines and into fashion and lifestyle media. Jaguar even partnered with the Sundance Film Festival for the film's global premiere.

So, if you’re working with talent – such as a celebrity – your PR and promotional strategy should be in line with that of an entertainment company. In other words, use the talent to promote your content.

6. Take a transmedia approach to storytelling

Consider time, place and action – and the audience’s mindset. As with shopper marketing, think about how the story and messaging should unfold depending on when and where consumers are interacting with it. And remember: the start, middle and end don’t have to be linear.

Think about the cultural relevance of your IP and how it could merit coverage across multiple platforms and formats. Entertainment properties are typically promoted through a combination of owned, earned, leveraged and bought media – with content drip-fed online and offline to stimulate word of mouth 'buzz' and anticipation.

If you’re releasing a film of any length, make sure your creative design executions and media choices reflect a film release rather than lapsing back into your traditional creative. For example, Sainsbury’s promoted its Christmas in a Day film last year with a film poster and movie trailers that didn't look or sound like ads.

7. Involve your audience… and be credible

To succeed, your content must engage with audiences on an emotional level – in whatever format it appears. So give them a chance to be part of the story and help evolve it and share it.

And bring your content idea to life in a credible way with people whose jobs are to entertain and tell great stories – specialists who understand the entertainment industries and know how audiences consume entertainment content.

Michael Mann is co-founder and creative and content partner at Brand Culture Sport & Entertainment