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Brands playing at being media owners: Are they kidding themselves or have they seen the light?

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By Dom Burch, managing director

November 26, 2015 | 5 min read

This morning I've been invited to address a group of university people in Salford who are celebrating 40 years in the world of KTPs (knowledge transfer partnerships).

Asda has its own magazine

They've survived multiple changes in government policy, and a fair few budget cuts and spending reviews, and in the meantime built dozens, if not hundreds, of successful partnerships between their institutions and local businesses. So their 40th anniversary is even more of an achievement.

The organiser Paul Cihlar has invited three speakers from the outside world, Tom Cheesewright, Sue Coles, and me, to give his colleagues a different perspective. For my part I'm going to try and demystify social media and digital marketing by taking them on the journey I've personally been on from an analog PR pusher to interactive digital media owner.

From mass media broadcast to targeted owned media microcasting.

And how by simply listening to social conversations, picking how and when to engage, and resisting the urge to try and influence others too quickly, you can, if nothing else, turbo charge your own personal and professional network.

For me this is the starting point for any professional who needs to harness social media in their day job but doesn't know where to start. Start with you. Make it relevant to who you are and what you do.

Seven years ago, Rob Brown, who was in charge of Staniforth PR at the time (now Rule 5) ran a series of six workshops for the Asda Press Office team that I managed. A fair few of them were naysayers. 'What's the point of Twitter? It's just people talking about their tea. I could be selling my press release in rather than wasting time on this crap.'

However quickly the cynicism lifted when the team made new, meaningful connections with key journalists, and entered conversations that enhanced their own reputation, opened up new opportunities that enabled them to generate brand mentions for Asda without the need for writing let alone issuing a press release.

The penny dropped, and it kick started our journey towards becoming a media owner in our own right. Our emphasis began to shift to how we as a brand could talk directly to our most important audience, our core customers, mums on a budget, who have an affinity to the brand, our most loyal customers.

Up to that point we had spent all our time trying to woo Steve Hawkes at The Sun, or Marcus at The Times, but with only 17 per cent market share, by definition, 80 per cent of their readers didn't really care what Asda had to say (I exaggerate to make a point). So why not use Asda FM our in store radio station, with more listeners than Radio 1 or 2 to talk to customers?

What about Asda Magazine, our monthly glossy publication, with more readers than any other women's glossy in the country? Our own website, with more hits than most major news outlets, with the exception perhaps of the BBC. Not to mention this shiny new media thing called Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Very quickly we created a blog called Your Asda which rather than being dry corporate wallpaper like most brand websites, was an outlet for news, features, and a home for extended content that our social media could link back to.

Google loved it, much to the annoyance of the Asda SEO team, who couldn't understand how our PR stuff could rank so highly. Why? Because the content was excellent, was unique, was updated daily, had good links to other interesting stuff, and allowed people to talk back and share what they liked.

So I read with interest this morning that Marriott Hotels are getting serious about content. David Beebe, Marriott’s Emmy-winning vice president of global creative, is quoted saying: “We are a media company now.”

In a Fast Company interview he eloquently makes the point that there’s a shift in the way that brands and consumers connect today. "It’s no longer the brands controlling the message—consumers are deciding when, where, and how they interact with brands. Anything interruptive in nature that’s about 'look at us,' people tune it out."

Their content strategy is to stop interrupting what they’re interested in, and become what they’re interested in.

Bingo.

The jury is out on whether 5m views on YouTube represents value for money for a fifteen minute Hollywood 'blockbuster', but I salute their ambition and the journey they are on. And I'll probably choose one of their hotels next time I get the chance.

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of social media marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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