Understand your brand’s entertainment potential

As a business, you analyze and study your customers, users, or other fans of your brand. You make it a priority to understand their passions, interests, and needs. As it pertains to your industry, you are immersed in the never-ending job of understanding emerging trends and exciting new developments. Within the particular niche that is your business, you are the trusted expert, providing a unique, thoughtfully-curated brand experience that inspires trust and enriches lives.

So why then, with all that expertise, knowledge and passion, with so much time, energy and money invested in cultivating your target audience, do so many brands passively stand by while outside media organizations step into your territory and claim as their own the expert status you’ve worked so hard to attain?

Protect Your Turf

Within your industry, you’ve earned the equivalent of a merit badge, a symbol of trust emblazoned upon your brand lapel. With that trust comes a willingness on the part of your followers to move to a deeper relationship—but only if that leads to something meaningful, useful, and interesting to their lives. In other words, with relevant content, you have a golden opportunity to transport those that interact with your company from simple transaction-based customers to far more fertile ground, creating a brand audience that seeks out your guidance, knowledge, entertainment, and yes, goods and services.

The growth of online video entertainment, affordable video production, and other social media tools have combined to create a new way for brands to interact with their customers, swinging the door wide open for businesses that never before considered themselves entertainment brands to redefine the scope and reach of their customer relationships.

In the retail world that I came from, I’d argue that the word “customer” has become almost quaint. The people that trust and interact with your brand on a regular basis are more than simple purchasers; they are your audience; they are voracious content consumers who are passionate about their interests and selective about where they go to get their information.

It’s important to realize that the playing field is larger than ever before, and as such, brands should broaden their notion of what it means to serve an audience.  Do not allow outside media or broadcast organizations to claim your expert territory simply because the communication medium seems foreign to you.

Those companies that still see video and other entertainment extensions as out of scope are leaving some incredibly valuable brand capital on the table. And importantly, if you decide to walk away, other more aggressive players will happily step in to fill the void, creating their own expert platform with your audience, diluting the potential of your brand.

A Trusted Voice

The social Web has made it easy for anyone with a camera, Twitter account or website to have a voice and share an opinion. As exciting a development as that is, it also means there is an even greater opportunity for a trusted brand to stand out and shine as a credentialed voice among a cacophony of online opinion and hyperbole. A trusted brand saves your audience time, standing out like a beacon in a storm of questionable content on the web.

Whether in the worlds of food and cooking, toys, coffee, or outdoor equipment and activities, video storytelling and other forms of digital media are pervasive. This is how and where your customers are trading information and, as a leading voice for the experiences that propel your brand, it’s your responsibility to follow and meet them there, or in some cases, to lead them there.

Living the Example

At  Patagonia, outdoor activities are more than a means to driving unit sales of outdoor clothing and gear; it is a way of life requiring active participation. The company started in the early 1970s making tools for climbers and has since evolved into an outdoor clothing and accessories lifestyle brand that embodies a deep commitment to environmental issues. Its tag line, “Committed to the Core,” is perhaps best represented by its annual “earth tax,” a donation of one percent of its sales to grassroots environmental organizations.

The Patagonia website reflects a similar commitment, especially in the Tin Shed, a collection of beautifully rendered short films from outdoor enthusiasts around the world, offering inspirational stories and dispatches as entertaining as anything found on traditional television networks. And why shouldn’t it be? Patagonia is a trusted authority and participating member of the community it serves. They know what moves their audience better than anyone.

At Borders, where I spent more than a decade, we certainly understood that our customers were interested in video entertainment about books and authors, as evidenced, for starters, by one very powerful media figure and her very popular television book club. Nonetheless, we also believed that no one – not Larry King or Ellen or even the mighty Oprah – all of whom incorporated books and authors into their programming, could present the bookstore lifestyle as consistently, as focused, as innovatively as we could. More importantly, we knew that if we didn’t plant a flag in the book video/entertainment space ourselves, someone else surely would. We launched Borders Media in 2006 and the result was clearly significant: millions of views of Borders programming, content partnerships across the web and on television, and most importantly, a welcome invitation into the everyday lives of our audience outside of the four walls of our traditional retail stores.

The Opportunity to Become Iconic

One need only look at the beginning of cable television for examples of companies taking advantage of a moment that technology presented. ESPN, CNN, and C-SPAN, to name just a few, are all examples of networks with a niche-focused business models that were originally under-estimated, or even laughed at. Twenty-four hours of sports? Who’d want to watch that? A network that brings gavel-to-gavel coverage of Congress and Congressional hearings into our living rooms?  What an absurd notion! Yet today, these companies are iconic brands precisely because they took advantage of a moment when bandwidth was open for the taking.

Now it is your brand’s turn. Like the open bandwidth moment of those pioneering days of cable television, so now the Internet provides similar opportunities for brands to become information and entertainment hubs in their own respective niches. Like those cable companies, trusted brands have a chance to be first movers in their category online, leveraging the brand trust they’ve worked so hard to cultivate. From there, first movers have an opportunity to become iconic entertainment providers within their categories in a way that drives brand loyalty in a much deeper way, forging emotional connections that transcends a simple transaction.

Obviously, the quality, style and relevance of the entertainment are critical factors to any successful video brand extension. In future weeks, we’ll discuss how best to provide information and entertainment that lives up to both your brand standards as well as the standards of your audience. But in the meantime, the question should be how, not whether, to proceed.

If done right, not only will your company have the permission of your information-savvy audience to cross the threshold from retailer into entertainment, but as video format becomes even more pervasive, you’ll be expected to cross that threshold as established experts in your category. Those that don’t risk being left behind altogether as new players steal the space – and siphon your brand trust for themselves.

Rich Fahle is the founder of Astral Road Brand Media, a brand platform marketing agency for authors, artists and content creators of all types. He is the former Vice President of Content, Digital Outreach and Entertainment for Borders. Email Rich at rich@astralroad.com or follow on Twitter @richfahle