Orientation in a Fragmented World

By Cassidy Morgan

The media world is transforming rapidly. Barriers to entry to become a media entity have never been lower, media consumption habits are changing continuously, distribution channels are exploding, and the speed and reach of media platforms are increasing all the time. And, in the midst of this sea change, the big players have consolidated large parts of the industry, and are faced with increased fragmentation and an ever-expanding definition of what media actually means. During these tumultuous times, with no end to change in sight, brands serve as a critical navigation device.

With the rapid digitization of media content, associated processes and resulting product innovations, heavyweights like News Corp., The Disney Company, and Viacom are contending with increasing competition, not only from other established players, but also from startups. Companies like Google, via YouTube and other assets, long ago realized the value of media platforms to create closer connections with customers. At the same time, innovative apps allow people to consume — and distribute — content in new and compelling ways. Perhaps most threatening to the established players are the trailblazers of the future, dreaming up ideas in a garage in Berlin, a dorm room in California, or an Indian incubator.

This upheaval has accelerated the decline of established media entities, like newspapers or TV stations, as the only source of information or entertainment. The result of this revolution in habits and technology is a progressively fragmented and oddly democratized media landscape in which nearly anyone has the power to establish himself or herself as newsworthy. Simple actions — a click of a button, a 140-character message, a short video — suddenly have the power to change our perspective, shift our point of view, and instantly provide us with useful information. Consumers today, and many businesses as well, rely on emerging technologies, particularly the internet and social media, as key sources of data. Such sources allow people to make critical personal or business decisions. While this has empowered us all tremendously, it has also created an element of confusion. The amount of information being generated is exploding, which overwhelms us with choices, and makes it harder to distinguish credible and honest news or data from the dubious and misleading. It is a brave new world, indeed.

While we now have access to more transparent information, we’re also confronted with innumerable information sources. In the past, in the field of journalism for instance, sources were checked, double-checked, and then triple-checked before information was published. With the rise of bloggers, citizen journalists, a broad spectrum of alternative news sites, and a legion of internet personalities with opinions that run the ideological gamut, we can no longer assume accuracy and objectivity. We now have unlimited information at our fingertips, materialized in a matter of seconds, yet it’s harder than ever to separate fact from fiction, hype from reality.

How can I be sure that this blog post is true? Does this video accurately reflect the incident in question? Who can I trust? The answers to these questions are not clear these days. Brands, however, can help us sort things out. Using their power and influence to cut through the noise, brands can help direct us to what is timely and relevant. They can clarify, simplify, inform, and guide in the midst of information overload.

Not only do we live in a period of economic and political uncertainty, we also live in a period in which information seems to have reached a dizzying peak of expansion and complexity, like a new universe unfolding. Somehow, we have to learn to navigate the intricate terrain. In times as complicated and uncertain as our own, people turn to those brands they trust. That is precisely why media brands have such an extraordinary opportunity in front of them. They can serve as a beacon — guiding consumers and businesses alike; bringing insight, identifying information that can be trusted, and ensuring that people are furnished with accurate, useful, relevant information that will help them make sound decisions, however swiftly things are changing.

At present, most established media brands, and even the newer media brands, under threat from emerging business models have failed to leverage their power in a meaningful way. There are two main reasons. First, they lack a basic understanding of what has made, and continues to make, their brand strong. Second, with the impossible goal of pleasing everyone, many have shied away from expressing a strong and clear point of view.

The bottom line is that people are overwhelmed by information and have difficulty cutting through the clutter. The magnitude of the issue is unprecedented and people are searching for those media outlets and networks that help them make sense of what’s happening in the world. Media brands can help them do this. They are perfectly positioned for the task and can be the source people turn to when suspended between conflicting points of view. They can be the source people turn to when they desire a short-cut, snapshot, or overview of events — or when they need reliable analysis and a clear and compelling point of view. But first these brands need to understand their own strength and then define a clear role for themselves in this shifting landscape. Any media company that grasps these two critical points and develops its brand accordingly has the opportunity to shine a beacon of light in a fog of confusion.