What relationship are you trying to build with your consumers?
We’re not trying to build a relationship, we already have it. I like to say, ‘others like to report on the news, we make it.’ A lot of our video programming like Hot Ones or Sneaker Shopping or Everyday Struggle – we produce those shows and then all of our ‘competitors’ then cover our content and iterate off of it.
The role of brand is to stimulate. It didn’t used to be, but it is now. If you think the fragmentation to segmentation and distinct marketplaces in all sectors is a trend, you are delusional. It is a permanent cultural shift and you have to embrace that. So, you can put your head in the sand and continue to fight that, or you can embrace the fragmentation and make it a part of your strategy – and turn a negative into an advantage.
You run an annual event called ComplexCon. What is it?
ComplexCon is the culmination of our brand. It’s Complex brought to life. We look at it as the cultural Super Bowl. My former partner and lead investor, Marc Ecko, and I and several other key people wanted to do something experiential to take Complex to the next level. The challenge was not just to do something large and spectacular, but to do something massively differentiated that actually gave value back to the consumer and then, secondarily, made money.
Walking around those first two days of ComplexCon changed the way we look at our brand. A lot of people in media measure in terms of reach, scale or engagement. But I realized that if you don’t have impact and influence to activate your audience, you really don’t have a very deep connection with them.
Do you worry about the danger of becoming mainstream?
We have become mainstream. Mainstream, to me, is more of a measurement of the amount of people that you touch. The key is to continue to increase the amount of people you touch and are aware of your brand without losing credibility and authenticity.
For example, take the math behind a boat dock. The deeper you drive a piling into the ground, the more you can go out horizontally without the dock tipping over into the water. Every time you want to add a few more horizontal planks and become more popular and more ubiquitous, you’ve got to make sure that you do more verticalized content to balance that out. And now the dock becomes gigantic, but it also still has balance. That’s the way we think about building our brand – you increase the reach, but you don’t give up the authenticity or credibility to get there.
What advice would you give to media brands?
Complex is the biggest youth culture brand. Notice that I didn’t say ‘media brand.’ If you want to be a successful brand in the future, whether you’re media or not, you do not define yourself by your distribution platform, because there will be many. You do not define yourself by the amount of different products you put out, because you will need many. It sounds very ‘duh,’ but I don’t think a lot of people are thinking that way. And if you don’t think that way on a predictive basis, I think you’re out of business.
The best advice I can give for any brand, including ourselves, is to be true to yourself and your audience.
Want more? Read our interview with Jerome Hiquet, CMO of Formula E.