Brands Need to Learn How to Influence Culture

Before there was social media—before there was mobile and the video revolution, there was blogging. Once heralded as a revolution in communications and to a degree, marketing—self expression and direct publishing of the written word became an influential force to be dealt with.

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Blogging, in written word form of has been a commodity for some time. Content in all forms—even mobile optimized and snackable content. There’s simply too much of it. Most of it is not very good and even if it is—the amount of effort it takes to make sure that content will travel far and wide makes for considerable effort. Many will do this well but more will fail.

Culture

The ability to create it, influence it, co-create it and integrate a brand so seamlessly in culture and relevant sub cultures. This is the next frontier of marketing and communications and while it has much to do with things like social, mobile and content—it is the cultural aspect that must lead while everything else follows. A fantastic article in Harvard Business Review reflects some of this shift, labeling it within the context of something Douglas Holt calls “Crowdculture”:

The challenge for brands is that they often times cannot create culture by themselves. Today’s culture creators often thrive in “sub cultures”—niche groups that exist under more mainstream areas whether it be food, sports, fashion—lest you think this only applies to “consumer brands” it does not. Subcultures exist in business as well and continue to diversify as business itself becomes more specialized and niche.

Brands and Organizations Must Become Collaborators and Co-Creators of Culture

Today and tomorrow’s challenge for brands and organizations is to tweak their marketing and communications infrastructure so they can effectively collaborate with influencers of culture across the spectrum. If brands cannot create culture from scratch—they can co-create it with the right partners across the paid, owned, earned and social spectrum. But to do this at scale, they must understand the ecosystem of influence and re-structure internally to connect that ecosystem and approach peer to peer influence from all sides.

The Rise of Influencers

Brands and organizations who wish to influence culture and become co-creators of it, must begin to coordinate how they approach working with those who wield influence, coming at it from different directions. For example, TIME magazine featured a cover telling us that we should “eat butter”. While earned in nature, the story and the journalists behind it are playing a key role in the resurgence of butter and how Americans are re-thinking fat. It’s an example of media influencing culture—in this particular example, this kind of influence cannot be bought—it must be earned, however, increasingly cultural influencers such as “YouTubers” require paid means to collaborate with.

“Content Marketing” came after social media and mobile and it enjoyed a good run. But it’s not enough to create content in a complex media ecosystem that makes it extremely difficult to break though and earn attention. Brands will have to learn how to influence culture and sub cultures by collaborating with those who create it externally while coordinating their fractured functions internally. 

YouTube Needs to Step Up Their Game

For the past few years, Youtube has been in the power position when it comes to dealing with artists. It is the one of the most popular sites on the web and certainly the biggest music destination. Every once in awhile, an artist will try to fight it, as well as the industry, but generally the music business knows that pulling songs and videos off YouTube is a losing proposition overall.

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No other site offers as much music as YouTube and even though much of it is poor live footage and bootleg content, this is stuff that fans can’t find anywhere else. YouTube also has the stickiness of a video and the ability to engage two senses if you want, but you can also just let the users click open to another tab and just let the music run in the background.

However, there are signs that YouTube’s domination in music may be coming to an end. The big hit is that other streaming sites are finally starting to engage with video. Yes, I’m talking about Spotify. They’ve gotten massive raises recently and it’s pretty likely that they’ll spend at least some of that money increasing video offerings. The other threat is SoundCloud’s launch of its long-awaited streaming service, Go. Even Apple Music’s deal with Dubset to license mixes is a threat. YouTube’s ownership of the UGC and unofficial content space might finally be disrupted.

In reality, YouTube won’t lose artists tomorrow and frankly, it might never cease to be the site where the vast majority of the world comes to listen. This is an awakening though – that they need to begin stepping up their features to prevent any further losses. What could they do?

First, YouTube could market itself as a destination for music and create its own class of music starts within their ecosystem. When the NYC subway was wrapped with YouTube ads, all of the ads were for YouTube stars – none of them were for recording artists, even though they are a huge driver to the site. YouTube stars feature people who make videos about makeup application, cooking, video games and other topics. While YouTube has invested heavily in them, they could also invest heavily in the ready to be recording artists. Why not start their own record label and keep them in house?

YouTube could also help artists solve the big problem of monetization. Last year, they rolled out more e-commerce options, but they could allow artists to make money on everything. Any time Beyoncé wears a dress in a video, I need to be able to hover over it and see a link where I could theoretically buy it, once I won the lottery. More realistically, any time an indie artist wear a cool piece of clothing from an up-and-coming designer, I could hover, buy it with one click, and the artist would get a cut, along with YouTube. Everyone would win.

One last suggestion I have is to harness some of Google’s power. Some of the smartest data scientists on earth work there, and could surely help artists comb through all their information and route the most effective tours or plan great marketing campaigns, and some of those AdWords gurus could assist artists in figuring out how to get in front of casual listeners who just want to hear something that sounds like their favorite band.

What do you think that YouTube should do?