COVID-19 -19 has accelerated a trend that has been on the rise for the last 5 years- that of using owned media. COVID-19 further shrank media space for brand stories due to the dominance of COVID-19 related stories and also due to shut down of newspaper editions and pay cuts for journalists at media houses. Papers such as Mail Today (India Today group) shut down and major newspapers such as Indian Express and Business Standards have put in place pay cuts. The Times of India supplement on Sunday Time Life has been reduced to one page from 4.
All these developments, aided by technology have further driven the use of owned media by brands.
Owned Media: Direct to Consumer Content
Sujit Patil, vice president and head of corporate communications, Godrej Industries Limited and associate companies explains further, "Not just the shrinking media space, but there are multiple factors – consumers today prefer to have a direct channel of dialogue with brands, there is also sadly a shrinking trust in media channels due to the fake and paid news. The issue of authenticity and the blurring lines between earned content and paid content has resulted in activating a sense of ‘ad-blocking’ in the minds of consumers."
Patil adds that, "The key aspect of any communication strategy is to generate awareness and engagement amongst the existing and potential audience of the brand. While earned, paid and social media are mediums to do this, essentially they offer lesser control on the narrative. Owned media gives brands the opportunity to share stories creatively with their customers, and vice-versa albeit with more control. Though it’s a slow burn process, it builds a bridge between customers and brands to engage with each other more experientially, authentically and effectively."
Kunal Kishore, founder director -Value 360 Communications concurs with Sujit Patil saying, it's a quick emerging form of 'direct to consumer content'.
He adds, "Owned media was always important. Brands were using it reach their end stakeholders even before. For example, Lufthansa worked with TiE to create a start-up symposium to communicate with entrepreneurs. After COVID-19, this has become multifold. Discovery of content by brands has become very important, and they have discovered that a digital footprint travels."
Sharing another example of the rising uptake of owned media, Kishore says, " The RateGain founder, a serial entrepreneur Bhanu Chopra, is hosting a show called, "Insanely Awesome Chat" (an entrepreneur speaking to another entrepreneur about their journey). Earlier this would not have been strategically through in the context of being a thought leadership platform following from the #InsanelyAwesome tag."
Aniruddha Atul Bhagwat, chief executive officer, Ideosphere says, "In today’s post-COVID digital world, established brands as well as emerging businesses are finding the first opportunity in owned media to not only reach out to the external world, but also bring their internal teams together, spark engagement, and fuel collaborative innovation in remote, omni-present work environments."
Partha Ghosh, vice president and head, corporate communications, Samsung India & South West Asia commented that , "The pandemic has transformed the way people are consuming media, with a definitive shift towards digital. During this period, brands have developed great appreciation for owned media as a platform to tell unique and authentic stories to consumers and other external stakeholders. At Samsung, for instance, we leveraged our Newsroom to tell a diverse set of stories, in multiple formats including videos, about our products and services, our innovations, citizenship initiatives and people, while also providing our consumers insightful tips on how to take care of their gadgets and appliances during the lockdown. In the end, it is about remaining connected to the consumer and keeping them well-informed and our own media strategy worked brilliantly during the lockdown.”
Examples of Owned Media PR driven properties
Sujit Patil explains the thinking and impact of the PR led property Godrej L’Affaire , In the last four years it has grown as a strong community and platform that brings together brands, influencers and customers closer. As mentioned earlier, it’s a platform that provides experiences in all things' lifestyle – food, fashion, travel, music and wellness. We launched it as over 7 our businesses and many brands at Godrej are in the lifestyle space. Making the platform brand agnostic (Meaning external non-competing brands in the lifestyle space also made a part of the platform) has actually helped create a positive rub-off on smaller brands.
It’s all about community building and key influencers from these segments get an opportunity to engage with brands which offers myriad experiences. Godrej L’Affaire has been curating brand experiences that have led to a high volume of earned influence for the participating brands. For Godrej Masterbrand the admiration scores amongst the right TG has gone up significantly. During the lockdown, L’Affaire has gone digital and could be the only platform across the country that has been running Insta lives around the nuances of lifestyle with subtle brand integrations for the past 5 months, engaging with millions of consumers in an authentic organic manner."
Here is a look at the latest season of Godrej L' Affaire:
Nandita Lakshmanan, CEO, The PRactice says, We believe we will see more clients who will recognize the value of owned assets like resource portals, blogs, newsletters, magazines, podcasts, video channels, documentaries, short films. For example, for a real estate client, we decided to focus on LinkedIn and blogs as well as launched a podcast series, while focusing on the work they did with their foundation."
Bhagwat says, "While many of our customers are looking at creating digital owned platforms across multiple use cases in the new normal, our first success of creating an owned platform was with a physical sustainable technology platform based out of US, Treeni. We created a platform for sustainability leaders to engage, innovate and collaborate together, Sustainability4Breakfast (S4B), and our first one included a small group of 10 leaders in Pune 3 years ago. Our last few physical S4B events were done in partnership with Tata Motors, Mahindra, and Yes Bank across Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore with an average audience of 60 sustainability leaders each.
As we transitioned this owned platform to digital in the current environment, our last online S4B was able to engage a group of more than 200 sustainability leaders globally. The ability of owned platforms to collaborate and grow on their own allows their ROI to extend multifold over time, and we have seen this with Treeni’s S4B platform over the past few years."
Getting Owned Media Right
Patil says, "Today, engagement and experience are the two biggest currencies of communication. If done correctly, an owned media platform utilizes the principles of ‘platform theory’ where the brand becomes the enabler and all other stakeholder, including partners and consumers don the hat of creators -- it makes storytelling and experience driven communication a more engaging activity.
The theory of gate-keepers of journalism is offset in owned media with theory of RECCE (Relevance, Engagement, Content, Community, Experience). Since the customer experience and brand ethos are the core of owned media platforms, it pushes brands to create Relevancy among its target consumers to drive Engagement using interesting Content which eventually leads to Community building through Experience (RECCE). It’s actually earned media at its best. Godrej L’Affaire, Vikhroli Cucina, Design Dekko are classic examples of our owned media properties at Godrej. They are completely PR driven and the outcomes have been significant."
Kishore suggests several points to consider while maintaining an owned media property. He says the quality of content, the credibility and authority of the person sharing the content, transparency, interactivity, listening and curating content.
Kunal Kishore says, "Today you may not be optimally monetising owned media, but long term its becoming tough for brands to manage one approach of media relations. Previously earned media made up the majority of external communications. In the future there will be a good balance on earned and owned media for brands. This balance could be 70-30 or even 60 -40 ( Majority going to earned media)."
Kishore adds, "All this is a great opportunity for the PR side and may firms are hiring aggressively from journalism for this."