The last decade or more within the advertising and marketing industry has been marked with an increased reliance on data, quantitative measurements, and programmatic alignment of budgets. At the same time, public opinion of the industry is at an all-time low. As if that wasn't bad enough, the finished products — ads and campaigns — are primarily greeted with indifference or distrust.
Change is overdue, and we might very well look back at 2019 as the moment when the tide began to turn, and the importance of branding reasserted itself. Prominent brands such as Adidas and Diageo have cited a renewed focus on their brand story over digital. The streaming wars will continue to rage unabated, with new combatants joining the fray seemingly every day. Deep into an attention economy with countless choices just a click away, branding will be increasingly important as people seek points of differentiation in their streaming choices.
An acknowledgment that brand is essential is an initial step in the right direction. The next step is to pay attention to various branding strategies and the signals being employed to forge a connection with consumers. Streaming superpowers Netflix and Disney+ are extremely useful in illuminating two different brand journeys.
Content is at the core of any streaming story, with consumers' attention being drawn to programming that best fits their particular interests. Programming choices are reflective of individual streaming brands and suggest drastically different ways to bring content into the world. Netflix is a brand of ritual and discovery, for example, whereas Disney+ is a brand of nostalgia and family.
Rituals are a physical expression of our values through ceremony — essential pieces of cultural interaction that bring people together through shared experiences. Rituals also create norms and standardize social behaviors; they're found in religious, social, and even professional life. Brands that use rituals as a strategy do so to establish an emotional bridge between consumers and their products and services.
"Netflix and chill" is more than a pop culture slogan; it is a new streaming ritual. The traditional date night has been replaced; spending time together watching Netflix is the new signifier of a relationship. The "Netflix and chill" ritual is personified by choosing what to watch and diving in. The slogan is an invitation to a very brand-specific experience that suggests not all streaming is the same. The term is so ubiquitous it inspired aBen & Jerry's flavor.
The other Netflix brand pillar is discovery. Netflix has spent millions of dollars on the creation and licensing of content globally. Content discovery is more than recommendations or search features. By having a diverse library of content, Netflix is entering into a relationship with the viewer that it provides a broad palette of content choices. Younger audiences have discovered older shows such as Cheers, Friends, and The Office. More contemporary shows, such as Breaking Bad and You, found new audiences and grew in popularity once they were "discovered" through the platform. Diversity is celebrated, and creators such as Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay have migrated to the network. Global shows from Hong Kong, the U.K., and everywhere in between mean there is something for everybody if viewers take the time to discover it. Ritual and discovery are at the heart of the Netflix brand strategy.
Disney+ debuted to a fanfare that crashed the site on its first day. Early excitement for original programming such as The Mandalorian paid off, big — Baby Yoda is the new, undisputed king of the Internet. The universal cuteness of Baby Yoda aside, Disney+ has a brand strategy that hinges on nostalgia and family.
Disney itself is one of the most celebrated brand names in corporate history. In 2019, a record number of Walt Disney Studio films broke the $1 billion mark. Disney+ fits right into a brand entity that encompasses cable, merchandising, network TV, studio features, and theme parks. The appeal of Disney+ is that its library contains the movies and shows of our past. Even some original content is connected to established franchises; for example, The Mandalorian is linked to the larger Star Wars universe. Disney+ wants us to watch and rewatch the movies we love, and by doing so, is appealing to the powerful brand allure of nostalgia.
Family is another element of Disney's overall brand. Family, combined with a streaming option steeped in nostalgia, is a powerful one-two punch. New generations of Disney fans are right there at the end of the remote control. Disney+ content might not be "new" in the traditional sense, but experiencing the familiar with family for the first time is a powerful incentive.
A compelling brand strategy is essential for any organization that seeks to develop a deep connection with consumers. Netflix and Disney+ each employ different stories and brand strategies to achieve their goal of streaming dominance.
Branding is a significant part of business success that requires a thoughtful and often patient perspective; it's most effective when it takes a long-term view, is flexible to the market, and consistent in its tone. Regardless of the sector, marketers would be wise to pay attention to the re-centering of brand strategy that has begun to emerge.
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