Using new media to activate your brand

September 11, 2013

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Landor staff

New media is ever-changing and seems to have a different definition depending on whom you ask and what day it is. It is alternately referred to as media design, interactive user experiences, and digital, social, and mobile strategies. Wikipedia defines it as “on-demand access to content any time, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, and creative participation. Another aspect is the real-time generation of new, unregulated content.” As the entry implies, this definition is likely to evolve over time. 

At Landor, we use the term “media design” and approach it through the lens of brand storytelling and branded content generation. Media design extends beyond social media, mobile applications, and websites to include brand films, motion graphics, 3-D illustrations and animations, architectural projections, digital photography, and digital publishing. We focus on seamless, branded consumer experiences, so our media design is found not only in the virtual world, but also sometimes in live events and retail environments.

New media is a broad enough idea to include everything from video to interface design, print ads, and packages that are chipped to communicate with your phone. As Big Data becomes personal, tech-savvy consumers will want enhanced integration between their online and offline shopping experiences. Research shared by the Advertising Research Foundation confirms that consumers are using multiple overlapping sources for decision making, online and offline, and this is changing the traditional path-to-purchase.

Narrating a strong brand story that is consumer-relevant in today’s environment has become increasingly challenging, but new media can help brands tell stories in multisensory ways previously never dreamed of. Can you imagine a package that projects an animation of what’s inside? How about a shelf strip that tells a story as you walk down the aisle? How would your innovation pipeline change if you could test future product ideas with consumers without ever making mockups or taking photographs of models? What if a digital sign could sense that your consumer is frustrated and then helps direct her to the right product? Would you dare project a story onto the side of a building in front of a crowd? 

This is the world of new media. There is no box to think outside of, only your imagination and willingness to try something new. If you think your brand is too traditional for new media, look at what other brands—in and out of your category—are doing, and then think again. 

So, how do you know what’s appropriate for your brand? When should you invest in new media internally and when should you include consumer-generated content? As you consider the role of new media for your brand, embrace it, but base new approaches on time-tested branding principles; they can be used as filters for making consumer-relevant activations. 

Understand your consumer. As with all brand communications, new media efforts won’t be relevant to anyone if you’re trying to be important to everyone. Have the courage to make distinct choices for distinct consumers. Focus on translating consumer insights into new media ideas to bring the essence and personality of your brand to life. This will allow you to find an opportunity that your brand can own and sustain over time. 

For example, Lego, a brand that stands for creativity and imagination, has become much more than a plastic brick maker because of its holistic use of new media. Children can race full-size Lego characters at trade shows, homemade models can be animated and shared via a storytelling app, and consumer-generated films from loyal and enthusiastic fans can be shared on Lego’s website. My favorite is the use of augmented reality to showcase what is inside the box and how the contents can be played with. By understanding what its consumers enjoy, Lego has created amazing ways to activate bricks and packages that inspire interactivity (and future purchases). 

Be true to your brand positioning.  While it may sound obvious, many brands may need to pause and solidify their brand positioning before deciding where to take new media. Brand positioning should be the leading driver for both differentiation and relevance. It is the blueprint, the big idea, the clear, unique, and ownable vision that propels brands and businesses forward. When the positioning is clear, it is much simpler to choose appropriate new media brand activations to help create strong, distinctive, and relevant perceptions among consumers. 

For example, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) welcomed its new music director Louis Langrée. As it thought about a way to mark the occasion, CSO decided that it wanted to give back to its supporters and celebrate Langrée’s arrival at the same time. Because the CSO’s visual expression is rooted in the concept of illumination, it made good branding sense to light up the city’s historic Music Hall (where the CSO plays) with an architectural projection during two free public concerts called LumenoCity.


This highly anticipated, first-of-its-kind projection introduced live symphony music to a younger, wired generation of listeners in a new and memorable way. “It is our hope that this event will bring the community together,” said Tim Maloney, president and CEO of the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, the lighting sponsor of the event. The concert featured John Morris Russell leading the Cincinnati Pops, along with members of the May Festival Chorus, dancers from Cincinnati Ballet, and singers from Cincinnati Opera. Celebrating the artistic community through a new media installation made sense for the CSO because it stays true to its positioning while creating transformative moments for its audience. 

Tell a strong story. As you plan ways to promote your brand, consider pushing a narrative across multiple channels with new media integrated along the way. New media activation ideas can be incorporated with traditional advertising and PR, packaging, online, physical retail spaces, and live events. This approach was recently discussed in Millward Brown’s Digital and Media Predictions 2013: “This shift in technological connectivity offers marketers an opportunity to sew their conversations with consumers together into a coherent story. The implication for marketers is to start building the infrastructure to deliver an integrated experience in the omnichannel world or face the prospect of being left behind.” Brands have been interested in storytelling for a long time, so figuring out how to do it successfully and fluidly with new media is a higher priority now than ever before. 

Make tough choices. Strong brands are successful because people know what they stand for and how they fit into their lives. They became strong through a variety of strategies, but what they all have in common is focus. A company uses new media if it makes sense to the brand’s personality and promise. If you want to develop successful new media brand activations, resist pressures to broaden or soften your strategies or to adopt easy-to-agree-with solutions. Be willing to make budget trade-offs if it makes sense for your target consumer. Some of the big players are already doing this. Consumer insights and trendspotting firm Iconoculture has noticed that “companies like Hindustan Unilever, Vodafone, P&G, etc., aren’t taking this platform [social media] lightly anymore. Digital media spending of these companies has moved up from 10 percent to 15 percent of total budgets over the past few years.”1

Plan for today and imagine for tomorrow. Traditional marketing plans may outline where you are today, but robust brand activation strategies establish a vision for where you are going and set the tone for how you’ll get there. If you are evolving an existing plan, define the new media territories for where you and your competitors currently are, then explore what exists out-of-category, understand what’s coming on the technical front, and create a vision for tomorrow. Dig deep and be honest about how big a change the new media activation represents compared to where the brand is today. Explore what might need to change to bring this idea to life and which audience it would most strongly affect. Map the intermediary steps necessary to help your organization evolve from its current state to your desired state. 

As you reflect on your brand, decide how far you are willing to go to stand out and stand for something. Consider whether a basic social media page or blog is enough. It might be. But if your consumer insights and brand positioning give you the opportunity to activate your brand in more meaningful ways, your only limit is your imagination. 


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1 Bhavna Pande, “Companies go all out to woo consumers on social media,” Iconoculture, (accessed 17 July 2013).


This article was first published as “Activation unboxed” in the Hub (September 2013).

 © 2013 Landor Associates. All rights reserved. 

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