Identity Live

‘Alternative facts’. Two words that set the connected world alight. It all started on January 22nd 2017: an interview on NBC TV during which Kellyanne Conway, advisor to Donald Trump, defended the new press US secretary, Sean Spicer. Apparently, he hadn’t lied when he’d claimed that Trump’s inauguration had attracted record numbers of spectators. He’d simply used ‘alternative facts’.

What goes on TV no longer stays on TV. Within minutes, Conway’s incongruous phrase had spread like a weed across online media, from Twitter to Wikipedia. Fertilised by a hashtag, it crept into public vocabulary and dialogue. Forty-eight hours later, George Orwell’s 1984, which depicts a dystopian world in which the concept of alternative facts is described as ‘newspeak’, had shot up to become the sixth best-selling book on Amazon.

What all this demonstrates is that TV ‘audiences’ are no longer passive consumers of content. Way back in 2006, TIME Magazine chose ‘You’ as Person of the Year, officially acknowledging an evolution taking place in the way we interact with content. 11 years later, that evolution is becoming more pronounced. We don’t just watch; we create, edit, publish, broadcast.

TV channels today are no longer just TV channels. They’re springboards, conversation-starters, quarries that we mine for goods we can take elsewhere. 24/7 broadcast media has given way to 24/7 discussions. CNN’s old slogan, ‘Be the first to know’, which was brought to life through its unforgettable coverage of the Gulf War, felt awfully quaint when placed alongside YouTube’s ‘Broadcast Yourself’.

We live in the age of Twitter Livestream, Facebook Live, and Snapchat and Instagram Stories, at a time when cross-media conversations happen in real time, across multiple time zones and geographies, cutting across friends, foes and complete strangers. And broadcast media must embrace the new paradigm if it’s to have any hope of survival.

Drawing on our years of experience with media brands, we’ve put together seven top tips for broadcast media organisations who want to stay relevant. Allow us to introduce you to Identity Live:

1.     Know your point of view.

A toothpaste promises cleaner teeth. A car provides transport from A to B. A media brand, as YouTube powerfully captured in ‘Broadcast Yourself’, offers a point of view and perspective. By sharing a combination of fact, opinion, tone and story – real, fabricated or ‘alternative’ – the brand shapes its point of view and presents a perspective. It’s sometimes difficult, usually divisive, always fundamental. Whether you define yourself as left-wing, liberal, centrist, right-wing, alt-right, socially progressive or classically conservative, let the public know.

People block out noise and look past haze but they gather around a point of view. Your perspective should be reflected across content, topic, presenters, audiences and every opinion. The Discovery Channel aims to provoke that ‘childlike wonder and fascination within each of us’, and this commitment shines through in its storytelling, from epic canvases and powerful narratives to a juxtaposition of the ‘really big versus the really small’. NET TV, based in Indonesia, has defined its role ‘to inspire and be the start of change’. The philosophy informs everything from their identity to their content, programming, and even their conversations on Twitter.

2.    Create adaptive iconography.

Design a Fix-n-Flex system: fix key hero elements and allow flexibility across content, audiences and, most importantly, conversations. Compare the basic thumbs up/thumbs down system of YouTube with the Facebook palette of like-love-haha-wow-sadness-anger. Contrast BBC iPlayer with the BBC. Check out The Slack from Netflix: a visual metaphor and an identity rolled into one. As an endless, living catalogue of shows and movies, it implies two ideas: selection and curation.

3.    Embrace the latest technology

TV channels: you may have been born on the airwaves but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only place where you live. TV screens have, in a somewhat literal sense, come full circle, evolving from convex CRTs to flat-screens to concave UHD displays. TV channel identities that were created in the era of 480i and CRTs have been consigned to history. Your brand identity today needs to come alive across HD, 8K UHD, retina display, OLED and printed media. And don’t rest on your laurels, because VR and AI are just around the corner. A great example is HBO vs HBO GO. Made for TV and customised for online. Not just transplanted from one state to another.

4.    Leverage the platform to build your personality

The old adage of ‘the medium is the message’ is particularly true in the case of media brands seeking to build and convey a richer personality. Keep the core personality consistent but dial different aspects up or down depending on the medium. National Geographic is particularly skilled at this, adapting the ‘voice of authority’ of the Journal into television whilst simultaneously creating a more fun, engaging persona through retail, merchandise, maps and online.

5.    Live across five dimensions

Identity concepts created in 2D are exposed when the channel lives beyond just two graphic dimensions. Consider sound, motion and touch. What is your aural signature? What motion defines you? How can you incorporate touch into your identity? Is your logo responsive to screen re-sizing? NET TV in Indonesia has a powerful identity in the ‘ripple effect’ that cuts across all five dimensions. It’s hard to achieve but something everyone should be aiming for: timeless and adaptive.

6.    Be the content

It’s all too easy for media brands to see themselves as nothing more than ‘windows to the world’. Such an identity often leads to a default persona that is content-led and, at times, schizophrenic. Great media brands live their sense of purpose and persona by constantly finding new ways to engage their audiences. From Netflix directly presenting its purpose and identity to its audiences to Natural Geographic’s support for nearly 1000 pioneering expeditions, maps and travel guides, truly engaging media brands understand that they ‘create the content that becomes king’.

7.    Be original and have fun!

In the media world, nothing attracts contempt and scorn as quickly as a media brand that takes itself too seriously or supports the wrong point of view. Be different: broadcast media identities have to move beyond clichés like spinning globes and RGB colour signals. Be playful: have an identity system that doesn’t take itself too seriously and rewards people for watching. And be fun: take inspiration from MTV’s pioneering logo animations, Channel V’s self-deprecatory spots and Channel 4’s keep-‘em-guessing station idents.

Then, maybe, you’ll have achieved that magical quality: Identity Live.

First published in Campaign Asia