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What Comes First: The Product or the Platform?

People who hate energy drinks are still fans of Red Bull. Here’s why.

We’re in the midst of a major media shake-up. Although the saturation of content is consolidating into fewer, larger players, it is important to address the shift happening in the publishing and media industry. For example:

  • We’re seeing highly engaged communities of people with a niche focus.
  • We’re seeing brands work with influencers with a clear trade-off that has influencer “fit” trump influencer following.
  • We’re seeing blogs and books turn into full-scope e-commerce or media houses. (ahem, Glossier and Girlboss).
  • We’re seeing new career categories, like Brand Journalism.

But, what does this all mean? One thing I know for sure is that change breeds opportunity. That said, I have questions.

The main question that comes to mind for me is:

Is it as powerful to have an engaged audience as it is to have a good product?

To explore an answer, let’s first look at the connection between platform and product. My favourite example to demonstrate this relationship is RedBull. The energy drink is the product, and digital media is the platform.

What we see with the Red Bull model is a product that is said to “give you wings” and a platform that shows people who know how to fly. In this sense, Red Bull is bringing the brand ethos to life through people. Quite simply, Red Bull is humanizing the brand.

Humanizing a brand is important. After all, people are friends with people, not with brands.

In doing so, Red Bull is able to not only achieve unique positioning in their market but also foster brand attachment. Because they have humanized the brand, people can interact in a deep, memorable and emotional way. All of a sudden, Red Bull becomes so much more than a product.

People who hate energy drinks still love Red Bull — that’s the power of a successful platform.

So, the question remains: is Red Bull TV as powerful as Red Bull the energy drink?

In my opinion, the answer is yes.

I think the changing media landscape has platforms that are starting to supersede products.

Here’s an example:

I am an avid user of the media platform, Man Repeller. I engage in the comments section of articles, subscribe to the newsletter and know the names of their writers. I feel like I know the brand, I like it, and, over time, I trust their work and advice. A few weeks ago, they launched a few products of their own. They were just basic T-shirts, mugs and tote bags, but I was sold the minute I saw them.

Translation: large platforms that never entered the market with the intent to sell their own products (aside from content), are succeeding at exactly that.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Platforms know their audiences extremely well because they have been interacting with people through their content.
  2. Brands work hard to earn the trust of their audiences, and in the case of platforms, the trust has been built and solidified before a product has been introduced.

And what happens when your audience knows, likes and trusts your brand? They buy what you’re selling.

And, in my case, I’ll be buying the plain white T-shirt from the girls at Man Repeller before I will buy from a brand that has nothing to say. What’s more, if I ever catch myself buying an emergency energy drink, there is a 100% chance I will reach for a Red Bull — anything to keep those documentaries coming.

Power to the platform.