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Building Influence in a Fragmented World - How Can Brands Forge Meaningful Relationships With Consumers?

15/05/2015 17:02 BST | Updated 12/05/2016 10:59 BST

The digital revolution has caused seismic changes for brands - from the way they connect with their audiences, to the channels they can use to reach them.

The way people are consuming news has been turned on its head, with more and more people accessing content from global sources, using multiple platforms and sharing huge volumes of self-produced content themselves.

And it's not just the people who have changed - the news business is also becoming increasingly fragmented. People have never had more choice when it comes to where they consume their news - from established and influential institutions like the Guardian, to brand new digital-only media start-ups - each one providing their own take on the news agenda.

To top it all off, the world has never been noisier. People are being bombarded with all sorts of information - from brands themselves, but also their peers, the websites they choose to follow, or the apps on their mobile phones - and getting cut-through is not as easy as it once was.

Although the digital revolution has overhauled the communications landscape in a very short space of time, it has also opened up a world of opportunities for brands willing to take on the challenge. And for those that do it well, it will allow them to forge even deeper and more meaningful relationships with the audiences they want to reach.

For me, there are three fundamental things brands need to consider when thinking about creating connections and building influence with their audiences, which I've witnessed first-hand while at the Guardian.

Content is king

At the Guardian, our ambition is to be the most influential news organisation in the world, and in order to achieve this ambition we knew we had to embrace the enormous opportunities afforded by the internet. The combination of our era-defining, independent journalism and our best-in-class digital innovation has meant we have gone from being the ninth biggest national newspaper in the UK ten years ago to the second largest quality English-language newspaper website in the world.

There is an important lesson here for brands. The Guardian achieved this remarkable turnaround thanks to our relentless focus on our journalism - our 'content'. Similarly, brands need to create beautiful creative content that allows them to stand out from their competitors and reflects what they stand for, to ensure they're captivating their audience with content they want to consume.

But context is god

This is something US entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk said in his keynote at the Guardian's Changing Media Summit earlier this year - and something I absolutely agree with. The context within which brands tell their stories is everything, because it shapes the audience's perception of that message. A brand can create the most compelling piece of content, but if it's shown in the wrong environment, it risks losing its power.

Here, trust is key. Established publishers like the Guardian, with a heritage of providing quality journalism have proven their worth to consumers who come back for its news time and again - so brands need to be sure to align with trusted partners and environments to enable a direct transfer of their values to their businesses - and drive consumers' trust.

Content must travel across platforms to deliver real value

As the most trusted news source in the UK, we know that it doesn't just come down to trust. That would be too easy. With more and more people switching between devices, using their mobiles and tablets more and more, and having various influences on their paths to purchase, brands also need to become more agile in order to offer value to consumers.

All content needs to be able to travel across devices, to effectively engage with an 'always on' consumer. At the same time, brands have to capitalise on tech innovations and work with publishers that allow them to target their audience, regardless of which device or platform their content is being displayed on.

Despite the world becoming a more complicated and fragmented place, brands can turn the challenges of a digital age to their advantage in order to build influence and forge the relationships that really matter. They need to be brave enough to adapt and create compelling content, they have to understand the context and environment in which that content is consumed and they need to be agile and innovative in how they deliver value in a multi-platform, multi-channel, multi-device world.