Finally – a media company that understands the best number of brands is one

tim burrowes landscapeNine’s return to a one-brand strategy will give it a marketing advantage in 2016, argues Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes.

Today was about the tenth time I’ve sat through a Nine presentation on its plans for the year ahead.

My first was in 2006, in the board room of Nine’s headquarters in Willoughby during that strange period when Eddie McGuire was boss (he wasn’t in the room) and Mia Freedman was in charge of morning television (she was in the room).   

Nine’s upfronts have rotated through various studio and hospitality venues over the years. But today it felt like things had come full circle.

This morning’s press briefing was in another board room – this time in Nine’s digital and sales offices at Australia Square.

Another constant at both was front man Peter Wiltshire, then sales director and now chief revenue officer.

And the number of brands Wiltshire focused on in 2006 and 2015 was the same: one.

In 2006, this was because there was only the TV brand for him to talk about. ACP Magazines might have then been part of the family, but they weren’t part of the focus. And the explosion of digital channels were still in the future.

Peter Wiltshire group sales and marketing Nine Entertainment Co at Mumbrella 360, 2014.

Wiltshire: Nine’s commercial face for the last nine years

In the subsequent years we saw the rise of new channels Go, Gem and Extra. Plus the JumpIn companion app that became the company’s catchup television play. I suspect that there are plenty of viewers out there who wouldn’t even know they are all part of the same family.

What with the NineMSN joint venture with Microsoft (who have now been bought out); the Stan streaming joint venture with Fairfax and the Daily Mail joint venture, there’ve been a lot of brands to tussle with.

But the most interesting thing to me about today’s briefing was the quality of focus that has clearly been given to Nine’s marketing strategy in recent months.

With one or two exceptions, marketing has never been something that media companies have been good at, or taken particularly seriously. Take Fairfax Media’s apparent decision this week to axe most of its marketing department – can you imagine an ASX company in another sector doing that without being asked some tough questions?

I suspect the reason has been that traditional media companies have never needed to be that good at marketing to build awareness. In pre-digital times the blunt instrument of your own outlets was all the marketing tool you needed.

So although there was lots of substance to Nine’s announcements – new channels, live streaming, HD, programmatic plans, bigger local programming budgets – it was obvious that a great deal of rigour had been applied to the overarching marketing strategy, more than I’d previously seen evidence of.

Strategy savant Adam Ferrier is fond of the aphorism that “The best number of brands is one”.

And when you have Australia’s most famous media brand in the nine balls of Nine, then of course it’s retrospectively obvious that this is all the brand you need.

Nine_Logo_Print_CMYK (1)


So less of the NEC and more of the Nine Entertainment Co.

No longer Go but 9Go.

And 9Gem. And new channel 9Life.

And the axing of JumpIn for streaming and on-demand service 9Now.

Nine rebrand

Of course, rival Seven went this way already with 7Mate and 7Two. But SevenWest Media’s Yahoo7 doesn’t really feel part of the same family from a brand perspective. And to the random punter, Pacific Magazines won’t feel part of that family unit at all.

There was also a pretty heavy hint that NineMSN will soon rebrand more closely to the Nine family too.

It all seems obvious stuff. But good marketing strategy usually is – after you think of it.

This is a one-brand platform that can be taken to the public. What an opportunity for a marketer to make themselves famous.

It’s backed by insights. Not least, the need to get the public used to the idea that it’s all the same brand if you want the right to follow them around the web (and in the future, digital TV delivery) across your properties with targeted programmatic advertising.

Describing it as “a move from a house of brands to a branded house”, Wiltshire told the briefing: “We are bringing our family together under a common anchor with a heritage of Nine, with the nine dots. And that means consumers have a better chance to understand when they are consuming content from Nine Entertainment.”

It also helps get the message across to the advertising market that this is one team offering a single advertising solution regardless of medium – or at the very least aspiring to it.

Walking through the sales floor in Australia Square, one proof point helps get that across. Above each team is a large sign declaring which media agency they service. It sends that single-point-of-call message.

However one piece of human interaction I observed today suggests there’s some way to go to make it a reality. In the refreshments before the preso, I was surprised by just how many execs from Nine’s various digital, marketing, PR and TV teams were introducing themselves to each other for the first time. They’re not that close just yet.

With the sale of Nine’s Willoughby site now agreed, the opportunity this might offer to bring all Nine staff in Sydney together feels more like a strategic imperative. Again SWM has shown the way it can be done with its united offices in Perth bringing together Seven and The West Australian.

Whether that happens for Nine before new media ownership laws allow a merger with Southern Cross Austereo or Fairfax or WIN is more of a question of course.

As a media company dealing with all the legacies of traditional media, it will inevitably be a challenging few years for Nine. But at least it now has the right strategic platform for the future.

Tim Burrowes is content director of Mumbrella


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