Building the Foundation: Identity Feeds

In this module, we discuss:

  • The concept of identity feeds
  • Why and how to create an identity feed


  • Service Economy - an economy based on providing services rather than manufacturing or producing goods
  • Customer Equity - the sum of value equity (the objective utility, or performance, of the brand); brand equity (the subjective and intangible assessment of the brand); and relationship equity (customers’ tendency to stick with the brand, or the value of their relationship with the brand)
  • Content Marketing - a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action
  • Psychographics - beliefs, attitudes, interests, aspirations, problems, challenges, concerns and motivations
  • Identity Feed - the combination of niche lifestyle content, a community and a (digital) third place
  • Lifestyle Content - content that focuses on people’s day-to-day interests and life, as opposed to content that focuses on selling products and services
  • Top of Mind Awareness - when a brand or specific product comes first in the minds of customers, within the context of a particular industry and consumer need or desire
  • Brand Identity - the mission, values, purpose, positioning, voice, tone, look and feel of a business

Many businesses, and even legacy brands, have a major problem today: Customer loyalty is at record lows because consumers have unprecedented access to information about products and services, and more options from which to choose where they should buy them.

As a result, consumers no longer value products and services like they once did during the Service Economy, when products and services were not nearly as commoditized as they are today — thanks to this unprecedented access to information.

Today, consumers generally yearn for experiences more so than products and services — a phenomenon that is known as the Experience Economy, and the next step in what B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore call "the progression of economic value" in this Harvard Business Review article.

"An experience is not an amorphous construct; it is as real an offering as any service, good, or commodity," according to Pine II and Gilmore. "In today's service economy, many companies simply wrap experiences around their traditional offerings to sell them better. To realize the full benefit of staging experiences, however, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences that command a fee."

Today, almost 20 years after Pine II and Gilmore wrote the aforementioned article, that “fee” is paid through attention — as in consumers paying attention to your business outside of the transactional marketplace.

“Where the attention goes,” Mathew Ingram writes on Fortune, “the money will inevitably follow.”

However, many businesses and legacy brands are still operating in accordance with consumer expectations in the Service Economy, which inhibits them from developing meaningful relationships (and thus true customer equity) with consumers in today's Experience Economy.

"Although every consumer frequents dozens of brands designed for their very demographic, psychographic or interests, this relationship is rarely meaningful," Matthew Ball and Tal Shachar write in this REDEF article. "Few consumers go home and think about their favorite brands, use their patronage as ways to describe their own interests or look to engage with similarly minded shoppers."

The Business of Media puts businesses in a position to thrive in the Experience Economy — which treats experiences as an asset — by creating an identity feed built on, in part, niche lifestyle content that attracts a highly engaged, relevant, ever-growing audience. Once this audience is developed over time, your business can leverage it to:

  1. Maximize top of mind awareness, brand positioning, and customer loyalty, advocacy and equity, and
  2. Monetize using the business model of successful media companies

Understanding Identity Feeds

According to Ball and Shachar, "It's important to stress that identity feeds are not simply ... content offerings. [They] focus less on delivering [content] and more on packaging (or 'bundling') together a variety of related [content] experiences."

In the module Types of Content Experiences, we go into major detail about all of the content experiences that your business can (and should) provide, but in short, these experiences may include:

  • Video content (web shows, stand-alone videos, documentaries and even movies)
  • Live broadcasting (such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Blab, Google Hangouts On air)
  • Audio programming (such as podcasts)
  • Blog posts and long-form written content
  • Content specifically made for certain social media channels

However, as Ball and Shachar point out, "what enables [identity feeds] to thrive is not the ability to create the most 'premium content', but their ability to understand, appeal to, and resonate with a given audience. In doing so, [identity feeds] will build a community for those who see their 'niche' content not as a passing interest, but as a core component of who they are and how they define themselves."

The result?

"Their [audience] will constantly (if not reflexively) engage with their [content] on a daily basis," according to Ball and Shachar, which is precisely the goal of creating an identity feed: to engage so deeply, so continuously and so consistently with your target customers — by virtue of providing them with niche lifestyle content experiences thus enabling your business to play a meaningful role in their day-to-day lives, outside of the expected business-consumer relationship.

Certainly, some businesses can rightfully claim that their product or service is enough to play a meaningful role of their customers' day-to-day lives, but these businesses are in the minority. If your business cannot justifiably make this claim, then The Business of Media is precisely how your business can (and should) play a meaningful role in your customers' day-to-day lives, outside of the expected business-consumer relationship, against the backdrop of consumer expectations in the Experience Economy.

How to Create an Identity Feed

As we discussed in the module The Emergence of Content Marketing 3.0, The Business of Media is all about taking an audience-centric approach.

“To create an identity feed, [businesses] must first establish an authentic relationship with the most passionate consumers in their target audience," Ball and Shachar write.

These "most passionate consumers" in your target audience are what Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor of Wired Magazine, calls "1,000 True Fans" in his wildly popular article named as such.

"These users are the most important for brand evangelism, establishing audience credibility and offering refinement/feedback," according to Ball and Shachar.

To create an identity feed, they write, the business behind it "must provide a distinct voice — not a unique brand identity, but a culture and feel that appeals to the obsessiveness of the individual fan but still resonates with the community as a whole. Naturally, this can't just be declared, bought or marketed. It must be earned and developed over time."

Ball and Shachar reference Bevel, a subscription-based shaving hardware startup targeting men of color, and its identity feed Bevel Code — which is an excellent example of Content Marketing 3.0.

"Is Bevel Code just marketing, or is it an integral part of the experience a Bevel subscriber pays for?" Ball and Shachar rhetorically ask.

"With customer loyalty at record lows and pricing transparency at record highs, identity-based media marketing represents a brand's best opportunity to deepen their customer relationships and leverage their audience intelligence."

However, it is crucial to understand that creating an identity feed which attracts a highly engaged, relevant, ever-growing audience — which, in turn, your business can leverage — takes time for both mom-and-pop shops and multinational corporations alike.

“Due to the importance of authenticity and community buy-in ... [successful identity feeds] can’t just be stood up, no matter how prominent or scaled the backer, or how deep the marketing budget," Ball and Shachar write.

Erica Berger, a media entrepreneur formerly employed by News Corp and The Economist, writes: "Creating media value has always been a game for the long haul, not for the weak of heart."

Furthermore, it should not be understated or overlooked that creating an identity feed does not simply mean launching and/or running a blog, digital magazine or separate website which houses a few types of content. After all, this is what most businesses of every size and stature have been doing during the last handful of years, and it is a broken practice.

Instead, a formidable identity feed must feature all types of content experiences, each in sync and leveraged against one another. ESPN, for example, has all but perfected the methods by which it syncs and leverages all of its properties — including its TV channels, websites, magazine, radio stations, social media channels and mobile apps — with and against one another.

The result: a well-oiled, highly profitable identity feed with a supremely engaged audience across all content, channels and platforms.

In Sections 4 and 5, we explain in detail how to sync and leverage different types of content experiences, channels and platforms with and against one another.

For now, it is time to start developing your editorial blueprint.

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