It's Not Readers, or Users, it's Participants, and They're Smarter Than You Think They Are

For over a century, advertising has been a powerful engine of growth, building businesses and brands with a relatively predictable business model for marketers and media companies alike. But, the traditional media levers for growth are breaking down.  Media fragmentation and social media ubiquity have profoundly changed the marketer-agency-media supply chain relationship, and the consumer has more power than ever to define a brand’s success.

As traditional display advertising faces diminishing returns, social media – which is inherently about personal participation and word of mouth – creates new and more impactful avenues to engage, connect and transact with customers. Marketers used to seek and media companies used to sell readers and users; today they seek and sell participants. To harness the power of those participants, brands must leave behind traditional notions of advertising (pitch!), and embrace a space once the domain of journalists and media providers: high quality content; that which educates, informs, or entertains.

With marketers acting more like journalists, the lines between paid, owned and earned media blur – and the whole of what gets accomplished can be so much more than the sum of the parts in terms of participant engagement. So what’s really different in the marketer – media owner – participant relationship today, beyond the fact that marketers are content creators too? A greater respect for the intelligence of the participant. 

In today’s multi-screen digital social world, confirming the veracity of content is only a click away. For consumers, that means great content can come from anywhere, as long as the source is transparent. And brands are often the owners of the best, most interesting content in the spaces in which they play.  Who knows more about style and craftsmanship than Hermes who has designed beautiful things for more than 100 years?  Who can better explain the dynamics of decision making around enterprise software choices than SAP, or Oracle?  Isn’t today’s car buyer just as interested in knowing what BMW has to say about how a superior engine is developed as he/she is in knowing what Car & Driver has to say?

For participants, journalists are no less important, but they can and should co-exist in a world in which brands can also showcase their expertise, as long as it’s done with authenticity.  And when it’s not, the participants will tell them – by choosing not to share their pages, or return to them.

For marketers, the opportunity to publish content means more power (and pressure!) to telltheir own stories in the credible, contextually relevant environments that consumers naturally visit and discover.  For publishers, it means enabling marketers to participate in the conversation in a seamless way.  And for participants – the ones who really hold the cards – it means using their multi-screen-enabled access and – as importantly – their intelligence – to make their own choices about which stories resonate and which are worth passing along to their friends.

Meredith Levien, Group Publisher & Chief Revenue Officer, Forbes Media


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