If you think about the current marketing environment, you must consider three primary groups, each with very different perspectives, needs, and assumptions.
Let’s get clear on the three groups:
People: They may be called users, audience, targets, consumers, customers or prospects, but they’re just regular people, you and me.
Media: They can be publishers or platforms and include every type of mediated content -- news, music, video, games, you name it.
Brands: Any entity with a message they want to be delivered to an audience.
What we have in this trinity is a weird love triangle, where, at some level, every suitor is spurned and all love is unrequited:
People love content (provided via the media), and are willing to put up with brands to the extent necessary to access content.
Media care about revenue (paid by brands), and they’re willing to deal with people to the extent those people can be used to attract brand revenue.
Brands care about audiences (made up of people), and they’re willing to deal with media to the extent the media is able to package people into reachable groups.
If people were able to access content without being marketed to, they’d be totally fine with that. Happy, even. If the media were able to cash checks from brands without catering to the whims of audiences, they’d be cool with that. And if brands were able to reach people directly without the media, they would do that in a heartbeat.
In this strange little system, which of the three hold the power?
You might say that people should since they are -- indirectly -- the source of revenue that keeps this engine humming, but we all know that isn’t the case. People have become a sort of soylent green, providing fuel in the form of attention.
It could be that media companies are in charge, since they have the content that attracts people and can package us up for an easy sell to brands. It’s true that some media companies are making bank, but we also know that plenty are struggling.
Might be the brands, since they have the power of the purse string and they’re not going to spend money if it doesn’t provide some ROI -- and, truth be told, American companies are doing a land-office business these days.
But really, do any of the three actually need to hold the power? It’s possible that this triangle is actually functioning effectively and that each group is winning in some respects and losing in others. Perhaps these three groups form a system held together by opposing forces.
It’s almost akin to the way particles zoom around in an atom, with forces working to keep everything spinning smoothly. Of course, at the center of an atom sits the nucleus, around which the other particles spin. But in the realm of marketing, what is the nucleus?
Today, this system is in apparent equilibrium with the forces that hold its elements together and keep them apart in balance. What are the forces at work between people, media and brands that keep them from crashing or flying apart? Are they simply the desire for content, revenue, and eyeballs? Is that what governs the laws of marketing?
And what would this media system look like if truly went out of balance? If brands wanted more attention than publishers were able to provide, or if publishers suddenly saw an exodus of ad dollars, or if people used ad blockers or other technology to limit their exposure to brand messages?
Are there laws that lie below the surface that haven’t been explored? Looking at this three-way relationship as a system, rather than the sum of its parts, can provide a useful way to understand, harness and improve the way marketing works.