We’ve been conditioned to think about destinations for our marketing activity. Our physical store, our website, our micro-site, our e-commerce site. Many ad dollars are spent on driving traffic to specific destinations, where we’re confronted with a very controlled experience designed to elicit specific reactions and build specific perceptions and associations. This has been especially true on the web, where we advertise on site A to drive traffic to site B, and people are obsessed with measuring clicks.
There is a problem quietly brewing for many marketers who primarily think about destinations, driving traffic, and clicks. Online, destinations with a controlled experience are rapidly declining in importance, and in a few short years, they will have disappeared. This is because the structure of the web is fundamentally changing.
The early web was built around content – many websites of content connected to one another. In this environment, driving traffic as a primary activity made sense. But this is quickly being replaced with a web where content is broken down and aggregated in different ways for different people. It’s a more personalized, and unique experience based on knowing who we are, who our friends are, what our friends have liked, and what they have done. With the emergence of platforms and APIs across the web, content is now being disaggregated, broken down into it’s smallest components, and being reaggregated and reformatted in many other places.
This has two dramatic effects.
The first is that we will all have unique experiences as we traverse the web. This is already true of many socially driven sites today. For example, my Facebook and Twitter experience is very different to yours, because we have different friends and have followed different brands and businesses. This is even true for close friends. I’m continually surprised at how different my wife’s Facebook experience is to mine, even though we share many friends. In the foreseeable future, this will be true of almost any website. I will visit the New York Times site, and you will visit the New York Times site, and at the same time in the same day we will see different news depending on our interests and what our friends have read. I will visit an e-commerce site, and you will visit the same e-commerce site, and we’ll see different recommendations, personalized to us.
The second dramatic effect is that when a web page is served, it will pull in many small components of content from many other sources. Along with pulling in and using our interests and friends’ interests for personalization, it will also pull in actual content from our friends – status updates, likes, comments, tweets, purchases, recommendations, etc. So a significant percentage of the page will consist of aggregated content from multiple external sources.
This means that marketers will need to rethink how they approach content creation and distribution. They will need to understand how content will be broken down from the source and aggregated elsewhere across the web. This means that brands will be everywhere. And they will be nowhere. They will be surfacing on potentially any website, and they will no longer exist as a whole in any place with meaningful traffic – that does not also have aggregated content from elsewhere. As a concrete example, this means that marketers will need to stop thinking about their Facebook page as a destination – a place to drive traffic to, and instead start thinking about it as a platform for publishing – a place to create content that will surface in many places.
In Grouped, I argue that anyone working in marketing or advertising needs to build a base of knowledge in a few new areas. One of those areas is understanding networks, how they are structured and how they work. The profound changes above are the reason why. Is your marketing team learning about networks, disaggregation and network effects?