Forget destinations. Your brand is everywhere and nowhere.

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?

// This post was inspired by some chats I had last week with Iain Tait of Wieden+Kennedy so thanks to Iain! //

8 comments

  1. Hey Paul,

    I just started ‘Grouped’ this weekend and am really excited it’s helping me uncover more about the future of social + marketing. I’m also excited that I’ll be finishing the book fairly quickly (thanks for the length!).

    I get this feeling that ‘brands’ in themselves are going to morph a bit from being about ‘things’ (ie, destinations, colors, etc.) and more into ‘feelings” (ie, ‘this’ solved my issue, this made me react, etc.).

    I understand it’s part of the definition / idea of brand now, but it seems it will be even more prevalent in the coming years.

    Is that fair?

  2. Fantastic! Actually had the same conversation with a friend the other day telling him that he can’t make a blanket statement that he doesn’t “like” facebook. I explained to him that he needs friends and followers to make it relevant and worthwhile. I showed him mine and he couldn’t believe the robustness and the difference how the site felt and functioned.

  3. It means that your content will only make it into someone’s stream of content fragments if they want it there.

    - They will only remain subscribed to your Facebook/Twitter/RSS feed if they find that each item is usually genuinely valuable to them.

    - They will only share it on to others if they think it is really noteworthy and they’re willing to be seen sharing it.

    - You’re as likely to get filtered out if you post to MUCH, as if you post too little. The normal rules can’t apply, you can’t get more attention by putting our more volume. It’s about putting out quality not quantity. People want a stream of useful information they can keep up with.

    Mindless marketing noise will get filtered out, because that is what the system is designing itself to do: present only the information that people select because they actually want/need/enjoy it.

  4. @William If I had to define what a brand is, I would describe it as the sum of all the feelings people have about a business. So it’s definitely about emotion. I think that’s true now, that was true before, and that will be true in the future. I’m not sure that is changing – I think emotion has always been the key driver behind successful brands.

    @Luke Absolutely agree with everything you said. The change is that brands and agencies will need to understand how to create great content that is bite size and lightweight. We saw product quality rise dramatically in the latter half of the 20th century, and I think we’ll see marketing and advertising quality rise dramatically in the the first couple of decades of this century.

  5. when people share the brand with their friends,they will be more serious, will choose the best they thought ,and honest ,so facebook will be different with twitter,because on the facebook they shared with their friends and twitter they shared with their fans

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  8. [...] Forget destinations. Your brand is everywhere and nowhere. [...]