The Porous Web

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Are we close to the end of owned media?

When we think of a solid marketing mix (from a promotional perspective), there is no doubt that brands need to now find balance in a world where paid media (buying ads) dances cheek to cheek with earned media (getting attention via media outlets without paying for it) and owned media (websites, blogs, e-newsletters and more). The holy trinity of balance is one that most brands struggle with, as they so easily fall back on paid media as the best way to garner attention, build interest, create desire and get consumers to buy from them (and stay loyal). Many marketing professionals (myself included) became overzealous with the potential of owned media when social media became popular (almost a decade ago). Along with that, the sentiment that the Internet is like an elephant (it never forgets) added fuel to the fire that brands needed to think beyond the paid and earned media models to owning the relationship with the consumer. Getting their email address. Getting them to their corporate websites. Getting them to read their blogs. Engaging with consumers and rectifying customer service issues in public for all to see. And more. The thinking was salient: no more gatekeepers. Own the direct relationship and everything that comes with it. Plus, if anyone ever does a search on a brand, that will be the raw brand experience (good, bad or neutral). With this massive history and memory comes the true brand story (and not just the one that is created by an ad agency).

But the Web is a technology, and technology evolves and advances quicker than most of us can understand.

Snapchat seemed innocuous enough. An online social network that enables people to share photos with one, little, nuance. Once the photo is viewed by the person it is being shared with, it disappears. NSA issues aside, this type of platform opened up an entirely new type of Web experience. One where consumers quickly realized that there isn’t a need to archive every character or every type of engagement. There are moments when people want to share and hold on to memories, and countless other fleeting moments that have no need to become a part of any digital public record or legacy. Something I called, The Impermanent Internet, was born. With more and more consumers ditching their media collections for digital downloads and more and more of those consumers ditching their hard drives full of media for streaming services (like Netflix and Spotify), the Internet is quickly ushering in a new era where user generated content can have impermanence, content needn’t be owned (it can be shared, streamed or borrowed) and suddenly, consumers are becoming increasingly efficient and open to more communications and content while needing a whole lot less of stuff (digital and physical) in their lives. Everyone was aghast that Snapchat turned down a three billion dollar offer to be bought by Facebook, but this Business Insider chart demonstrates something powerful: Snapchat Now Has More Photos Uploaded Daily Than Facebook. Facebook can’t afford to let Snapchat (or whoever is coming after that) own the mobile – social – photo space. And, as it turns out, people are enjoying this new form of impermanence.

The impermanence and efficiency of brands.

Perhaps brands need to become more efficient by actively embracing this as well. While everyone talks in amazement about Oreo‘s massive year in validating real-time advertising, the true bleeding edginess of this brand is better illustrated in where the brand is putting its energy. The media pundits would tell the brand to leverage that real-time advertising moment to drive to owned media, but take a look at the Oreo Facebook page (close to 35 million likes as of this writing). The brand is embracing the notion of both impermanence and efficiency by allowing their Facebook page to do the heavy brand lifting in the digital channels. Those same pundits will tell you that this is a strategic mistake, because if Facebook’s popularity wanes, if something else comes along, if that platform matures too rapidly that Oreo will have no way of retaining those likes and transferring them to another hub. This may be true, but if you look at this trend of impermanence and efficiency, who cares? The brand could (and should) simply float along with their friends and followers to wherever they may roam.

The Porous Web.

What we’re seeing is a porous Web. It’s not one that stores every little bit and byte of data. It’s not one that drives a consumer to our owned properties where they navigate and flow through the website as we have designed it. What we’re seeing is a very different Web. It’s a Web where people have multiple platforms, multiple screens, multiple personas, multiple needs, multiple desires and they are all very porous. They drip in and out of one another. This is going to force marketers to up their game (even more) and get smarter (much smarter). It’s becoming clear that driving consumers to owned media is getting harder and harder, so marketers are upping their investments in places like social media and content marketing to drive that attention spike upwards. That’s a traditional tactic (similar to buying impressions) instead of thinking about how much more content a brand should be producing, it’s time to understand that a porous Web means a better content distribution strategy is necessary (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). Whether brands like it or not, the Web has become porous and with screens everywhere and an estimated 75 billion connected devices by 2020 (of which many will not have screens like we have known to date), the ability for a brand to have any semblance of owned media may quickly dissolve as consumers become increasingly interested in impermanence and streaming. Amazon Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, once said: "In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts." As we watch the Internet and connected devices evolve, those percentages may shift even more.

Brands are being put on notice. The porous Web is just getting started. Marketers are going to have to adapt (dramatically… and again).


  1. Interesting post Mitch. I’m a big believer in using earned and paid media as a way to drive consumers into the more manageable owned media arena. That environment where you have more ability to control the experience while at the same time provide the value (read entertainment, education, engagement) that will drive the response you are looking for. You can build and optimise it for any number of screen sizes too.
    For marketers the owned channel is also the one space online which you can guarantee will be there in 1,2 3 or more years time. It’s worthwhile investing in your own “digital outpost” (pretty sure I’ve heard Avinash talking about this on your show).
    However I do like your concept of the porous web. I agree how we communicate online will become more disparate with the increasing number of social networks and the migratory nature of how we use social platforms (how soon until facebook is unseated as the 900lb gorilla). But ultimately as a marketer if you are measuring success on anything more than awareness or attention, you need to move people into your own channels. Or is that just the b2b marketer in me shouting out..?!
    Ultimately you can follow your audience to wherever they are on the web, whichever platform they use, but make sure they have a consistent brand experience underpinned by a strong owned media experience.

  2. No, we are not close to the end of end of owned media. We are still just getting started.
    You say – “What we’re seeing is a porous Web. It’s not one that stores every little bit and byte of data.”
    I disagree, the web does still store every little bit and byte of data… but it also forgets for efficiency of relevance. This is in a way like our brain.
    The web is both permanent and impermanent at the same time.

  3. Great post, Mitch. What I find heartening and most exciting about about new media, is that it favours being genuine, over traditional hype and promotional offers. From social media to SEO, the success stories always revolve around brands being honest and transparent.
    Age-old principles that are more relevant than ever IMO, and at the heart of what Bezos was getting at when he said “In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

  4. Awesome post, Mitch, thanks! I had not thought at the impermanence the way you relfect it here. And love this sentence: “That’s a traditional tactic (similar to buying impressions) instead of thinking about how much more content a brand should be producing, it’s time to understand that a porous Web means a better content distribution strategy is necessary”. We are always saying that companies should become publishers, but it seems it shouldn’t be true.
    In my opinion, however, this view of the porous web is still too far away from reality of marketers. Paid media is what makes companies like Facebook strong, and I guess it will be for some years yet. Maybe after paid media they land on owned media, and maybe afterwards they understand distribution (something I need to better understand, too, by the way).

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