Don’t Build Your Brand on Rented Land

2018 will be a landmark year for digital communications. As it approaches it’s fourteenth birthday, Facebook is once again changing its algorithm to prioritise individuals over publishers and brands. Marketers and media execs are waiting with baited breath to see how this will effect their performance. 

Seventeen minutes away in Mountain view, Google will celebrate its twentieth birthday later this year. All this while communicators are focused on ensuring their organisations are complying with the world of GDPR and E-privacy.

The continued rise of these two internet giants combined with the regulatory changes will make it more important than ever for every organisation to have an effective “rent to own” strategy.

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But what does that mean exactly? Firstly let’s look at some basics strategically, tactically and technologically that will explain the concept.


Successful communications through the ages has always been about developing mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and its publics. This was highlighted once again back in 2012 when the PRSA redefined the practice of public relations through this lens in an extensive crowdsourcing project.

Over the last 10 years as communicators have polished their skills in search and social media this revolution has provided the opportunity and often challenge to work at both scale and with a unprecedented level of personalisation, all at the same time.

What is clear is that the development of genuine relationships that bring mutual and profitable benefits to both sides will remain at the centre of all communications work. But we need to be smart about how we do this.

The Digital Duopoly of Distribution

Getting your message heard and developing those relationships often starts with being successful in search and social. And outside of China that means mastering the properties of Google & Facebook.

Yes you can still be successful with organic SEO and social media activites but accepting that we are in a pay to play environment on those platforms is also key.

According to WPPs, Group M,  Google and Facebook accounted for 84% of digital investment in 2017 and all other reports put their share of digital ad growth well above 90%.  

Whilst this onwards march will not go unchecked in 2018 with accusations of digital ad fraud and trust issues in social platforms continuing to dominate the agendas of media and regulators alike, the power as well as the shareprice of the digital duopoly is expected to grow.

For the small business owner, without the deep pockets of global brands and their traditional advertising dollars, the democratisation through these platforms present huge opportunities. But how can we take advantage of this?

Simple, view those as platforms as great places to rent space but have a clear strategy to convert the audience on there to your “owned” audience, accessible through email.


The Subscription Challenge

The rise of messaging apps, collaboration platforms like Slack and in recent times the emergence of chatbots would have you believe that email is dead but I would beg to differ.

Today there are approximately 3.7 billion email users sending hundreds of billions of messages everyday and that is predicted to rise. More importantly most people’s daily routine includes some dedicated time with their inbox.   

Email should be one of your prioritised channels. Why, because you own this channel. No one here will raise the price of a keyword or suddenly ask you to pay for an ad to reach an audience you thought you had developed yourself.

But our data at Mynewsdesk, who provide newsrooms and a PR workflow platform for over 5,000 brands tells us that there is a clear route to success.

Of course you must produce engaging content, in a easy accessible format with a clear and differentiated point of view but you must look to do this on your audiences terms.

Ensure you work hard on an effective subscription strategy for your readers. Accessibility, value and consistency are crucial here. Make it easy for them to sign up to your content. Make it a valuable experience in consuming your content and help them address a problem they have and try to be consistent in your content publication.

Our data shows that email opening rates of subscribed contacts is 40% plus versus the 20% plus opening rates of no-subscribed contacts.

But this will be a challenge for the PR industry who do not like to admit it but whose business models have long been reliant on media databases and spray and pray tactics for far too long due to the absence of real relationships.

Fortunately the positive changes as a result of the GDRP and E-Privacy regulations will ensure we are all focused on “given” rather that “gathered” data in our digital communications efforts from May 25th this year.    

But Who Owns the Cloud?

One final element to think about when perfecting your rent to own strategy is protecting your content and data.

Over the last 30 years we have all moved to using software programs in one way or another that are owned by some corporate entity. Most of this software is today cloud based on third party servers which are located a long way from the user.

On the positive side the cost of cloud based software compared to some years ago is incredibly low and has led to a democratisation of software use for individuals as well as communicators.

Whilst there is a clear difference between what social networks and search engines offer in terms of a straight up exchange of your personal data for a “free” service compared to CMS, CRM and other SaaS vendors are offering the communicator, you still need to ensure you content is protected.

This issue was highlighted once again with the announcement by Adobe that they would stop supporting the Storify platform and all “free content on it” in May this year. Another example of a valuable service, loved by its users at the mercy of corporate priorities and the danger of building your brand on rented land.   

But with your content protected go out and reach those “rented” audiences with a compelling message, just ensure your have a strategy to own that audiuence and continue developing a mutually beneficial relationship along the way.

The blog was first published on Stephen Waddington’s blog



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