Throughout the history of marketing, we’ve built on rented land.

Because a brand did not have its own audience, we were forced to promote it be gaining access to a media company that had accumulated an audience. Whether we were placing advertisements with media outlets in order to gain access to their audience, or placing stories with that media via media relations, we were renting that media outlet’s audience.

The trouble with that scenario – which for the longest time was simply the price of doing business – was that the media company had all the leverage in the relationship. If they wanted to charge more, they charged more. If they wanted to put your ad next to an ad for your competitor, they did it. They made the rules, and brands that wanted to grow were forced to play the game.

Today, we have many more media options to choose from – social platforms, newly emerging media outlets, etc. But still, when we focus on those newer platforms, we’re approaching marketing in the same way – we’re renting someone else’s audience. Their advertising models are philosophically the same as that old radio station from the 1920s – they have the audience, and you’ll pay through the nose if you want to talk to it.

Why in the world would you keep operating this way? To be blunt, it’s really shortsighted. Yes, they have the audience today and you need results now, but it’s time to break free. It simply doesn’t make sense anymore to continue renting. The best option is to own that land, break the cycle of subservience to those media outlets and social networks and begin to build your own audience.

Perhaps the biggest and best reason to create a “media property” you can own is that it’s now possible to do so.

Technology and audience habits have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. These changes enable brands to, finally, build on their own land. That is, create their own media property – a place where they inform and entertain their targeted audience. And build a relationship.

The second reason is that the media partner(s) you rely upon has very likely been flailing around for the last few years. The newspaper and broadcast industries are filled with very nice people who simply can’t or won’t confront the future. Their audiences are plummeting, and their solution has been to do more of the same. This is not someone you want to hitch your wagon to. Or, you’ve committed to growing your Facebook audience; this makes a certain amount of sense, because pretty much the entire world is on Facebook. However, while Facebook and other social platforms may not be “flailing around,” you are willingly entering into an environment in which the platform holds all the cards – they determine who sees your stuff, and they determine how much you have to pay the ensure they see your stuff.

It’s time to build something you can own so you can create your own audience. Better yet, you can stand on the shoulders of those existing media outlets, access their audience, but then convert them into your audience. To do this, don’t promote your latest product or service offering; instead, promote your content offering – by creating, distributing and promoting audience-focused content, you’ll demonstrate to your future customers that they your content is a suitable – and much more targeted – replacement for that existing media outlet’s content.

For your potential customers, it’s a win because they’re getting a “purer” content stream – one not cluttered with information they don’t care about. And it’s a win for your brand because you’ll no longer be beholden to the fickle nature of the media.

Before this seems overwhelming – know this: A brand doesn’t need to push all its chips to the middle of the table and suddenly compete with the CNNs, the Wall Street Journals, and whatever other vertical industry publication may happen to dominate its space.

However, it seems crazy not to begin to build that audience with a content-driven vehicle of some sort. It could be as simple as a blog filled with audience-centric content. The point is that this is why you need to dip your toe into the content marketing game. If your company has already embraced content marketing, this is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal your marketing team needs to shoot for – building something you can own that attracts and grows your audience. It’s time (past time?) to move in this direction.

To continue to build your house on rented land is to place a bet that the media you’re using will still have an audience in the future.

Based on the trajectory of most media companies, that doesn’t seem like a very smart bet.

3 Things To Think About

  1. This is a big one – stop and take a look at how you’re spending your marketing budget. If all you’re doing is “renting” someone else’s audience, you might want to rethink your spending.
  2. If you’re already “checking the content marketing box,” take a close look at your audience. Is it growing? Do you have repeat visitors? What is your strategy for holding that audience close?
  3. Are you audience-centric enough? Or is your content inward-focused?