Digital ‘Renters’ vs. ‘Owners’

After 15 years working on the Web end of journalism, I’m starting to get the game.

Google, Apple, and Facebook are committed to a campaign to position themselves between you and your customer (and to soak up all the genius engineers who could possibly enable you to outmaneuver them). The more you let that happen, the more you place a ceiling on your ambitions. The more you establish a direct connection with your customers, the greater your ability to engage them, delight them, heal rifts with them, and ultimately profit from them.

On the web, there are three paths to that kind of direct connection: email, website, and mobile app. If your brand doesn’t have these, it doesn’t have a standalone digital business. You don’t “own” your customers; you “rent” them from the Big 3—or anyone else who manages to insert themselves in this space.

So beyond building one of these gigantic platforms through which so many people conduct the business of their digital lives, how do you move from “renter” to “owner”? Simply, I think, you must delight your customers. You must make them fans. You must provide value every time they call upon you. You need to give them a reason to remember you—fondly—so you can occupy some mindshare in their lives.

Do that, and you can overcome the gravity of these enormous platforms and the “whatever’s in front of me right now” mindset that drives so much Web engagement. You can develop your own gravity, and exert a sphere of influence.

Don’t do that, and you will be left staring at Chartbeat, speculating upon the vagaries of algorithms, cursing the platforms’ whims.


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