Why Marketers Should Own, Not Rent

Opinion: When a channel is rented, the power lies within the hands of the platform itself as platform design or algorithms change

Rent social networks, but own email oatawa/iStock

It seems like every day, there are new channels that brands can use to reach their customers—especially with the proliferation of social media in recent years.

For example, Small Business Trends recently looked at “50 of the most effective marketing channels small businesses can use to reach customers,” showing the plethora of channel options that marketers now have at their disposal.

With impactful customer engagement being the ultimate goal, the first question a marketer should ask themselves when choosing a channel is: Will I be owning or renting this platform in my customer engagement efforts?

So, what does it mean to own or rent?

If a marketer is renting a platform, they are simply leveraging a marketing channel where they are not in control of the content distribution, specific audience targeting and timing of their messages within the platform, whether it is through a feed on a social media site or search engine.

Even with the little control they do have, when a channel is rented, the power lies within the hands of the platform itself as platform design or algorithms change.

Conversely, if a marketer owns a marketing channel, they are able to control the distribution, audience targeting and timing of their content within that channel.

With these ideas in mind, it is clear that not every platform is created equal and, therefore, whether a marketer or a brand is able to own or just rent a channel can have tremendous impact on their communication efforts.

When it comes to customer engagement, marketers are only renting space when leveraging certain platforms—specifically with social media and search engine advertising.

Take Facebook, for example. While a brand typically has its own Facebook page and can advertise to specific target segments within the social media platform, it is really only renting that space. While marketers can post messages or communicate directly with customers, the brand itself actually has no control over the Facebook algorithm and how those messages are pushed out externally.

The same goes for online content promoted through search engines, such as Google. A brand marketer will have very little control over whether Google puts that content at the top of the first page of search results or buries it on the tenth.

These platform companies are constantly changing their algorithms, so it is hard to guarantee that a sponsored post that made it into a customer’s feed last month will still appear this month.

For example, in June, Facebook announced that it was changing the computer algorithm behind its News Feed again to limit the reach of people known to frequently blast out links to clickbait stories, sensationalist websites and misinformation.

Additionally, it has been reported that Google changes its search algorithm around 500 to 600 times every year. These frequent changes make it virtually impossible for marketers to keep up with the evolving content filters and algorithm adjustments and continue to effectively reach customers.

This doesn’t mean that these channels should be avoided altogether—brands just need to make sure that they own their own channels, as well. Thankfully, marketers have plenty to choose from, including mobile messages or push notifications, websites, blogs, email and direct mail. While there may be a slightly higher cost for certain channels over others, such as mobile messaging or direct mail, the costs are still relatively lower for a brand compared to rented channels—and more direct and under your control.

Email is a great example of an owned channel for brands to leverage, and you can take Facebook’s word on it.

Noah Kagan, the 30th employee at Facebook, stated that Facebook isn’t the best way to market and connect with your audience—it’s email.

In his interview, Kagan recognizes that email is the only medium that gives brands control and scale to market to and communicate with customers without having to worry about the constant algorithm changes associated with social media platforms.

Additionally, when it comes to reach, email has nearly three times as many user accounts as Facebook and Twitter combined, and Facebook and Twitter combined make up just 0.2 percent of the number of emails sent each day.

While social media platforms have certainly become prolific in recent years, email still maintains a stronghold in terms of being able to reach a brand’s whole audience. Dreamgrow found that email is at least four times more effective in reaching your audience than Facebook. Not only is it a direct channel from brand to consumer, but brands can also tailor its messages specific to each customer. Brands know each specific customer they are reaching and can target and personalize their message accordingly, as opposed to a rented social media platform where they’re targeting large segments typically based on general demographic information.

There is no perfect equation that marketers can follow when it comes to customer engagement—but there is a right balance. While social media platforms should not be avoided and are a viable channel in which to reach customers, brands still need to make sure they focus on owned channels that are algorithm-proof, where they can control the content and messages that reach their audience. As marketing plans are developed, marketers need to make sure they are owning and not just renting their customer engagement platform and efforts.

James Glover is co-founder and CEO of email marketing platform Coherent Path.