Tom Critchlow
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Decentralized Brands & The Future of Content Marketing

April 15, 2015

We’re living in a world where National Geographic is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising on Snapchat, BMW is sponsoring collections on Medium and Purina is buying native advertising from BuzzFeed.

It occurs to me that we might just be entering a new phase of brand building online. One that is inherently decoupled from “clicks”, “links” and even websites. A phase that’s all about decentralized brands. What follows is more or less a stream of consciousness. This is not a fully fleshed out thesis yet but rather some jumping off points.

Back in 2012 I wrote a post talking about the convergence of SEO and Content Marketing - in it I was making the relatively tame assertion that brands would become the web’s biggest publishers.

But the question I forgot to ask was what kind of publishers would they become? Would it look more like the New York Times or more like BuzzFeed?

Let’s look at a few trends in the media world.

Firstly - the homepage is dying:

The New York Times lost 80 million homepage visitors—half the traffic to the nytimes.com page—in two years. source.

And, native ads might be a pretty big deal - in fact they may be the dominant form of advertising online (if you squint a little):

In the nine months the native ad program was available during 2014, Upworthy said it generated more than $10 million in revenue for the publisher. source.

If you mix the above two ingredients together you arrive at BuzzFeed distributed - not just the death of the homepage, but the death of the website!

BuzzFeed Distributed […] a team of 20 staffers who would “make original content solely for platforms like Tumblr, Imgur, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and messaging apps.” In other words, a team of people producing content that will never even appear on buzzfeed.com. source.

Is this BuzzFeed being a crazy VC-backed media company? Or is this actually the future of publishing online? I’m beginning to think it’s the latter… Remember - this is all happening at the same time that SEO is losing it’s dominance as a channel - losing dominance for everyone but especially publishers! Who cares about a “duplicate content penalty” when publishing the same article 5 times in 5 different places gains 5x the eyeballs?

I’m not 100% sure where this thinking leads but look out for more cross-publishing, more branded content and better measurement of “brand” online vs clicks, links and traffic as our notion of brands becomes further decentralized.

Update #1

Andy Weissman tweeted this out:

Which references this amazing post on the New York Times:

Instagram’s TMZ

Update #2

Jonathan Libov and I had some great conversations around this topic and he wrote up some more thinking on this over on his blog:

Destination Everywhere

Update #3

Toby Shorin has posted a follow-up exploring ideas of decentralized ecommerce here:

The Future of Ecommerce is Distributed

Update #4

Andy Weissman has blogged:

The No-Stack Startup


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