Falling Victim to Scale

target-audience“Traditionally media businesses wanted scale because they wanted to influence as many people as possible…and because they wanted to build advertising businesses and advertisers wanted scale.

“Certainly some publishers that started out with a very targeted focus had to grow and expand the range of things they cover and write about. When you do that you become more and more like a mass media outlet like a newspaper, and the conventional wisdom is that’s not what people want any more.

“People don’t want something that is about everything. They want sites that are specifically about the things they’re interested in. That’s a very difficult game to play.”

These words of Forbes’ Mathew Ingram, as quoted by Chris Sutcliffe in The Media Briefing, concisely explain the problem in publishing when brands chase size at the expense of identity.

Yes, size matters in terms of your audience. Advertisers want scale, and bigger scale means bigger potential ad rates. But “chasing scale”, as Sutcliffe puts it, plays into the hands of the social behemoths.

The audience, increasingly, is on social media – Facebook, Apple, Google, et. al. The quandary is that many publishers want to be in front of the kind of numbers that Facebook Instant Articles or Apple News might offer. But it comes with a price in loss of control and helping your competition.

“To the extent that you use a platform to [grow to scale], you are empowering the platform,” Ingram notes. “You’re not necessarily empowering you. To some extent those two things can work together, but in many ways you’re actually helping something that’s in many cases a competitor become stronger.”

(And to those of you who think that Facebook, Google et. al. are not competitors to mass media publishers, you only need to look to their initiatives to own the news to understand that this is a fallacy.)

They are media companies, and are in fact changing the very definition of what a media company is. So how can brands regain their power? Ingram says the answer is in a combination of careful targeting and sensible scale.

“There’s the sense that at least some brands are looking for targeting rather than scale,” Ingram notes. “So it’s not so much the size of the audience specifically – it’s who that audience is, and what they do and what they’re interested in.”

As always, it comes down to content – quality content that appeals to your audience. If you give up on that to chase clicks and views, your long term sustainability is at stake.