Deciding whether to rent or to own isn’t a hard question. It doesn’t have a right answer. It doesn’t have a wrong answer. But most brands forget to even ask.
Most brands are accustomed to renting an audience with media, and owning an audience with product. This makes sense. A product company makes products. They don’t know how to make audiences, so they rent them.
A press release is renting an audience.
A mention in a publication or on TV is renting an audience.
Programmatic advertising is renting an audience.
You pay the rent with the cost of producing the press release, or talking to the reporter, or distributing the advertisement. That makes your relationship with the audience easy to understand: if you don’t pay your rent to a platform, that platform won’t give you an audience.
In other words, you have to do something to get attention. And, if you do enough somethings, then some of the audience will buy your product.
This is the business model of converting attention into revenue. And this is why brands try to capture rented audiences by publishing drip campaigns or sponsoring tweets or creating display ads that follow you around the web like an unattractive dog begging for treats. Given enough scale or enough of a qualified audience, some small percentage of people will click on your emails or tweets or ads.
It’s worth noting: this is a hard thing to do for a brand. This takes a lot of effort. The good news is, often times, it works.
But it’s also worth noting: the effort to make it work is the effort of optimization. It is the effort of reducing time and cost to acquire attention. Another way of explaining this is that the brand wants to expend the least amount of effort for the most amount of benefit. Such are the blessings of the internet: minimal effort, maximal scale.
Of course, if this were a relationship, the question would be how little do I need to care about you to make you care about me.