The Key Issue Isn't Free or Paid Media, but 'How Can We Regain Consumers' Trust?'

The Way We Now Target and Reach Consumers Is Great for Scale, but It's Also Created Chaos and Unease

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  Many wise minds have espoused the merits of the ad-supported business model, where consumers get free services or content so marketers can "push" ads to them.

The venture capitalist Fred Wilson made the case in a recent blog post, writing that the push-ad or "freemium" model "is a fantastic way to support services that want the broadest adoption and want to be free… Think about the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the Presidential Debates, the news … These things are ad-supported and free for anyone to watch… It is good for society for these things to be available to the broadest audience."

Sounds good in theory, but it doesn't always match the marketing reality.

The free-content/ad-push model of traditional media worked because it rested on tightly controlled and trusted media channels, allowing the laws of scarcity to raise media value. In today's Wild Wild West of free services and content, no such scarcity exists, thus cheapening media value for everyone.

And while the "freemium" concept does solve the scale issue for marketers, all the marvelous technology available for reaching consumers directly is sacrificing their trust –- the most important ingredient marketers need to monetize programs.

Most marketers can regale you with war stories of how hard it is to create trust in these free environments, for content or services. The consumer is inundated with ads she can't turn off, or she is waiting for a "gotcha moment" she knows is coming from some brand or other. To make trust matters worse, there is the sheer tonnage of increasingly creepy, algorithmically accurate push advertising, filtering the consumer's digital world through the predictive model's rose-colored glasses. Try building a sustainable, trusted user franchise within that type of dynamic. Welcome to the new marketing trust gap.

What are thoughtful marketers to do?

We can begin to design new types of media inventory -- call them "trust ads" -- based on consumer choices: an opt-in/ pull marketing paradigm.

This would include platforms where people have powerful tools to pick which brands they want in their digital lives and new types of scalable networks that are distinct from content sites or social networks by creating trust through connecting people who share similar interests.

By giving consumers choices ("pull" rather than "push" technology) trust goes up and so do the chances for efficient marketing ROI.

It's time to pivot the free-platform debate into a practical discussion of how marketing-technology platforms (free or paid) can support the urgent, emerging need for trust-marketing innovation.

Judy Shapiro is CEO/ founder of engageSimply; a social commerce technology venture and chief brand advisor at CloudLinux. Her blog, TrenchWars provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.
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