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Distributed And Destination Thinking

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When I talk to clients about getting into a 'digital mindset' I often end up talking about the differences between distributed and destination thinking. Destination thinking is the kind of media approaches that have been with us for many years. We create content, attract (or 'drive') users to that content in order to keep them there for as long as possible, serve advertising at them, or make money from them in some other way. The defining characteristic of destination thinking is that the user has to be on one of our properties in order for us to be able to monetise that relationship. So, to take the example of a traditional media owner, whilst The Daily Telegraph may have multiple channels through which it is delivering its digital content (apps, website, podcasts for example) those channels are still largely owned media assets that requires the user to be in situ.

Distributed thinking on the other hand takes the approach that the relationship might be monetised in many different places, not necessarily your own. Google's Ad Sense network is a great example of classic distributed thinking. Rather than the users just coming to the Google domain, millions of sites around the world have embedded small boxes on their site that use Google algorithms to serve contextually relevant text link advertising against editorial. The relationship is revenue share, so whilst the publisher is deriving additional benefit against the energy and resource they have invested in creating that content, Google are also successfully monetising access, context and relevance. Similarly, we don't need to go to Google to use Google search since it also powers the search functionality on millions of sites around the web.

Distributed thinking can lead to some powerful advantages. The embed functionality on YouTube videos for example, enables the platform to monetise the video content it hosts wherever it is consumed (and that's a lot of places). One of the big paybacks is, of-course, data. Twitter uses data collected from the integration of millions of Twitter follow buttons to recognise patterns in site and content visits that can be used to recommend other accounts to follow. Facebook log-ins and functionality are embedded in countless sites across the web and the Like button positioned against billions of pieces of content, giving Facebook access to a huge wealth of contextual data which it might reapply in multiple ways. Having established this kind of distributed presence, imagine what kind of three dimensional data might be possible if all those Like buttons could spin off other actions and descriptors (such as 'Want', 'Buy', 'Watch', 'Listen to', 'Read'). This might be one way in which Facebook could create a whole new scale and type of intentional marketing of the kind Noah talks about.

Distributed models are often difficult for businesses long based on legacy destination thinking to get their heads around since they start from a completely different place. Whilst the growth in importance of distributed thinking does not mean that destination has no place (that would simply be an example of lazy-endism), I think we'll increasingly see examples of the smart combination of both types of thinking applied to all kinds of marketing and content models.

Let me give you an example. ASOS Marketplace was created a couple of years ago by one of the smartest digital retailers on the web as a platform to facilitate ASOS customers (and new young designers) selling their own clothing to other ASOS customers. I suspect that most retailers would have run a mile before contemplating allowing their customers to buy from each other on their site, perhaps instead of buying from them. ASOS on the other hand, recognise that Marketplace creates a compelling, sticky piece of content that gives users a reason to come back to site again and again, generating plenty of opportunity for them to also shop from new stock. But there's another, very real benefit for ASOS. Whilst much of the action happens back on the ASOS site, Marketplace also provides a platform for a community whose distributed presence reaches out into many areas of the web. ASOS marketplace is interesting as a solution for a number of reasons - not least because it was created by an agency, as a long-term platform (rather than a short-term campaign), and it is very much a business solution, not a marketing solution.

When The Guardian launched their Open Platform, they talked about how it was designed to allow people to re-use Guardian content and data for free and weave it "into the fabric of the internet". It's a description I have a lot of time for, but it is the possibilities created when both types of thinking are combined that is so exciting. Or to put it another way, and to borrow another phrase I have a lot of time for, it's about "focused creation, ubiquitous distribution".

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