The New Old Look of Power.

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Tomorrow I’ll be at ad:tech in New York, where for the second time I’ll be leading a discussion about “The New Power Brokers: How Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon Are Changing the Game, and How Brands and Agencies Should Respond.” Since we started this discussion at ad:tech last April, the topic seems to have taken on even greater urgency and focus for those in the online marketing world  (Witness the coverage in last month’s Fast Company).   If anything, we should be paying even more attention than we are:  these four may be defining the business and consumer worlds we’ll all be living in very soon.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PulsePoint, the digital technology company that helps publishers gain deeper visibility in to audience and content, increase first party ad sales revenue and access new opportunities to drive greater business results.

There remain differences among these four companies, of course.  But thinking of Apple as a device maker, Amazon as a retailer, Google as a search company and Facebook as a social network is anachronistic to the point of delusion.  Today all four have blown away the intellectual and market borders that once defined them and are each aiming for hegemony and ubiquity in the life of the consumer and in the way we (in publishing and marketing) speak to them and sell to them.  And while Fast Company tried to sell magazines by offering predictions about why each of these players could “win,” I believe that “victory” is irrelevant:  the mere fact of their competition is enough to make us care.  Here are the scenarios that should stoke our curiosity:

The Web Itself Becomes Less Relevant: Apple, Amazon and Facebook are all in the process of creating walled gardens.  Your Apple or Amazon device connects you directly to iTunes or Amazon.com.  Facebook sits on the web, but it is not of the web.  It’s an unsearchable, closed environment, notwithstanding the ubiquity of “like” buttons all over the web.  Google remains heavily engaged in the web, but with the purchase of Motorola it too will soon be a device maker.  With so much consumer time, money and attention siphoning into these four ecosystems in the next several years, will marketers and agencies start crafting five separate strategies:  one for the web and one for each of the big four ecosystems?

The Data War Becomes a Rout: So much of the talk (and investment) in our space has centered on consumer data.  We gather it, process it, apply it and sell it to one another.   But doing battle over data with these four is like fighting a gas war with OPEC.  In fact, most of us are actually contributing every day to the data war chests of Google (DoubleClick, AdSense, AdMeld, Gmail, etc.) and Facebook (Facebook Connect).  Not to mention the sheer volume of data-rich transactions that Apple and Amazon touch every minute of every day.

Credit Card 2.0: An interesting scenario painted in the Fast Company article is the specter of these companies becoming direct players in finance.  You already carry an iPhone or a Motorola/Droid which you use to check in at airports:  why can’t the same device be an instrument of payment?   If Amazon can close the loop even further and accept direct payment via your Kindle Fire (and even offer financing) why wouldn’t they?  Facebook already dabbles in “credits:” Not much of a leap to think that they too will want a piece of the consumer transaction.

This may sound like an apocalyptic vision, but it’s really more of a wake-up call.  If consumers end up trusting the big four with ever more of their time, attention and dollars, how should the rest of us respond?  Marketing, advertising and publishing all require well-populated environments.  And if your marketing, advertising or publishing strategy isn’t starting to focus on the big four, maybe it should?

Want to discuss this Drift with your team? Here are some topics:  “How can we begin to use Facebook  today as a driver of value for our customers?”  “As we establish our mobile strategy, are we taking into account the ambitions of the big four?”  “Is our overall strategy too dependent on the current economics and thinking of ‘web advertising?’”  And if you’re at ad:tech, stop in at our session, 2:45 to 3:45 Wednesday afternoon.

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