Google, Facebook and Apple: the battle of the ecosystems

How do you connect with audiences and engage consumers when the entire media and advertising ecosystem is not simply changing but downright being disrupted?

There are ample ways to (re)connect with consumers in a relevant, creative, innovative, emotional and meaningful way, among others thanks to the possibilities of creative data-driven marketing, by really taking a stand and through an unconditional focus on emotional connections and experiences. That is the good news and it was the topic of our post on customer engagement.

The disruption of the media and marketing ecosystem

However, the picture becomes increasingly difficult as it’s not just consumers and their behaviour that changed along with the – by now good old – challenges brought upon us by media fragmentation, an increase of content that is begging for consumers’ attention and the realities of digital transformation.

While many so-called disruptive technologies continue to offer new possibilities and entire industries are ‘disrupted’ there is a challenge that requires our attention. Today we are operating in a media and marketing ecosystem that is disrupted itself.

It’s not just about digital marketing transformation. It’s about the battles within our ecosystem where especially Google, Facebook and Apple are fighting each other for de facto consumer lock-in within their environments and for the acquisition of important chunks of the budgets and even data of advertisers. Consumer lock-in is one thing as ultimately the consumer decides. Advertiser and media lock-in is obviously another.

Ad blocking in the context of the tech giant wars

How else can we explain the whole ad blocking debate that gained momentum after Apple’s decision to support ‘content blocking’ extensions with operating system iOS9 and its approval of ad blocking in native apps? Among these native apps: Apple News, as the name says Apple’s news platform that comes with iOS9 and represents a ‘disruptive’ move as such whereby Apple curates the news from the publishers and keeps its vast audience within its own platform whereby revenues will be based on…advertising.

Essentially Apple is challenging the dominance of Google and initiatives from that other giant, Facebook. It also disrupts a relatively new market of applications that were built for the consumption of news and media.

Google didn’t wait long before it reacted. The company has been fighting to keep its dominance on the Web by trying to become ever more relevant for Internet users by putting relevance and engagement at the centre of its continuous changes. Just look at all the algorithm changes and initiatives such as Gmail Priority Inbox and, more recently, what many called Mobilegeddon which essentially meant ‘mobile-friendly websites will be
rewarded in mobile search’.

Prototype Google results page for Google AMP - via The Next Web

Prototype Google results page for Google AMP – via The Next Web

And now Google is trying to work together with advertisers and publishers with its Accelerated Mobile Pages project that officially aims to make sure mobile users have the best experiences by looking at page load times.

Guess what slows down page load times. Indeed, among others ad blocking tools and too much ‘in your face’ advertising on websites that care less about the user experience. In other words: Google AMP is also clearly aiming to deal with the threat of ad blocking (ads being its key source of revenues) and countering the initiatives of Apple and Facebook.

The stakes are high. Further proof: just today Google announced it launches a whopping €150 million fund “for companies in Europe looking to build bold projects to push digital journalism forward”. Those that apply must be based in Europe. So, Facebook and Apple: sorry (of course).

Tough choices for media brands and publishers in the age of mobile

And that brings us back to Apple News (more news within the iPhone and iPad news app means less power for Google News) and to the initiatives of Facebook such as Facebook Instant Articles which allows publishers to get their content directly within the Facebook environment, highly similar to what Apple does.

In theory it’s obviously great news for media companies that they have more ways to get their content ‘consumed’ within different contexts. Yet, at the same time they don’t own Facebook nor Apple and this could prove to be a burden as it’s not exactly a secret that both companies, just like Google, will go all the way to be(come) the Web experience as such. Facebook and Apple already have rules regarding the ways content and ads are presented in their respective news ‘products’.

The battle between the three giants is one for the increasingly mobile consumer and Google is determined to make sure Facebook nor Apple will be where consumers spend their time consuming media as it’s a direct threat to the company’s core business.

At the same time media companies face huge challenges in an already very tough market whereby they are confronted with monetization issues, ad blocking and now all these choices about where they want to be.

“Publishers who use Facebook’s platform currently have two revenue options: Either filling display ad inventory themselves and keeping 100% of the revenue, or offering 30% revenue to Facebook in exchange for letting Facebook handle placement. “

— Fast Company

The challenges for advertisers

For advertisers it’s a challenge as well, one of the reasons why Google wants them involved in AMP. And it doesn’t end there. With Facebook’s fast scaling of Atlas that attracts more partners and allows advertisers to target users without relying on cookies, Google sees its DoubleClick business threatened and steps up its pace with its own Data Management Platform, DoubleClick Audience Center (DAC).

Along with all these initiatives comes another challenge: that of data ownership. But that’s for a next blog post.

In the meantime this is for sure: we’re in the middle of a battle of tech giants about control and power and how we as marketers are ensuring that brands can still create moments of connections in ways consumers like and engaging brands can offer them, without being victims of any battle whatsoever.