I feel compelled to respond to a recent story in Wired magazine titled “Inside the Buzz-Fueled Media Startups Battling For Your Attention.” In it, writer Mat Honan explains how Buzzfeed and other news services are generating massive amounts of traffic through technology. To which he concluded that “marketing is for losers.”
What the story doesn’t account for, however, is that Buzzfeed is a company fully supported by advertising revenue and investors. There are no subscriptions to be sold. Traffic is their livelihood, so no traditional marketing is needed. Those in charge of growing the traffic, however, are essentially content marketers.
Director of Growth. Audience Development. They’re both titles that mean the same thing. Entrenched in the job descriptions of both is a tie-in to marketing. The job of a marketer is to facilitate awareness to drive an action. In Buzzfeed’s case, it’s a page view. In my case, it’s to drive a subscription.
Since Buzzfeed doesn’t need any brand awareness (their social shares handle that) or monetize their users outside of advertising, there is not much of a need for traditional marketing there. That could eventually change as they continue to evolve from producing full-time cat gif listacles to only part-time cat gif listacles with some deep reporting mixed in.
This isn’t a knock against Buzzfeed. I actually think it’s a great site and is needed in the content space. In fact, I read some really amazing work on Buzzfeed in 2014, including “Who Killed Lois Duncan’s Daughter,” “The Down and Dirty History of TMZ” and “Seven Days and Nights in the World’s Rowdiest Retirement Communities.” If you have an hour to kill, I highly recommend you read them.
Traditional news organizations with subscription-based models, however, need both traditional marketing and audience growth. I don’t believe many people will just subscribe to The Times without having read our content. The audience growth team can help expose new and existing readers to The Times’ rich reporting. Marketing, whether on the site, in the app or externally, can then find the right way to entice that reader to read The Times more regularly as a paid subscriber.
So while Mat might feel that marketing is for losers. Isn’t that essentially what Buzzfeed is doing with its content to generate its massive growth?