What Business Are You In? - Jaffer Ali

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Cover image for  article: What Business Are You In? - Jaffer Ali

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the
obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

--George Orwell

I talk to a lot of people in my role as the CEO of a company with one foot in e-commerce and the other in media. My joy is when I get to combine the two, but that's another story for another time.

It's becoming increasingly clear to me that more and more people are not sure of exactly what business they're in. I am not kidding or exaggerating here. I found this perplexing at first, but with this apparent confusion now so wide spread and growing, it has become standard for me to ask the confused person on the other end of the line, "what business are you in and who are your customers?"

Invariably, online publishers appear to me to be among the most thoroughly confused. When I asked one publisher who he considered his free website's target customer to be, he hesitated, stuttered, and then fell silent. I allowed the silence to sit for a while until I asked again…and waited.

He then told me that those coming to his website were his customers.

I asked how much his customers paid him. 'Nothing', he replied, since he had no products he was selling directly and had no subscription revenues. My response was to state what I believed to be obvious; his customers were those willing to pay him something – his advertisers.

This publisher was in the advertising business, yet he hadn't a clue. He was confusing his audience with his customer and in the process lost sight of what business he was in. His audience comprised potential customers for advertisers, period. Stated another way, without advertisers, what business would he not be in?

I'm not suggesting that satisfying his audience wasn't important. I'm merely suggesting that there's a big difference between his audience and his customers, and he should know which is which.

The problem doesn't end with publishers. We have confused our tools with our objectives, or, as Marshall McLuhan would say: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us. The end product of this disconnect is a media ecosystem chock full of folks who have no idea what business they're in. We're like a bunch of cats chasing_string.

For many, their business is chasing the latest and most interesting "new" string. "Real time" is the latest boondoggle being touted and chased to no business end. The more complexity marketers heap on the growing pile, the greater the distance between the business they perceive they're in, and reality. Meanwhile, performance continues to decline.

It's really pretty simple. After discharging my duty, I feel my IQ rising a few points already.

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of Vidsense, an online content video network that uses content instead of advertising to build and deliver audiences to advertisers. He can be reached at j.ali@Vidsense.com.

Read all Jaffer’s MediaBizBloggers commentaries at On the Other Hand….

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