November 8, 2010

The Iron Law of Online Marketing: Why Your Ads (Almost Always) Can’t Be Your Competitive Advantage

There is only one interesting way to make money, in any field: develop and exploit a durable competitive advantage.1 Berkshire Hathaway wins because they are the buyer of first resort for good businesses that want to sell, and they can get cheap capital through superior underwriting; Facebook wins because to achieve parity with them, you have to recreate a 500 million-node social graph; the corner bodega turns a profit because that particular corner has a bodega and a half’s worth of foot traffic. In every one of these cases, it’s theoretically possible to compete with the incumbent, but there’s a better ROI in just letting them dominate the industry.

One thing these companies have in common is that their competitive advantage applies to the product or the process—either they can make the same thing for less money, or they can make something nobody else can make. What they don’t rely on is superior advertising. With good reason:

In the long term, the best advertising—the best creative, the best placement—will be sold to the high bidder. And the high bidder is whoever’s competitive advantage lets them earn more from a given customer. Read the rest of this entry »