Game Of Internet Marketing Thrones: Who Will Sit On The Iron Throne?
Which behemoth will win the war for online marketing dollars? Columnist David Rodnitzky breaks down the strategies of the biggest players and their odds of winning.
What could be more entertaining than an all-out battle for world dominance replete with power-hungry rulers, ever-changing alliances, bloody battles, and political jockeying that would make Machiavelli blush?
If you think I’m talking about “Game of Thrones,” guess again! I’m talking about the maneuvering to capture the most Internet marketing dollars.
Lucky for us, we’ve all got a front seat to a battle royale to determine which Internet juggernaut will emerge on top! The following are the major players — and their odds of winning — in the battle for the Internet marketing throne.
Major Victories: Negotiating a tepid settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and avoiding an antitrust ruling; launching the Android operating system to take a bite out of Apple’s mobile dominance.
Alliances: A tenuous alliance with Apple, as Google still provides all of Apple’s search results on iPhones. But be careful, Google, as Yahoo has shown a willingness to attack such strategic alliances, recently beating out Google for all of Firefox’s search.
Enemies: Facebook, which has taken a lot of eyeballs and even some ad revenue away from the Google juggernaut; Amazon, who threatens to displace shopping revenue; Apple, which has plans for mobile dominance.
Core Strategy: Defend the moat! Google’s revenue is 90%+ advertising, so to win, Google needs to make sure that this revenue is as safe as possible.
It’s done this in a few ways:
- By building Android, to secure mobile market share;
- By buying properties with lots of eyeballs to drive more ad revenue (e.g., YouTube, Waze);
- By offering an ad tech stack that embeds advertisers with Google;
- by launching Google Shopping Express – a direct attack against Amazon; and
- Google Plus (just kidding).
Game of Thrones family: The Lannisters. Right now, Google sits on the Iron Throne as the largest player in online advertising.
Odds of Winning: High. Despite many enemies, never count out Google (and never count out the Lannisters).
Major Victories: The acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, which were ridiculed as ridiculously expensive at the time but are now turning out to be huge growth drivers; the ability to successfully monetize mobile traffic.
Alliances: Facebook received early investment from Microsoft and once used Bing for searches on the site (but no longer).
Enemies: None, really. I’m sure some people will say that Snapchat is nipping at Facebook’s heels, but this is a distant threat at best.
Core Strategy: Connect everyone, everywhere, on every device. Facebook wants every person in the world to use Facebook, or a Facebook product. Hence the acquisition of WhatsApp, the launch of Internet.org, and the early focus on mobile experience. Once it has all the world’s users, the advertising part is relatively simple!
And don’t forget about Facebook’s acquisition and re-deployment of the Atlas Ad Server – this could be the start of a concerted attempt to attack Google’s emerging ad tech stack.
Game of Thrones Family: The Baratheons. Like the Baratheons, Facebook has some magic on its side. For the Baratheons, this is Melisandre, a witch with magical powers; for Facebook, it’s Oculus Rift, the virtual reality system that could be a monster if it gains traction.
Odds of Winning: High. Facebook has the eyeballs, it has the data, and it’s proven that it can make advertising work on mobile and desktop.
Major Victories: Becoming the dominant e-commerce player. Building platforms for e-reading (Kindle) and hosting (Amazon Web Services).
Enemies: Google (the battle for ecommerce).
Core Strategy: Dominate first; make money later. Amazon makes no bones about wanting to own the entire Internet.
At a corporate level, the company has consistently eschewed profits in favor of growth, making it hard for the competition in e-commerce and hosting to eke out a profit. Amazon Fire was an attempt (still is an attempt?) to compete with Google and Apple for mobile dominance, but so far has not caught fire (pun intended).
On the Internet marketing front, Amazon is still a bit of a dark horse, but it has launched a suite of advertising solutions, primarily designed for retailers.
Game of Thrones Family: The Starks. Amazon is the warden of the North (i.e., Seattle).
Odds of Winning: While Amazon has had numerous e-commerce victories, Internet marketing victory seems less likely. Companies like Google and Facebook depend on ad revenue for their survival, and thus are much more focused on this battle, whereas Amazon seems to be constantly fighting a multi-front war, which history tells us generally doesn’t end well.
Major Victories: Becoming a leader in mobile connectivity (iPhones and iPads). Surviving the death of former CEO Steve Jobs.
Alliances: The previously noted search relationship with Google.
Enemies: Google (mobile), Microsoft (computers).
Core Strategy: Build technology and then monetize the heck out of it. Apple built the iPhone and then monetized it further through the App Store – and then did the same thing with the iPad and now the Apple Watch. For Internet advertising, Apple does have the iAds platform, which I’m sure brings in some decent revenue but has never gotten the attention inside Apple that it probably deserves.
Game of Thrones Family: The Targaryens. Like Daenerys Targaryen, Apple has an army of free slaves who are almost blindly obedient. In Apple’s case, these are called fan boys.
Odds of Winning: Medium. Despite iAd’s low prioritization inside Apple, Apple has the chance to be a sleeping giant here if it ever decides to focus on Internet advertising as a major revenue stream for the company.
Major Victories: The success of Xbox, the search partnership with Yahoo.
Alliances: Yahoo search partnership (slowly dying), Facebook search partnership (dead).
Enemies: Apple (computers), Google (search and productivity tools).
Core Strategy: To be determined. With Satya Nadella now at the helm for about a year now, Microsoft’s strategy is still being formed. While Bing doesn’t seem to be taking off in any meaningful way, Xbox may be Microsoft’s Trojan horse to gain Internet marketing traction. With nearly 13 million Xbox Ones sold to date, that’s a lot of eyeballs that Microsoft can influence.
Game of Thrones Family: The wildlings. Somewhere out there in the barren hinterland, Microsoft is assembling a motley army to attack the wall. Ultimately, any attack probably won’t amount to much, but it’ll probably inflict great casualties in defeat.
Odds of Winning: Low. Fifteen years ago, Microsoft was inches from the throne. Too much in-fighting and poor strategy (not to mention an antitrust suit) has hobbled Microsoft too much.
Other Families Worth Considering:
Yahoo: Yahoo Gemini, Tumblr, and a stake in Alibaba. Probably too little too late, but Yahoo continues to make interesting moves and has clearly not given up hope of one day ruling Westeros!
eBay: eBay still has millions of eyeballs and e-commerce revenue flowing through its flagship site. Plus, PayPal still rules the roost in online payments. Still, it seems unlikely that eBay can transfer its payments/auction dominance into online advertising.