COB: Redefining the Cost of Business With Digital

The rise of social networks has given brands many things: The opportunity to connect with current and future customers at scale in real time, the ability to let loyal followers become active participants in the branding process, and even the marriage of these two trends through the amplification of customer interactions in order to reach further audiences and consumers.

Social network marketing even created a new vernacular for advertisers in the form of POE. Paid, owned, and earned (POE) became a rallying cry for many brands. The promise of Facebook and others suggested a world where owned assets could become a catalyst for earned currency via brand networks, with the potential to increase the impact further through paid media. The embrace of POE was so strong, experts created marketing decks that went as far as to include ravens, or a picture of Edgar Allan Poe for those wishing to be cute and avoid confusion due to subtlety. Clearly, POE’s following was strong, and for good reason based on the exponential growth of social and the proliferation of networks that value likes, fans, pins, and beyond.

Unfortunately, while the telltale heart of POE still beats, the heartbeat is now much weaker. With organic reach and earned media having diminished due to a combination of publicly traded companies’ needs for revenue and negative user sentiment toward the flooding of timelines with brand messaging, the way brands market via social networks has changed.

Today, you could make the case that COB is in fact the cost of business for brands. What exactly is COB? An active mantra of brand focus centered on content – a brand’s most precious and controlled asset in digital. Spelled out, COB looks like this:


With the rise of real-time and adaptive marketing, brands understand the need for content better than ever before. The number of “would be” influential signals harnessed is growing. While intent expressed by search was the norm five years ago, now signals from Twitter, the weather, financial markets, and more are assembled in such a way that if we have yet to predict the future, we can certainly react so rapidly to the present that it feels like near serendipity to consumers. This puts CREATION at the forefront of brand marketing online. Without assets, brands have little currency to trade on.


There is no greater wonder than that of discovery. From a child on Christmas morning to unearthing a lost treasure or finding a groundbreaking cure that has been just out of reach, the story of the world can be told through its great discoveries. Discovery is only possible when people and things are put in the position to find or be found. In digital, this means taking the content and enhancing it for the audience, both the humans who will ultimately come upon your asset and the machines that will organize and surface it. Optimization is the difference between page one and never being seen or clicked on. It’s the difference between machine learning of past patterns to improve site-side results and load times. The difference between being relevant, whether actively or passively discovered, and being left to chance and the mercy of the community to do the work for your brand. More sophisticated marketers already blend creation with optimization so that optimization is more a part of creation than an afterthought or post-production process.


If, as Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects suggested, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” then the greatest fraud perpetrated on brands with social media was that they could exist and thrive without spending money. Despite the early promise and even some preliminary results, it was never a sustainable model and most, if honest with themselves, will now acknowledge that fact. So, what are brands left to do? Embrace the truth. Embrace the reality that buying media, through bids and other models, is an undeniable part of the mix, and create advantages in the market. Google has built an empire on the assumptions of brands. The lack of standard brand metrics in social, consistency of standards, and inadequate formats in emerging channels all contribute to market inefficiencies. Every bid presents a moment of competition whereby brands with greater insights can take advantage of the systems and competitors for gain. Brands that understand this will find success and profit; those that don’t will invest foolishly and fail.

It’s too early to say POE is nevermore. However, it’s not too soon to suggest that COB is the cost of business in digital today. Brands that understand the value of content and the potential to Create, Optimize, and Bid will be active, successful players in the future marketing world.

Image via Shutterstock.

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