Digital Media’s 3rd Space

nathan_Levi260I recently entered into a discussion with a client about the potential of marketing their app instead of driving traffic to the website. I held the view that the app was a much more engaging and rich experience than the more transactional website and that getting more people to use the app would show healthier returns in the long term. This discussion prompted my wider thinking about the evolving digital media landscape and the emergence of its ‘3rd space’. By this I mean the not-so-transactional, brand enhancing experiential media, the murky landscape between brand awareness and direct response.

Whilst digital media is a more complex beast, it has been shoehorned to a degree into playing the roles of its traditional counterparts. Hence we have the ‘useless’ impression metric we’ve all become burdened with, or the more meaningful click metric that Google owns the lion share of. The channel equivalents for traditional media folk are display or classifieds, front pages or back pages, TV or DRTV; they clearly separate the role of media into two distinct camps.

In digital we’ve spent the past few years exploring the grey area in between, or ‘the 3rd space. This has been premised with the idea that media drives ‘engagement’, that the role of media is not just to entertain or to sell. The challenge has often been that nobody can succinctly define ‘engagement’ because it cannot be measured in a uniform or meaningful way; eyeballs and sales are what justify media budgets to CMOs. The app, the YouTube channel, the online partnership and the online community all seem to sit in a middle ground between being awareness and direct response vehicles. They certainly do a job in terms of driving brand affinity and can also play a role in getting people to buy. This presents many challenges for marketers, namely that media budgets will sit in one camp or another. Asking my client for media budget to drive visitors to an app is partly a branding exercise and partly a DR tactic, it’s not one or the other. My client will want to know how many sales will come from these app downloads and this will be the success metric pinned to the media activity – even though the app might get people to like the brand or engage with the brand more regularly. This dual function of 3rd space media is a sticking point for many.

Looking around the web there are some great examples of ‘3rd spaces’. For apps take a look at Zipcar, for YouTube channels see Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Tube’, for communities Nike Plus is a standout, and for online partnerships see Sainsburys on MSN. All of these ‘3rd spaces’ are non-transactional, are free to use, and enhance your experience of the brand. All are great media vehicles and have had significant investment, yet they play little or no role in driving awareness or as hard core DR. For me this is where Facebook struggles; few brands have been able to make Facebook a true 3rd space experience.

These ‘3rd spaces’ make digital media planning much more complex. Instead of funnelling all traffic through to the website we are now challenged with a multi-destination media journey. How much should one spend on driving traffic to increase YouTube views versus app downloads? Which of these potential customers is more valuable to me? How do I measure the impact of one 3rd space over another? These are very complex challenges that many traditional brands are not yet geared up to deal with.

Marketers will need to accept that not all media strategies can be tied to branding or DR metrics. The 3rd space of media has arrived.


Nathan Levi is a contributor at The Makegood and the Head of Media at VCCP, a media optimization company.

  • Chris Senio

    Well stated! I would argue that justifying the value of the “3rd space”
    has been the primary challenge of digital media planners for quite some