Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur of German origin and founder of PayPal and Palantir and former Facebook investor, made a core statement in his book Zero to One:
Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.
Zero to One, Peter Thiel
From a business perspective, monopolies have a serious advantage: Lack of competition leads to permanently high profits. For the Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA) companies it’s important that the customer relationship lies with them. Only then can access to these customers be permanently and repeatedly resold.
In order to retain the customer relationship, they must rule the playing-field. Users then move in the business universe without leaving that playing field. Especially at Apple, but also with Amazon, this is clearly visible. When buying from Marketplace dealers, or through the download of iPhone apps via the Apple Store, there is no direct contact with the providers, only to Amazon and Apple.
The Facebook group has learnt, through its dying social network Facebook, to almost complete remove the opportunity to escape Instagram.
Only Google has a naturally difficult task. As a search engine, the possibility to leave the platform via matching websites is inherent in the business model. Even here, however, there are ways and means. A separate browser, or HTML “extensions” such as AMP, are both tools which can transform parts of the open Internet into Google’s own playing-field.
This status quo won’t change for the foreseeable future because the four large GAFA corporations belong to the (western) Internet. Regulatory efforts by the European Commission have come many years too late and it will take even longer before effects (if any) Are felt. A possible taxation at EU level is farsighted and the fight by interest groups such as the German company VG Wort, based on the new copyright reform, are entertaining, but will not succeed. As entrepreneurs, therefore, we can only make the best of the given circumstances.
How does one deal with this situation today? My recommendation: beat the GAFA companies with their own weapons. Acquire direct relationships with your customers, prospects and website visitors, and continue with them through journeys that can’t be monopolised. Of these, there are two relevant ones: your website and direct e-mail communication.
Love your website
Your website must be at the center of all your online activities. It’s the one thing you’ll have permanent and unrestricted control over. Figuratively speaking, your website is your house on your own property. Build activities on the large platforms only on a time-limited basis, because this is where the conditions could change at any time, and at very short notice.
Of course, creating and operating your own, successful website is not a trivial task. The expectations are high on many levels, and continue to grow. Rapid loading times, support for all devices, appealing design that sets itself apart, ease-of-use, perfect content with text, image and video and much more. The quality expectation of the visitors is based on the, very good, products coming from the GAFA companies. Being able to keep up here is not easy, but doable – and honestly, without any alternative.
To successfully master this challenge, your website should not just be another project.
It should be an issue to you, personally, if users have to click away a privacy pop-up, then the browser notification reminder, and finally a newsletter invitation, before they even see 3 lines of content. A confusing navigation needs to cause you, personally, discomfort, so that you can swap it for a user-centric version as quickly as possible. Your website is the channel that, by far, should get the most attention.
Your use of the GAFA platforms must be a mirror-image of their dealings with you. Use their strengths and visitor-flow where it makes sense for you and your business, but do not rely on them and be prepared for the rules of the game to look completely different tomorrow. Do not invest any unnecessary effort in their platforms; Use that time for your own website.
It is unfortunate that the GAFA companies dominate the Internet and the situation will not change in the short-term either. Be pragmatic about it and use the platforms where visitors can be sent to your one-stop shop: your own website. Invest a lot of time, energy and love in your own website. It’s your investment that will hopefully outlive these platforms.