Since the beginning of time, merchants of widgets and ideas have been trying to get people interested in what they’re selling. They use a variety of strategies – advertising, word of mouth, getting on top of a box and barking into a crowded square, and more.

They’ve tried everything. Some methods have worked, while others, not so much. Yet every single day, new people attempt to sell their ideas through a variety of ineffective methods. They are reinventing the wheel when they should see what has worked for others and iterate from that instead.

Looking at advertising is one of the best ways to understand this. The TV-industrial complex is slowly being dismantled. Advertising is not as effective as it once was, yet new business owners continue to focus on it to draw attention to their new business.

Sometimes they do worse and think that they absolutely need a storefront in order to be seen. In other words, they think of what they know. It’s a natural reaction, although an ineffective one.

Instead, we need a place where we are top of mind as often as possible. Building a platform for yourself satisfies this need. Having a platform on the web, accessible to all, satisfies it best.

Platform vs. advertising

The power of the platform in the twenty-first century is that it can reach anyone, at any time, in any place. This same phenomenon is available to anyone – once a significant audience is built, it facilitates almost any goal you have.

The increased network that comes with a huge platform will help you get things done faster. In other words, platform multiplies power. The more vast and more effective it is, the stronger you become.

There will come a time when everyone will have a significant platform – that time, in fact, is already coming about. We see people spreading messages more quickly than ever before through Facebook accounts, helping a media democracy emerge, one that could never before have existed due to the cost of developing a platform and distributing ideas.

Advertising means borrowing audience attention and diverting it toward what you’re trying to sell. Whether in newspapers, television, or banner ads, traditional advertising usually distracts people from their interest and toward something else. But platform doesn’t do this – platform is different.

The platform is the channel itself. When people gather around a television to watch the most recent episode of Mad Men, they are there to pay attention to the show, not the advertising between the segments. (We are conscious, incidentally, of the irony of our use of a show about advertising as our example.)

Advertising distracts. It’s when people go to the bathroom or make a phone call. They don’t do this during the television program itself because the show is why they’re there.

This is why platform is important – it is not a diversion from the audience’s interests. Those who care about cars will focus on the car channel and ignore the hype in between.

Those who enjoy the fashion channel will, likewise, ignore the advertising between pieces of content, with one exception: If the focus of the advertising matters to them too.

But in most cases advertising fails, and besides, platform is more effective, is more profitable, and works better over the long term, and finally, you have more control over it.

Image by TED Conference via Flickr.

About TED

No discussion of platform would be complete without at least a little examination of what has become perhaps one of the most famous platforms on the web today, that is to say, the TED conference.

TED, for most, needs no introduction. It is a world-class event attended by U.S. presidents, billionaire CEOs, as well as some of the most insightful and inspirational artists and scientists of our time.

Occurring once a year, in Long Beach, California, it has also spawned a number of side events, such as TEDGlobal and TEDAfrica, not to mention the hundreds of independently organized events, branded TEDx, that have been launched by universities and communities around the globe.

Since its first event in 1984, TED has truly become a global brand that represents both excellence in idea design and collective purpose. It is also the perfect example of platform because the organizers themselves do not generate the presentations at all but simply borrow and curate them.

This is an important distinction, because it means that they can focus on the platform, and only the platform, ensuring it is among the best in the world.

While it’s true that most conferences do not design presentations, other events have not come close to representing what TED does. TED’s motto is “ideas worth spreading,” yet TED itself does not create these ideas; it simply recognizes them and gives them a platform from which to be heard.

All the best platforms are like this: the Huffington Post, the best-known global magazines, and more. They are aggregators. They focus on what they do best – obtaining reach and, through reach, increasing exposure – while letting another team address the very thing that makes TED great: world-class content.

Yet the two cannot be separated. Without great content, the platform is useless and becomes barren and abandoned. Without the platform, the great idea is invisible and unheard amid the cacophony of the idea marketplace.

This excerpt, adapted for Sparksheet, is from THE IMPACT EQUATION: ARE YOU MAKING THINGS HAPPEN OR JUST MAKING NOISE? Published by Portfolio/Penguin. Copyright (c) Christopher Brogan and Julien Smith, 2012. Used by permission.