The importance of content…

My former employer made an announcement last year to all of its employees that we were in the age of “attention” where someone’s time is their primary currency. Most of the recent thought leaders in the world of Marketing and Advertising have said that the world of Advertising has changed completely and that we will no longer be able to “interrupt what people are talking about” but rather BE what people are talking about.

Design, creativity and relevance have become critical components of communication moreso than ever before, and the playing field is being leveled as the average person (with a computer and Internet access) has the ability to broadcast their message to the entire world. Emails, Websites and now even video and audio are as easy to distribute across the globe as they are to create (and they are becoming so easy to create that the major media companies are freaking out).

You can now view/listen to advertisements on your TV, on your computer, on your cell phone, in line at the Supermarket, on the bus/train, in the airport, on the plane as well as on a wide range of new devices that have become part of the “toolkit” for survival in this modern world.

There are more and more ways to reach people and yet, the advertising industry seems to be shrinking. The net effect of all of these new communication channels has actually been more control for the recipient. In addition to providing new ways to reach people, the technology has provided new ways for people to ignore your ads. We don’t have to rely on the “mute” button during commercials anymore, we can simply skip them. If we don’t want to receive calls from telemarketers, we simply add our name to a “do-not-call” list. We can easily (in theory) unsubscribe ourselves from emails that we don’t want to receive, and we can also block ads from making their way into our Web browsers. All to an extent, of course as there always seems to be a way to break through the limitations if an advertiser really wants to (look at porn).

So what is the real effect of all of this on the advertising and communications world?
Tim Hespos, who writes articles on MediaPost’s “Online Spin”, published an article on February 7th called “The End of Watered Down Content.” According to Tim, the marketplace has chanced because people now have the “ability to unshackle content from time, place and manner restrictions.”

To Tim, “[people] now value content according to how entertaining and/or information-rich it is, on a granular level. This leads to our picking and choosing the elements of the experience we wish to preserve, and what we wish to remove.”
Media companies no longer control content, that’s in the hands of all of the millions of people with computers, Web sites and podcasts…. ideas. So the whole idea of a “publisher of content” being able to, as Tim put it, “give you something you want” in exchange for giving you something you don’t want while they have your attention, is supposedly over… as now people simply forego the something they don’t want and (usually illegally) download only what they want.

On some level this may be true, but this relies on the average person being able to produce and deliver content that someone wants without any money. Let’s not forget that the reason big media companies have been able to command the world of content delivery for so long is because they have had the money. Sure, some of them have made money purely on the value of their content alone, so there will always be space for someone with a really great idea, or story, to tell it. And the audience for this has just become truly global. But the production of that story had better be relatively cheap. Podcasts are a great example of this. If you’ve got a few hundred dollars, you can purchase a computer, a microphone and download some free audio recording/editing software that will allow you to create your own audio content that you can then publish via iTunes. But what if your story requires visuals? Well, now you’ve got to make a bigger investment…

Distributing your own short film may be free, thanks to the Web (not including the costs of your ISP) but making it will require more resources. Say a Digital Video Camera, video editing software, more hard drive space and more RAM for your computer. Does your story require set production? Actors/actresses? Better sound quality? Now you need more money? Who do you think pays for that? Big media companies have the budget for this kind of thing because their content is valuable… who is the content valuable to?

Advertisers… ultimately somewhere, someone knows that they will recoup the costs of producing the content through various advertising and/or marketing channels. Media companies resell the rights to their content to other people that want to distribute it, the “distributors” recoup their costs by collecting money from advertisers that believe that the people watching this content are also people likely to purchase their products. The specific model that exists currently may be changing… the places where content is viewed may be changing, time is no longer an issue, I can download “Lost” and watch it anytime I want to.
I can review the Football Championship Game (not sure if I can refer to the Bowl game that happened last Sunday or not) or just the commercials that aired during the game at my leisure… but it’s still not “free.” An article in the New York Times mentioned that something like 23 million AOL customers downloaded the aforementioned commercials on the Monday after “The Big Game” … for “free” but all 23 million of them had to watch an ad while the download was occurring. All 23 million of them obviously felt that this was a worthwhile exchange and the advertiser, who paid money to have their ad running during the download would likely agree. But if you’re looking at the world of advertising and saying it’s changed vastly… I might argue that not much has changed.

Instead of sitting in front of your TV on a Friday night watching “Dallas” on for “free” CBS and voluntarily subscribing to some :30 second spots in exchange for the content you want, you now download the content from the Web and voluntarily subscribe to some form of Web advertising (if not immediately, you gave them some information about yourself that will most likely be used to advertise to you later) while your download occurs. In some cases, you may be subjected to MORE advertising than you did before.

Tim Hespos said “the media business no longer controls the packaging” and on one level, I understand his point. The days where you’d go to the record store and buy “Vanilla Ice’s greatest hits” for that one song you liked back in the day are over. Now you just go to iTunes, pay $.99 and get the one song you want. But on the other hand, if you look at the successful internet models, I’d argue that big media are still in control of the packaging. AOL is in the media businesss and they controlled the packaging for 23 million people that wanted to see the TV commercials, all 23 million of them saw an ad for a Time Warner produced TV show.

Can you legally download good content without watching an ad? Sure, you go to iTunes or Google Video and pay a nominal fee to get the “non-ad” version. But you’re probably still seeing an ad for something… it might be a small text ad on the sideof the page, or it might be an ad for another tune to download… but it’s still an ad… and it wasn’t even free.

So the old adage of “we’ll give you something you want, in exchange for giving you something you don’t want while we have your attention” will still live… the place to be is still on the team that’s creating the content in the first place, and if you have the ideas that appeal to the whole world, chances are somebody with something to advertise will want to give you money for your content.

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Marketing: The Move from Push to Pull

Andy Lark, from the BrandShift blog, posted a quote from AG Lafley (from P&G) stating that consumers “have the power in the consumption and media and message chain… and so the world is shifting from a push to a pull” giving the consumer a lot more choices.

This is quite a significant statement from the man at the helm of the company responsible for some of the biggest brands in the world, the company that practically invented the concept of “brand management” who lived and died by campaigns and taglines and mass marketing for so long.

This is not news, I know… not even for my blog. But I think that a change this big is so significant that it may need to be repeated a few times before it truly sinks in. Here are some examples from the world around of just how serious this change is, in fact, it’s not just a change in how to market to people. It’s a change in how to deliver any content to people, whether you’re trying to sell laundry detergent or a movie you’ve made.

  • By 2007, 42.5% of the households in the US will have a Digital Video Recorder (such as TiVo), by the end of the decade, this number will easily reach 50% – meaning more than half the country will have the ability to skip 30 second TV ads
  • Over 500 Television titles were made available for release on DVD in 2003 (I need some updated numbers, send them to me if you have them) so people that don’t TiVo will have a version of “Lost” without commercials altogether
  • iTunes and the iTunes music store is a success story for the music industry and their struggles with online content
  • A recent issue of Fast Company Magazine talked about the movie industry’s plans to begin investigating internet releases of feature films, on the same day as the theatrical release, because people have created home entertainment systems through their computers and don’t like to leave their house
  • Television content, such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” is now available for download on iTunes, and as a result, Google’s video service will begin exploring pay-per-view models on their site

People can almost completely control the content they are exposed to throughout their entire day, so how do you get through to them? Exactly as AG Lafley suggests, through “pull” strategies not “push” strategies.

A “push” strategy is designed for you to push information out to someone. Typically the person you are “pushing” information to hasn’t asked for the information, so what you have to do is to think about the story you are trying to tell, determine what will be most appealing to the people you are “pushing” it to and then find a way to intercept them with your message. But if they are in complete control of what does or doesn’t get in front of their eyes, then you’ll have a pretty difficult time making a push strategy work.

In a pull strategy, you basically put your story together but rather than just dumping your whole message on someone you devise ways to get them to come to you. An example of a pull strategy would be to include a feature on your Web site that would allow people to spread the word about you to their friends. You didn’t push your information out to the friends, you used good information as the reason to pull them in and you relied on people that already knew about you to do the pulling.

Some companies have recognized that this shift from push to pull is a challenge for everyone, not just the marketing department. As Seth Godin implied in his book “the purple cow” we should be focused on creating remarkable products that fill a need in society (not just the market) and then letting the “marketing” happen on its own (well, ok perhaps with a little “push”) but look at products like the iPod… It is so cool, so well designed, and so well suited to how people live their lives today that it needs almost no marketing. People know they need an iPod and just naturally flock to them.

Things to consider if you want to create a “pull” strategy for your product or service…

  1. How are people currently finding out about our product? Is advertising the only way people find out about us? What could we do to get people talking about us?
  2. Do the people that do business with us or use our products feel “proud” to do so? Would they tell their friends about it? Is there some incentive we can give them that would help them spread the word without being an obvious scheme (we’ll give you $100 to tell people)
  3. Does our Web site feel like a brochure? Does it put things into the perspective of the audience or does it talk all about us? (We’ve been in business for 500 years… our product was the first, is the best, is the biggest, etc…)
  4. Would someone that’s not necessarily a potential customer still find our product or service intriguing?
  5. Do people have the ability to maintain a relationship with us on their own terms, to choose how to communicate with us, what content they want to receive (and in what format) and so on, and in a way that does not compromise what we want to get across?
  6. Have we sought out and created connections with complimentary services or made sure that we are linked to from the appropriate places on the Web? Do we have a good search engine strategy?

I have made some posts about Pandora’s music service. It is very cool and has all of the key elements for a good pull strategy.

  1. It’s based on a very cool idea. Exposing people to new music, based on their individual tastes.
  2. It’s very simple to try and very simple to tell your friends about
  3. It remembers you the next time you return and anything you told it about yourself
  4. They have a blog, which means they can communicate with their audience, link to/from other related sites and offer content as RSS to people that want to pull their news into another location
  5. Even if you aren’t someone that listens to music online, the idea of a service that will help you find other artists/songs that you may like is a great idea… and the fact that it’s connected to Amazon.com and iTunes gives it the potential to go mainstream since that’s already how people that are online are getting music – which means it fits into their lives.

Without ever running an ad or a radio spot, Pandora can execute their idea… and keep pulling in new potential customers just by doing what they’re best at… sharing music.

If you want to look at a company that’s had to make a major shift in their strategy, just look at Blockbuster video vs. Netflix. Netflix keeps adding ways to make their service easier and more accessible to people, offering incentives such as 3-free months of video rentals, no late fees, a chance to share your recent rentals with your friends, and an endless queue of movies that you actually want to see. They took all of the ways in which someone traditionally rented a movie to watch at home and simplified them… so much so that you don’t even have to leave your house to be a customer… and how has Blockbuster responded? By emulating the service… eliminating late fees, adding the ability to have movies mailed to your home and so on. No more coupons in the “valu-pak” mailers… now it’s email referrals.

Times they are a changin’

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