Content: You Get What You Pay For

hulu-logoToday the news came out that Hulu, the excellent service where people can watch high quality network TV for free over the Internet (and was advertised during the most recent Superbowl), plans to start charging subscription fees in 2010.

As I write this, the often-expletive-ridden outrage of Hulu loyalists is being expressed all over Twitter, many people talking about how the service will suffer its demise by 2011, or that one of the best sites on the Internet is now ruined. I can’t remember whether it was my Mom, who always says “you get what you pay for,” or whether it’s all of the economics classes I’ve taken, but somewhere along the line I started to understand that nothing good is created for free. Therefore someone has to pay for it.

I understand that a Hulugoer might be outraged that they haven’t been charged, and now they are going to be. That’s a marketing issue. It would be like a credit card offering 0% interest and then just jacking rates up after 6 months to 30% without warning you when you sign up (which they do, of course, albeit in the fine print). But the fact that you would get all this good stuff served over a single high-performance streaming website for free indefinitely?

It’s hard because we haven’t had to pay before. TV was ad-supported, but now the vast majority of households skip ads via DVR and advertisers are finding many alternative marketing channels (like online word-of-mouth) to promote themselves. Ad revenue continues to drift downward as a result, and networks need to find a new model.

Beyond that, the era of socially acceptable piracy is in many ways still upon us. Many of us just expect the music, movies, or TV to be free because it is on Bit Torrent or in pockets of places online where it is being offered in a sponsored fashion (e.g. a free song to get you to try a new band). Torrenting content is illegal, and you are stealing from its creator. I used to Napster with the best of them in late 90’s (even while I worked at a software company that had to litigate for illegal use once or twice) and I have come to terms with this. I hope that eventually everyone else will too. Also, promotional content for free really is a privilege, not a right.

Finally, and probably the deepest problem in the enraged Hulugoer’s psyche is that many of them haven’t experienced trying to make a go of it as a professional musician, writer, or moviemaker. I think many people envision the creative process as a stroke of inspiration that strikes our best creatives during the 4-5 hours they work every day in between the times they are wooing the opposite sex or trying recreational drugs. The reality is that creating excellent content consistently, like any other profession, is an insane amount of work. The top creators of content, like top athletes or top investors, often have given up all other aspects of life to dedicate themselves to it.

One thing I like about blogging (in general) is that it gives people a taste of that. Merely producing enough content to keep people’s interest from week to week when blogging is an effort. Layer on top of that that the content has to be consistently GOOD, and you’ve got even more effort involved. Add to that that any blog with significant audience takes at least a couple years to get traction, and you’ve got a serious level of dedication required to get to the end result. Ninety-nine percent of new accounts on WordPress will never get there, this one included!

So good for you Hulu, I hope you succeed in getting a decent subscriber base. I think you will, but it will likely only be by offering shows that are not on “ad-supported” network TV. While the charade that your old model is still working continues, you will find it difficult to really fire up another one with the same content. But if it means less Reality TV and higher production value on the paid service, it’d be great to have an option for my buck to add to HBO.

The Last Time You Were in a National Park

Glacier National ParkOccasionally I have to stay up late in order to let the day empty out of my head before I can sleep, and the best activity for head-emptying is watching TV. The other night I found myself tuned into PBS, which was airing portions from Ken Burns’ recent 12-hour documentary, National Parks – America’s Best Idea.

I love the National Parks and think their creation is one of the best things our government has ever done. I have many great memories of my time in various Parks, and when I was younger I remember having the goal of visiting all of them. As I watched, I was sad to realize that it has been years since I’ve been in a National Park, the last probably being Haleakala National Park on Maui, Hawaii (and that was really only so I could bike down the mountain to the beach).

The stories Burns tells in his documentary are through the eyes of some of the Parks’ most passionate supporters and visitors, and he really captures the reasons why the Parks are so important. I remember one woman who was interviewed sharing that the Parks make her feel “infinitely small and exalted at the same time” (to paraphrase). I can relate to that.

Just for kicks I spent some time looking up the list and seeing how many I’ve visited. Overall, there are 58 National Parks. Of those, I have been to 18, all in the West – including Arches, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Haleakala, Hawaii Volcanoes, North Cascades, Olympic, Petrified Forest, Rocky Mountain, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, and Zion.

I’d say Yosemite tops my list of unvisited parks I would love to visit, with the Smoky Mountains and Denali close behind. I’d also like to go back to Glacier, as it’s incredibly spectacular and I only got to spend a couple hours there.

How many Parks have you been to, and what was the last one?

Talking, Walking, Thinking

Terrence HowardI love the movie Hustle and Flow. It’s definitely R-rated, and therefore not for everyone, but it’s all about overcoming your circumstances to grab at something better. And of course it’s about music.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the ambitious young pimp-wanna-be-rapper D-Jay (played excellently by Terrence Howard) is trying to persuade his old high school friend Key (who is by comparison highly respectable, played by Anthony Anderson) to help him cut a hiphop record. Key’s response:

There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them.

The movie from then on out hinges on D-Jay’s ability to talk and Key’s ability to walk, and I won’t ruin how it ends up – but I recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it.

The reason this quote resonates with me is because I think it’s a lens through which you can look at your own life. Yes, I’m probably the only guy that watches Hustle and Flow and gets introspective, but bear with me.

How much of you is talk? How much of you is walk? I like to throw in a third category -“thinking” – because it’s something I personally love to do and it can sometimes keep me from walking or talking.

I think part of being good professionally (and probably personally) is balancing those activities. We’ve all met people who are “all talk” with little thought or follow-through, we’ve met the impestuous people who are “all action” seemingly without thought or communication, and we’ve met the “analysis paralysis” people who think all the time but don’t seem to say or do much. The key, in my mind, is not to try not to fall into one of those categories – being thought, communication, and action in equal or appropriate parts.

So if you don’t hear from me on this blog, talking it up, I’m probably too busy walkin’ (or thinking up my next post). Because as the theme song from Hustle and Flow says, it’s hard out there for a pimp.

The New Word-of-Mouth Marketing Infrastructure?

This article was originally posted on Powered’s blog, The Engaged Consumer.

The role of a proprietary community environment for the purposes of marketing (or social marketing program) has been hotly debated among brand marketers and social media insiders. We know that social sites are more engaging (people spend more time on them) than non-social, and marketers want to tap into that power.

So as a marketer, do you build your own community, or do you join others’? If you decide to build a community, what is the best marketing application – a community for your Loyalty Program, a community for building Insight into consumers that Market Research uses, an educational community for those considering your products that is more of a Direct Marketing play?

But it seems like brands are benefiting from building AND joining . . . and we’ve seen applications for social marketing that are generating value along each (and in many cases, all) of the above dimensions.

Something I learned long ago is that if your questions have multiple correct answers, then you might be asking the wrong questions.

The range of marketing value propositions that a branded online community can serve indicates that the community isn’t really appropriate for just one of them – after all, separating “loyalty program” from “acquisition program,” “pre-purchase” from “post-purchase,” is something that marketers do for ourselves. Consumers don’t classify interactions that cleanly. Plus we’re seeing social tools being applied in almost every dimension of a company’s customer-facing business . . .

Ecommerce – Social Commerce / product presence through ratings and reviews by providers like Bazaarvoice

Support – Enhanced Product/Service Support Forums by providers like Lithium

PR/IR – Blogging and corporate presence platforms by providers like Awareness Networks

Focus Groups and Research – Formal deep online market research environments from providers like Communispace

The problem with the above applications is that while they are powerful when a consumer is ready to hear about what you’re selling, they suffer from what I call the “dinner party egomaniac” problem. If they are the only social applications you have, you risk sounding like the person at the dinner party who is only willing to have conversations about themselves – your products, your company, your brand. And if your product or brand isn’t particularly sexy, that problem is exacerbated.

This makes it remarkably difficult to drive brand engagement from third party social environments to your properties. On those sites, consumers are busy talking to and relating to each other about the things that matter to them. They are not in a transactional mindset, and the invasive brand-centric presence there will be no more effective than, and probably less effective than, a 30-second TV spot.

What is needed is a transitional space, a place where consumers can go from third party social engagement to brand engagement naturally. A place that “changes the subject” at the dinner party in a way that Emily Post would approve.

This is where a branded online community can enter in – as the platform that reaches into third party social sites, converting third party social engagement into branded social engagement while retaining the context of consumer needs and aspirations. Branded communities need to be focused at the lifestyle and category level for this reason – it’s where the brand connects to consumers and their conversation.

What makes this easier are technologies that most third party social sites are implementing that allow users to take their identity, relationships, content, and features seamlessly from an unbranded environment to a branded one: like Facebook Connect, for instance.

word-of-mouth-infrastructure

So perhaps all of these things begin to function together in a new-media word-of-mouth marketing infrastructure, as above. Social enablement of the brand presence in all dimensions, and then a social marketing program where the brand connects with the relevant aspirations and needs of the consumer – and which fields participants from social destinations in powerful new ways that wildly outperform more traditional broadcast marketing channels.

Immediate accountability

modern-sikhThis past week I had the pleasure of meeting and having coffee with a sharp younger guy who grew up in a very successful family business, and as a result had the opportunity to shoulder a lot of responsibility in that business at a very young age. He seized that opportunity, and as a result he has developed life and business experience well above the average for his age. But despite his accomplishments, he maintains a kind, humble nature and a good sense of humor.

But these are all things I learned about him through an almost hour-long conversation. What I learned about him instantly upon meeting him is that he is a practicing member of the Sikh religion.

Sikhism is a religion that grew out of the Punjabi region of India (and is where most Sikhs live today), and is based on the ideals of honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny. Despite conflicts with both Hindus and Muslims in the past 100 years, Sikhism is historically a very tolerant religion that has co-existed with other religions for centuries.

But the most striking foundation of the Sikh religion is that Sikh men are required to wear uncut hair, so most Sikhs you meet will have a long beard and a turban on at all times.

The best part of our conversation was when this gentleman told me about his work with the Sikh Research Institute, which is not an evangelical organization, but seeks to spread understanding about the Sikh religion and people in an era prone to religious intolerance.

“When I walk into a room, I feel instant accountability,” he told me. “Not just for my business and my family, but for my faith and people.” We talked about how he looks at the outward expression of his faith not as an obstacle but as an opportunity. Everyone remembers him, for better or worse, and he makes sure it’s for the better.

I couldn’t help but consider how this unavoidable feeling of accountability, and his constant sense of being a part of something much larger than himself, must have played a role in making him the charismatic, warm, and receptive person he is today.

I would join a donut community

donutThis article is cross-posted from Powered’s company blog, The Engaged Consumer.

Within Powered, we’ve been mulling over the question “Is Social Marketing for my Company/Brand?” more than usual lately, mostly because we’re working on a white paper addressing that question.

Evaluating your situation as a marketer relative to the social marketing program opportunity is something we’ve addressed a lot in this blog, particularly with Aaron’s popular “Would you Join a Toothpaste Community?” post, along with follow-up posts where Aaron tackled a few challenging products from a community-building perspective. I also sounded off on how the brand is your bridge to community strategy.

But should you build a community? It really comes down to two phases of evaluation. First, is what you’re selling community-worthy? I call this “genetic fit,” because if you’re selling toothpaste, that isn’t going to change overnight, along with other things like your marketplace positioning and branding. Some types of products and services just generate more natural community activity than others.

Second, is your marketing organization and larger company culture in a place where you could pull it off? I call this “cultural fit.” This actually can, and does, change over time – more easily than the genetics do.

But let’s talk about genetic fit, since it’s the one that you really can’t change. And donuts.

I love donuts, but I eat them pretty infrequently – they are something I treat myself to every now and then. Despite my love for the occasional Boston Kreme, I certainly wouldn’t name donuts as one of my passions in life.

So would I (or anyone) join a donut community? Well, maybe for a little while. It would be diverting to go and rate my favorite donuts, debate the virtues of filled donuts over glazed with others, and discover the origin of the bear claw. But would I return again and again over time? Probably not.

Ok, now let’s talk about Dunkin’ Donuts. This changes the discussion a little bit, as I’m now seeing donuts through the prism of a brand. I can visualize Fred the baker from the old commercials getting up and saying “time to make the donuts.” I’m thinking about how good their coffee has always been, along with pretty tasty donuts. Finally, I’m recalling some of the funnier ad spots I’ve seen lately featuring their latest brand campaign “America runs on Dunkin.” Would I join a Dunkin Donuts community? Hmm, a little more interesting than just plain donuts, but again probably not a place where I would return after the initial visit.

dunkin-donuts-logoBut let’s think a bit more about the Dunkin Donuts’ brand. How does Dunkin Donuts get you interested and get you in their store? How do they connect with your needs? A good place is always to start with the tagline – “America runs on Dunkin.” Are they really selling donuts and coffee here, or something more important? Something more basic?

It sounds to me like Dunkin’ Donuts is selling energy. Something that powers you. In a literal sense, the sugar and caffeine is a boost, but energy is something people struggle with – managing your energy level throughout the day is tough. The popularity of energy drinks is escalating rapidly because people are looking for pep. The concept of energy could extend beyond nutrition and the daily grind, too. What about Motivation? Long-term Achievement? Entrepreneurship? These are all principles of energy . . . and things that also fuel the American perspective, a nice tie-in with the tagline. Ok, so what about a community focused on your energy, powered by Dunkin?

Suddenly a fairly compelling community idea is coming into focus that is relevant to the Dunkin’ Donuts brand, and is about something that people care about on a day-to-day basis. I would join this community, and I would come back. Perhaps I would learn and chat about everything from how to avoid the post-lunch doldrums, to the physiological effects of energy drinks, to how to write a business plan for that idea I’ve been trying to get off of the ground. Immediately and over time I would see Dunkin’ Donuts as a bit more than just a brand that makes great donuts, but as the brand that “powers me.” In the end this is what the 30-second spot is trying to do, but this does it in a much more powerful and lasting way.

My involvement in this type of community would significantly affect my Dunkin brand loyalty, and now because the brand isn’t just about donuts to me anymore perhaps they could sell me other things. More products from their expanding home coffee line (perhaps this is the entire initial thrust). An organic energy drink. Baking mixes and cookbooks.

This all started with a donut. And all great brands and businesses start with something that simple. The evolution of your genetics might happen faster and in different directions than you think, dictated by relevant opportunity. Part of understanding what your online community might look like is thinking about what your company might look like, someday.

Carmax, Twitter, and the open conversation

carmax-logoMy wife needs a new car. After nearly ten years in the salt-slicked Winter streets of Chicago, her current car is rusted out and destined for the scrap heap.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve bought a car, and while chatting with her about our options she brought up CarMax, the “no haggle” used car lot that seems to be redefining used car-buying. I did a little research and like what they’re saying. They do a 125-point inspection on everything they sell, they flat-price their cars at something that appears average about 10-15% premium over the car’s private-buyer blue book value (which seems reasonable, and half the premium of a standard dealership), and they don’t commission their employees based on individual car sales. Sounds pretty good, but why not ask Twitter? I posed the following question to people that follow me on Twitter:

Me: Anyone have experience with CarMax – good/bad/gotchas? Going to hit them up this weekend.

And the generous Twitter folks got right back to me. Here were the responses:

Dukethug: @DougWick buddy of mine got burned by some BS from carmax a few years ago. Should be interesting to see how desperate they are.

Baldman: @DougWick We bought Sarah’s car at CarMax and loved the experience, including the trade-in of her old one. We’ll buy our next car there.

ScottIngram: @dougwick My CarMax experiences have been positive. Sold a car to them a couple weeks ago. My in-laws bought their car there and are happy.

Atxryan: @DougWick My friend @atxkat bought a car from CarMax and the clutch went out less than a month later. Was not covered by their warranty.

Doogsatx: @DougWick sold my 2002 Protege5 there for the same price I bought it for a year earlier (from diff dealer), so I can’t complain too much…

Ok, so three positive, two negative. I messaged my friend Josh (Dukethug) to get a little more detail on his friend who got burned:

Me: @Dukethug what was the nature of the burning? bad car? pricing? financing? just want to know where to keep my eye . . .

Dukethug: @dougwick iirc, it was a promised service arrangement that was not honored.

Dukethug: @dougwick as in, the car ended up having some problems carmax refused to fix.

It seems like both Dukethug’s and Atxryan’s friends got saddled with a car that probably shouldn’t have passed the 125 point inspection. Well this is where things got really interesting. At this point I receive a message – “CarMax Chris Wilmore (@CarMaxChris) is following you on Twitter.”

Clicking through to @CarMaxChris’s profile, Chris’ Bio reads “CarMax PR rep interested in sharing information about the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, car buying info, automotive content and social media trends.” Wow, so someone from CarMax “heard” me talking about them and reached out to me. So I take advantage of this access:

Me: @CarMaxChris Does CarMax allow inspection of vehicles by third party mechanics prior to purchase?

CarMaxChris: @DougWick Not prior to purchase, but all used CarMax cars can be returned for any reason within a 5-day period with our money-back guarantee

Well that seems reasonable, and plenty of time to get the car to a mechanic for our own third party inspection.

In the end, I got five great pieces of feedback from my network and a connection to the service I’m thinking about using who took the opportunity to address my concerns. I already like CarMax even though I haven’t set foot in one of their stores. This all transpired in the course of just about 3-4 hours.

This is a practical example of how an open publish:subscribe model for the world can become extremely powerful, and why it might be worth it to join Twitter.

Now think about if a mechanic in Austin had heard me mention “mechanic” and checked my location data to know that I live in Austin? They could have chimed in and potentially won some business. Or someone from my local CarMax to ask which car I’m looking at? Insurance providers? Financing? The DMV? They might all someday add value to this conversation because I raised my hand started talking about needing to buy a car. Good marketing – the kind I want to hear because of what my needs are right now.

The cardinal rule of Twitter is that you show your network some gratitude when they help you out:

Me: Thank you @atxkat @atxryan @doogsatx @dukethug @ScottIngram @baldman and of course @CarMaxChris for the CarMax feedback. Twitter FTW!

CarMaxChris: @DougWick You’re most welcome. Hope to see you in soon.

Atxkat: @Dougwick I would definitely recomend having a third party give it the once over… @drosko would agree

Now while I was going to go to CarMax anyway, and it was nice that he answered my question, there is a big opportunity for CarMaxChris to go above and beyond. He could track down @atxkat, @drosko, and @dukethug’s friend (it would just take a few minutes) and try to win them back as customers. That is where the real power of listening into the network, from a company perspective, is so powerful – and could change everything about how companies market in the future.

Facebook Connect: An Open Invitation to the Party

mashable_sxsw_v1_posterThis post was originally published over on the Powered Blog, The Engaged Consumer.

Have you ever been so steeped in something that you see it everywhere you look? Standing in the middle of the Powered-sponsored Mashable party during South by Southwest Interactive, beer in hand and exploring the various rooms of the Six night club, I started to think about Facebook Connect. Yeah, this is how bad it’s gotten.

Facebook is a party. It’s a huge place where you can share content and news, play games together, engaging in many of the activities you do with friends in the offline world. The problem is that the party, up until now, has really just been for Facebook itself and its users. If you were any entity with commercial interests, the best you could do is give Facebook a banner to hang somewhere for you. This would be like if Powered sponsored the Mashable party but we could only hang a banner inside the bar. How effective would that be for our marketing, over the din of the music and rumble of conversation?

With Facebook Pages, now you can attend the party. You’re just like I was at Six, a sponsor floating around the crowd, having a few conversations and talking about Powered. This is much more effective marketing-wise than a few banners (at least I think so!), but still I’m just one guy and although there were a few other Powered employees our impact at the event was still limited. This was compounded by the reality that people didn’t always want to talk about Powered, a fact that is even truer in the personal-conversation world of Facebook – which is about as far away from an industry party as you can get.

Facebook Connect is really where things get interesting. It allows you, as a brand, to have your own room in the bar. By that I mean you can build your own communal experience and attach it in a meaningful way to the Facebook experience. People can walk into your room, find the people they already know, and message people outside the room about the cool things going on there.

Word-of-Mouth Traffic Flow

This doesn’t absolve brands from creating an engaging experience in their own community environment. You still need to populate your room with interesting content, people, and programming. But it really helps with one of the main problems branded communities have, which is getting people in the door. There is only so much you can do with email marketing, media promotion, and search. Here, Facebook runs the party, and you just hook into their flow. You are instantly rewarded for creating engagement, versus having to create engagement and then work hard to get the word out.

The Power of Context

The reasons why you would build your own room (Facebook Connect) versus just attend the party (Pages) are similar in both the online and offline world. With Connect, you gain context. Everything that happens in your community is in the world of your brand, versus the world of Facebook. Context is extremely powerful in the user’s mind, and it has a lot to do with building people’s brand affinity, advocacy, and loyalty. Does reading this blog entry on the Powered blog make you attribute the value to Powered, or to me (Wick, Doug Wick)? How would that change if you read it on my personal blog? If you walked into the Powered Room at the Mashable Party, how would this be different than just meeting someone from Powered?

Learning Ability

Also, with Connect comes data. Your ability to listen and learn as an organization is significantly enhanced when the technical handoff between Facebook servers and yours happens. What if the Mashable party went on indefinitely (I felt like it might at some points) and you never adapted your room to be more reflective of partier’s preferences or need – or even just freshened things up a bit? If you don’t have the data, you won’t have the visibility into individual behavior on a quantitative or qualitative level. You won’t learn or adapt as effectively, and you’ll start sounding like that boorish guy who’s always at the party saying the same things. Yes, we’ve heard that story about how you went bungee-jumping in Cancun eight times, thank you very much.

So now that you’ve been invited to the party, will you get in there? Or will you sit at home and let other brands have all the fun?

A solution looking for a problem

oldtelephoneIf you were living in the early 1900’s and someone handed you one of the first telephones, I’d bet you stare blankly at that person and say “now how would I use this?”

You’d be so used to communicating by letter, telegraph, or simply in person that you wouldn’t really know how to get any value out of a phone. That is, until you called someone. Then you might realize that there are tremendous opportunities for getting value out of a phone.

I often describe Twitter in the same way. Earlier I blogged about Why It Matters, and I still think bringing the publish:subscribe model to human communication systems will be revolutionary in its own right – whether that communication happens at twitter.com or on some other service.

But for now, people use Twitter in hundreds of different ways and everyone has constructed their own individual value proposition for using it. I use it to track my professional network and my local Austin network. It’s my virtual business card. I think it’s a great way to organize your deep network (the people you don’t know as well and don’t share as much with as your Facebook network).

I’d encourage you to pick up “the phone” and see how you can make Twitter valuable for you.