January 21, 2018

The TV Is No Longer a TV

I am in the vanguard of cord cutters, a small but growing group of cable TV subscribers who have decided to ditch the cable box in favor of a variety of geeky devices that serve up entertainment through an internet connection.

Between 2008 and 2013, 5 million (or 5%) of US cable subscribers cut the cord, with 1.3% brandishing the scissors in 2013 alone, according to Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group.

When I told my wife and daughter we were trendsetters, they rolled their eyes and said I was just being cheap (again). Regardless, a change in the way we think about entertainment has swept through my household and 5 million others in the US: The TV is no longer a TV; it is simply the biggest screen we have for watching entertainment.

It’s All About Screens Now
That’s because our new content providers, Hulu and Amazon Prime, are as easy to watch on a computer, an iPad, or, in a real pinch, a phone, as they are through the Roku device attached to the former TV. (When we absolutely need to see live network broadcasts – my wife and daughter insisted on seeing the Oscars live, for example – I plug in a set of Radio Shack digital bunny ears to turn our big screen back into a TV for a few hours.)

The New York Times says that cord cutting doesn’t save much money but I can attest that in my house (near Boston) it saves $125 per month. Not exactly chump change. Plus, we never watched that much programming to begin with, so the savings are that much more satisfying.

As you might imagine, stories like these are starting to throw a scare into the cable companies and the entertainment industry as a whole. “In the U.S., consumers are seeing fewer differences between telecommunications and entertainment,” says Jack Plunkett, CEO of Plunkett Research. “It’s all the same thing. We have truly entered an era of convergence where data, entertainment, and communications are all falling into one package.”

Except now it’s the consumers doing the packaging rather than the cable and telecom providers. Research by my colleague Polly Traylor turned up three ways that the status quo is threatened:

  • Frictionless consumption. There is a reason why Netflix and Apple iTunes have been so successful: they both have world-class selection and make it extremely simple to find what you want and begin listening or viewing immediately.
  • Everything is an entertainment device now. Even the top providers of gaming platforms– Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft– are now vying for the same entertainment eyeballs as the studios and networks and are retrofitting machines into multipurpose entertainment devices that stream content from Netflix and other Internet video providers.
  • Disruptors are everywhere. I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of an Internet TV startup called Aereo that uses tiny individual antennas to let consumers in several U.S. cities watch live broadcasts on Internet-connected devices and store shows in the cloud to watch later. All the major broadcasters have sued for copyright infringement and pushed it all the way up to the Supreme Court. Needless to say, if a tiny, barely two-year-old startup is already having its day in (Supreme) Court (against its will), we are in the midst of interesting times for the entertainment industry.

How have you changed the ways you consume entertainment?

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How Forrester is squandering its leadership in social media

Social media experts often chide marketers about control. The experts say that in the new era of social media, marketers need to stop delivering tightly-scripted, one-way messages and start engaging in uncontrolled, transparent conversations with customers and prospects wherever those conversations happen.

That’s why a change in the policies of perhaps the leading voice for social media, Forrester, has bigger implications than it may seem.

Recently, an analyst relations consultancy, SageCircle, broke the story that Forrester management will require its analysts to take down their personally-branded blogs or redirect readers to a Forrester-branded blog.

The most powerful example of one of these personally branded blogs is Web Strategy by Jeremiah, by Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst who left Forrester prior to the policy change. Owyang’s blog is one of the most highly trafficked, most influential social media blogs today, as it was when he was at Forrester.

Another example is Experience: The Blog, by Augie Ray, who is Owyang’s replacement at Forrester. Ray is one of the analysts who will be taking down his blog. (Forrester is quick to point out that it will begin allowing individual analysts like Ray to have their own blogs behind the firewall.)

No doubt, the success of Owyang’s blog is due in part to his former role at one of the most respected analyst houses in the world. And this is the crux of Forrester’s argument in defense of the policy change. Another prominent Forrester social media analyst, Josh Bernoff, who was a co-author of perhaps the most influential book about social media to date, Groundswell, puts it succinctly in his blog post about the controversy: “If you’re creating content for a content company, that company ought to host your blog.”

All of Forrester’s commentaries about the policy change so far have focused on this idea that content companies are special and have a special need to protect their IP—which is words. No wonder they all steer the argument in this direction; it makes it seem like Forrester is the aggrieved benefactor being sucked dry by selfish, ungrateful employees who insist on giving away the IP that Forrester pays them to create—and whose powerful brand opens the doors for them with the sources they need to help create that IP.

I have no doubt that Forrester is a powerful, valuable brand. And I can certainly sympathize with Forrester’s argument about IP. “Information yearns to be free” is utter nonsense uttered by people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Yes, crappy information yearns to be free and is worth what we pay for it, but good information, such as that provided by Forrester, cannot and should not be free.

It takes time, money, talent, and innovation to create good information. No doubt you’ve seen research showing the degree to which most web content leads back to a few, dependable sources like the New York Times—whose reporters do all the work (which, contrary to popular belief, very few people could do even if they had all the time and money in the world) so others can benefit.

So at this point you must be wondering why I am bothering to write this post. Here’s why:

  • Forrester doesn’t take its own advice (no really). It’s maddening that Forrester doesn’t acknowledge the fact that while it actively preaches to clients that they should give up control, Forrester is exerting tighter control over its employees—specifically in social media! Bernoff addresses this offhandedly by saying, “Groundswell says that your employees will be blogging—it doesn’t say that content companies should have their content creators blog anywhere they want.” Oh wait, I forgot. Content companies are different. C’mon. IBM has as much IP to protect as Forrester, if not tons more—and it allows employees to have personal blogs.
  • Forrester controls the message. In another Forrester blog post in defense of the move, analyst Nigel Fenwick acknowledges that there was controversy within Forrester about the change. Indeed, I’ve been a journalist too long not to know that stories don’t get leaked to outside sources unless someone inside the company isn’t happy about what’s happening. What about hearing from people inside Forrester who oppose this move? Isn’t that what social media is supposed to be about? Openness? Transparency? Not from a company that tries to put strict controls on the ways its social media content is cited by others.
  • Forrester is shocked, shocked. Ray tries to spin the controversy in his post by calling it “a minor tempest in the research industry teapot.” The worst way to fend off controversy is to downplay it (as Forrester also regularly counsels its clients). And it insults the intelligence of those of us who are fans of Forrester. As one of the leading lights of social media, is Forrester really surprised that a change in its policies would invite thorough scrutiny? Please.
  • Forrester loses IP. It’s clear that by controlling its employees, Forrester will lose IP in the long run. Big thinkers who have built up personal brands through their blogs will think twice about coming to work at Forrester because they will have to cut that thread (even if it can be reconnected on the other side of Forrester’s firewall).
  • Forrester loses R&D. Forrester swears up and down that analysts will able to say and do whatever they like related to their jobs on their personal Forrester blogs. I don’t think that’s true. Not because I think that Forrester will become Big Brother, but because analysts will police themselves. Places like Forrester are full of smart, talented, competitive people. It’s going to be harder to look stupid and ask for help from behind the firewall. Personal blogs are more fertile ground for testing half-baked ideas than those that have your employer’s logo next to yours.
    I should know; it’s one of the reasons I set up my blog outside of ITSMA’s firewall. I want to be able to experiment fully and freely while reducing my own sense that I could potentially do harm to my colleagues who have given me the time to do this (but who in no way have ever tried to control what I say). I think it’s easier for everyone this way (and it absolutely feels better than when I used to blog from behind the firewall at CIO magazine). If Forrester’s analysts feel the slightest trepidation about posting something on these new personal blogs, everybody loses. So why not just let them start their own? It all leads back to the mother ship in the end—via reports and presentations that are better and more fully informed than they would have been.
  • Forrester loses a piece of its supply chain. I never visited Jeremiah Owyang’s blog posts on Forrester unless he sent me there from his own blog. Forrester thinks that’s a loss for them. But in fact, it’s a gain. Social media isn’t about companies (as Forrester will tell you); it’s about people connecting with one another. Owyang drove more traffic back to Forrester than it ever would have gotten on its own because he was a recognizable, solo voice, rather than one among many. When you lose traffic that way, you lose a valuable piece of your content supply chain—the customers, prospects, and influencers that you need to help develop and sell your ideas.

Look, I love Forrester. For 13 years as a journalist covering IT I was constantly blown away by the quality of the firm’s insights and by the approachable, friendly, patient nature of its analysts. But I fear for the future of the brand with this move.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Forrester?

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How much do you “charge” for your content?

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, so it’s difficult to actually pull money out of buyers for your marketing content (though there are rare exceptions: McKinsey has been doing it for years with the McKinsey Quarterly).

Yet while generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it. The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events. Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content.

That has to change.

In many cases, we’re charging too much for our content and in other cases not enough. For example, there is no way that the typical Webinar is worth as much as an in-depth research report, yet we make buyers give us the same amount of information for both—we charge them the same price.

Make no mistake; buyers understand the prices behind marketing content. We’re the ones who don’t pay enough attention to it. Here are the components of the price from the buyer’s perspective:

  • Time. They have to spend time filling out the form and predict the amount of time they will need to absorb the content—and probably deal with the emails and calls from pesky salespeople after the fact.
  • Privacy. Buyers understand that they give away a piece of their privacy every time they fill out a form and engage with content.
  • Intention. Buyers want the most valuable content they can get. They decide how to reveal about their intentions based on the value of the content to them. They may also assume that a higher level of intent will net them more valuable content either in terms of quantity or depth.
  • Hierarchy. Buyers are all-too aware of their positions in the chain of command. Those lower down on the corporate ladder are more willing to “spend” their information because they realize that it has less value than those higher up, whose buying power gives them more information riches combined with less willingness to spend it (kind of like rich people in the real economy).
  • Access. Buyers understand that there are different levels of access to content depending on certain factors. They don’t always know what those factors are, but they value access enough to lie. For example, many assume that a higher level of buying intent will get them more goodies, so they say they are ready to buy when they aren’t. Many also assume that if they say that they are vice president instead of a director that they will receive better content and probably better treatment overall.
  • Relationship. This price is one that high-level executives have been calculating for years as providers woo them with memberships in customer councils and invitations to private events. But it’s less familiar to lower-level buyers, who are only beginning to calculate this piece as the economics of social media open up the privileges of relationship from cheesy tchotckes at trade shows to online social networks.
  • Account history. Buyers assume that the price of content will change depending on the number of times they have engaged with you. Even the most basic lead scoring mechanism raises the price of content as buyers consume more of it—i.e., If you download two white papers a week for a month, you should expect a call from a salesperson. Buyers get that—or at least they will probably see the logic in the pricing.
  • Culture and location. Culture, both corporate and social, affects the price that buyers are willing to pay for content. For example, research shows that Europeans value their privacy more than Americans—meaning that their information may cost you more. And some companies have disclosure rules that make it hard for their executives to participate on customer advisory boards.

The price will change
We should evaluate our content pricing models to see if we’re charging the right amounts. We should expect those prices to change as social media takes hold among buyers. For example, 99.9% of the links I click on in Twitter take me directly to the content advertised in the tweets. And when there is a gate, most Twitterers take the precious real estate needed to say that registration is necessary. Just as the web has gutted the business model of publishing it has also reduced the price of marketing content. It has also changed the scope of our content process, as Jon Miller points out here.

Mobile raises the price
But the price can go up, too. That possibility hit home with me this week as I read Steve Woods’ post about the B2B implications of the iPad. Steve points out, among other things, that the richer environment of the iPad could revive the “print” advertising market.

As publishers are able to present content that doesn’t look like crap like it does on a web browser, they can charge more and advertisers can grab more attention. And the multimedia possibilities mean that subscribers to the New York Times might be willing to pay for that embedded video interview with Lady GaGa.

No doubt marketers can also charge a higher price for a white paper that embeds a video case study or a how-to in a great looking media environment. I’m not sure whether the iPad is that environment or not, but we all know that some kind of portable media device will replace our dead-tree publications if the experience is as good or better than we can have with print.

And no doubt the location abilities of mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones will also raise the price we can charge for marketing content. CK Kerley and I went back and forth on this issue as she prepared an excellent piece about how mobile will affect B2B.

My thinking is that we’re so busy assuming that we need to bang down the door to reach buyers that we forget that sometimes they actually want to be found—not necessarily by us but by each other. By acting as a matchmaker at events and perhaps by creating communities with location-based functions, we can help them find each other and get to market to them as the price of fostering the connection.

What are they willing to “pay?”
So there is a price for marketing content. Maybe I’m focusing too much on semantics, but I think lead scoring only gets it half right. We assign points to buyers based on their actions, but we don’t think about it from their perspective. Lead scores don’t ask, “But what are they willing (and happy) to pay for our content?

Thinking about a pricing model for content also helps us target our content to the specific segments of the buying process. I talk more about how we need to vary the amount of information we take from buyers in this post, but the idea that there is a price to be charged and paid makes it clearer in my mind.

How about you?

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