Tell me again why I have to pay for my content by weeding through your ads and promotional inserts? I get content and expertise that I value, but I have to endure this annoying tangent we call advertising so you can pay the bills. It is a strange compromise that we never would allow to complicate any other part of our lives. We pay to view good books and first-run movies, plays and sporting events, so why do we compartmentalize our worlds and compromise our viewing habits when it comes to magazine, newspaper, television and radio content?
Marketing Is a Conversation
Effective marketing starts with a conversation and who better to hold that conversation than the communities of journalists and experts who we have come to respect and to know in the media. For a conversation to be vital or even viable, it must provide value in both directions. For this reason, ads and content that entertain, amuse or even surprise the viewer are effective precisely because they provide entertainment value (especially on places like YouTube). But links and media that try to educate or sell before the viewer is open to it are wasting time and money. Advertising that simply sells is not effective marketing. It is ineffective sales. One only has to look at the success of sites like Craig's List or Ebay to understand the power of community commerce. The beauty of this model is not about linking a member to some brand's Web site, but in providing conversation, reviews, advice, ideas, entertainment and yes, even sales, to a loyal community that seeks it when they are ready.
The Web has put unprecedented control in the hands of (often non-paying) consumers of content who are now able to download virtually any advice, article, movie, image or story anytime they want. And while Google is often the gateway to information, it is knowledge and not information that most people seek. Media companies are in a prime position to deliver that knowledge, to engage their members (not readers) and to connect them to e-commerce. The result is real revenue potential that goes far beyond clicks and tricks.
Simply rethinking the context within which people access, share and value their content, publishers can build communities that turn renegade consumers back into paying customers. However, this requires replacing the interruption-based model with a community-based one that does not sell ads, but enables interaction and ultimately e-commerce.
Amazon.com is very effective at using customer reviews and recommendations for book and music selections. But imagine how much more powerful the shopping guidance of a noted expert from, say, your magazine would be in streamlining the journey from awareness to desire to purchase in any category you can name. In the future, focused communities with passionate members and knowledgeable experts will deliver a far better shopping experience than e-commerce superstores can.
Community Is Capital
At one end of the content value spectrum lay magazines and at the other extreme are organizations like the Gartner Group, an enterprise subscription-based provider of research and advice. Somewhere in the middle of this subscription spectrum between $19.95 and $30,000 is the real opportunity for community commerce. For media companies, it means getting your thought leaders (columnists and editors) closer to your communities by making them a respected part of the dialog, not simply a destination full of banner ads served up to interrupt. Establishing relationships requires treating the community like respected members who desire a value for value exchange of goods, services, advice, ideas and entertainment, rather than forcing a compromise on them. Advertising clicks and tricks are not the solution; community commerce is.
In this new world of community commerce, content is critical, but community is capital. Revenue streams are shifting from clicks and content to expertise and e-commerce. Fairfax Cone, founder of the Foote, Cone Belding advertising agency, put it succinctly: "Advertising is what you do when you can't talk to someone." While we can converse in many ways never available to advertisers like Mr. Cone, the marketing model of the future is based on people and their passions, not ad pages and banners.
Excerpted from the upcoming book, How to Survive and Thrive When Customers Rule by Michael Westcott, principal of marketing and creative services firm PatternWorks. E-mail Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.