Stop selling scarcity. Start selling relationships.

February 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

 

I posted a reply in Jeff Jarvis’ discussion over at BuzzMachine about “Selling Scarcity.” Uncharacteristically, I’ve disagreed with him. 

The link to Jeff’s thread is above. My reply is there and here, but there is a difference in the last sentance where, as an after-thought, I have chosen to be more emphatic here about the question of results vs. relationships. (I could not go back and edit my reply to Jeff.) Fundamentally, it has not been shown that results are more abundant online than off, though they can be, perhaps, measured with greater ease. Relationships, however, are far more abundant online. Therein lies the differentiator. We should be selling relationships.

Dear Jeff:

If I have followed your reasoning properly, then I have to say I disagree with it, certainly as far as the media and advertising portions of the argument go (which are the only portions I’m semi-qualified to address). I’m a fan and advocate along with you (and of you) in regards to the consumer driven information economy, but I believe strongly in the value it has created. My reading of this post is that the new media economy has, instead, wrecked value. Rupert Murdoch would agree; perhaps also Mel Karmazin. Not I.

Start with advertising. “Sell the outcome” is a pretty good summary statement of the points you make, for which we/you thank Max Kalehoff. From it, you admonish those in the media business to align with marketers if they are to have any hope of surviving the chaos of the new world. This is a bad idea, I believe, and poor recipe for survival. Why?

Relationships. You say that media “must become” about relationships. I say media has always been about relationships, and I’d say further that the exciting part about new media is how especially good at relationships it is relative to old media. It is substantially more personal and timely. It is more one-to-one.

The principal stakeholder in a media relationship, however, is the consumer, not the advertiser and the media must stay firmly aligned with consumers or perish. Google’s remarkable success with results was/is driven by value it creates for consumers, not advertisers. Google is in the results business, which is the same for all search engines – as it has been the same for the Yellow Pages and the same for classified section of newspapers (May they rest in peace). BuzzMachine is not in the results business except so far as when I show-up it better be interesting – as, indeed, it always is. Google doesn’t have to be interesting. Google has to be reliable results-wise. You, have to be reliable interesting-wise. You have the harder job. You should make more than Google on a pound-for-pound basis. But, that’s for another day.

I am clear about the primacy of the consumer as principal relationship holder with media in the way that I think you are a bit unclear about it. You say that Rupert Murdoch and others are playing a dangerous game when they propose to charge their “best customers – cutting off their richest relationships with a toll booth.” If you are right in this case (I think you are) it follows that you are wrong that media should align with marketers.

Unless I’m missing the point, which may be that media should be equally devoted to consumers and marketers serving as some sort of Den Mother between the two, as community builders, or Tupperware party organizers inviting advertisers to share coffee and donuts with the neighbors. I’d argue the idea lacks passion, which suits Demand Media and other content mills paying $20 an article just fine. They are not in the passion business. They are not in the relationship business. Coffee? Donuts? Warm bodies? Save a seat for them on the sectional.

…Which is where I get stuck again when you argue, “advertising is failure – it’s what you do when you don’t have a valued relationship.” Right, but then, ipso facto, advertising is not failure in the presence of valued relationships, the “richest” source of which is the media – the richest source of which today is the Internet, where I think we have always agreed consumers find more of what they care about.

Interestingly, this outcome still supports your overall premise to stop selling scarcity. Instead, sell abundance – of relationships. That’s what the old media world was missing: the fact that they could not produce and distribute content abundantly enough to satisfy the needs of all their consumers. The Los Angeles Times tried to serve an area the size of Ohio and failed. It could not afford so many relationships. Ditto the rest. If they are smart they will retreat to their interest-based borders and thrive on the meaningful relationships that result, way into the future. Profitable, only smaller, just as you say.

The Internet can afford countless relationships. It remains to be seen if marketers will harvest them. If we want to help the marketers, however, stop selling results and start selling relationships.

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