Consumer Generated Media: The Revolution in Marketing Pt 1

When I switched to my Tivo last night I was captivated by a circa 1950’s black and white game show on GSN which turned out to be “Beat The Clock”. I was struck by how much the emerging media of that era (the television) was absolutely driven by marketing. This is seemingly in stark contrast to the current rise of Citizen Media, though not as completely as one might be inclined to think. The leading forms of televised media consumed back then were Game Shows, Soap Operas, News, Acting, Performance (some live) and Variety programs.

It was at the time a natural and necessary fit between media and marketing. Producing media was an expensive proposition over the relatively open communication conduit of the air waves. Excepting FCC licenses and regulation, at least the air through which the transmission traveled was free, though there was a considerable expense in transmitting (transmissions towers are analagous to hosting infrastructure) and receiving (televisions are analagous personal computers). And of course, cameras and related equipment were all relatively new technologies.

We like to think of the Interent and Web 2.0 media as being zero cost and therefore available to all citizens. But this is not entirely true. There are costs to producing and consuming Internet based media. Beyond the time investment, individual’s need to be educated on the means of production. Surely, the cost is lower since so many free sources of learning are available online, but this is presuming the individual has a PC. Unlike most of us promoting the next wave of technological change, most people don’t have PowerBooks, but surely, more people do have something since the entry cost has dropped considerably. But then we need to consider the cost of cameras, both still and video. Then of course there is the access/connectivity fees. If the individual is successfull in creating popular media that reaches a broad audience, they then face the ominous need to fund the increasingly complicated organizational effort required for production and distribution.

Ultimately this success can lead to a switch from free hosting to a more robust hosting infrastructure. This brings forth a critical need for money which can only come from a few sources – personal wealth, charitable contributions of others, a patron, a non-profit organization or it can be handled by turning the media production into a business. If the latter avenue is taken, the business operations can be financed by investors for a short time while operating at a loss, but ultimately, it is necessary for any business operation to take in revenue.

For Consumer Generated Media the revenue can come in a combination of different forms. This is where things get really interesting. For the first time in media history, marketing is not required in order to fund the distribution of content. This allows many to operate free of the influence of other’s, particularly free of powerful, potentially coercive force of multi-national corporations, resulting in a stronger sense of trust for the source and their message.

Subscription revenues are possible, but not often sought in the interest of reaching a broader audience with the message. That is of course excepting those who have a unique filter or proprietary technology which has broadly recognized value differentiation. But in the age of open source, particularly with the advent of Web 2.0, the technology is not proprietary. Instead it is open, largely free and standardized. The means for accepting charitable contributions is easily built right into the media itself. I am not too sure of the success of current “shareware” styled media/content efforts, but I do know from attending WebZine2005 that LiveJournal was originally funded in this way, so it is certainly possible. But eventually, as the need for operating cash grew, so did the need for new ways to acquire it.

Ok, I could continue down that deep tangent for a while, but the real point here is that most consumer generated media will not garner that level of poularity so as to require it be operated as a business, but it can become the major source of media for most of society. With cable/satelite channels becoming more granular and niche oriented (like the Game Show Network and The Military Channel) the natural progression is the often talked about “long tail” of media segmentation (ok, its the Pareto principle, but I feel compelled to address it thusly) down to the level of the individual. Of course, this has been the promise of the Internet for some time now – what has really changed is the level of knowledge and skill required to use the tools and the wide spread availability of free or low cost publishing using tools we already own and new services/software.

In this emerging era of Web 2.0 media, marketing dollars do not necessarily buy the ability to influence, inform or persuade any longer. This socio-economic disruption makes the Tivo debate in the marketing community pale by comparison, but it has not yet been elevated to the level of discourse we should expect. This disruption should be the demarkation point for a tectonic sized shift in the global concept of marketing – one that is driven by the “do no evil” mantra and an understanding that increased sales is not always what is best for the orgnaization or society.

For the past few years, I have called this Conversational Marketing – reaching out to those who are talking about areas of interest to the organization. I now realize that the conversation is only one channel of communication and not the focus.

The future for marketing is the future of our society. As we move from the information economy into the experience economy and beyond, we stand at the dawn of the Knowledge Economy. The future is Knowledge Marketing…

(to be continued…)

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