Pricing for the Digital Age

Understanding the 4 Ps of marketing (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) has traditionally been critical to commercial success.

Theory has it that if you produce the right product for your target market, at the right price, make it available in the right place, and give it the right promotion, the market will buy it.

The model has worked well for both goods and services. But how is the model holding up in the digital arena?

In the Digital Age, a combination of technology, different transaction models and new marketing tools means that the Product (content), Place (internet) and Promotion (social media) not only co-exist, they are so inter-twined that in some cases they are almost one and the same thing: for example, a Justin Bieber video clip on Vevo, an in-app purchase for Angry Birds, BBC news headlines on Twitter. The boundaries are blurred between the content, the means of production, and the point of distribution and promotion.

So, how do content providers approach Pricing? If that’s the main point of differentiation, how do they compete on price (even though we sort of know that competing on price alone is often a race to the bottom, where nobody wins)?

In fact, even though the price of digital content sold via services like iTunes and Google Play is set by the content owner, they generally have to price according to set price bands and at specific price points determined by the retail platform – and often for particular territories (thanks to the practice of geo-blocking). The alternatives are to sell direct (which means creating a separate sales and distribution infrastructure) or via 3rd party platforms (which may not have the market presence of iTunes or Google Play).

With so much content available for “free” (as long as customers are willing to submit certain personal information, or are prepared to tolerate advertising) the current wisdom suggests that you have to give (some) content away in order to attract customers who might be willing to pay for it (over time). But is that a long-term strategy for success?

In my experience, pricing in the Digital Age is all about the 4 As:

  • Actual Costs – what are the costs of design, development, production and distribution (plus overheads)?
  • Acquisition Costs – what does it take to get new customers (and not just “followers” and “likes”)?
  • Adhesion Costs – what makes content “sticky” (and what will it take to keep your customers once they start paying)? Is it frequent new content? Is it service quality? Is it establishing brand loyalty?
  • Alternative Costs – what choices do your customers have (both traditional and non-traditional competition)? What are the switching costs?

Finally, when competing on price, especially if it’s not a like-for-like comparison, where are the acceptable customer trade-offs between your product and a competing service (e.g., do you know the customer drivers and the purchase decision processes)? What do your customers think they are paying for? Just because you place a high degree of value on some aspect of your content (e.g., exclusivity) does the customer value it the same way?

 

 

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New – Content in Context checks out for the holidays

In honour of the festive season, Content in Context this week takes the form of a short instrumental that I have composed for Melbourne’s Federation Bells.

Normal service will be resumed after the holidays, but in the meantime, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has taken the time to visit this blog, especially those who have seen fit to “Like” and leave their valuable comments. Particular appreciation goes to those individuals who have offered specific feedback and encouragement (both online and in person), and those who have shared this blog with their own audiences on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and via other social media platforms and networks.

“Theme for Saturnalia” refers to the Roman festival, usually held from December 17 – December 23, and from which it is thought, Christmas derives many of its customs such as feasting and giving gifts. And while I do not adhere to any particular religious creed or spiritual beliefs, it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge the significance of the season. So, as 2013 draws to a close, and as we brace ourselves for whatever 2014 will throw at us, I would like to close the inaugural year of Content in Context by quoting the Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who ended his TV shows with the immortal words, “Goodnight, thank you and may your God go with you”.

Building a Personal Brand via Social Media – or the AAA Guide to Blogging

I’ve been working with content since I was a teenager – from writing articles for school magazines, to contributing gig reviews to a leading Manchester music magazine; from working for global media and information brands, to freelance editorial and writing projects.

Even now, as a business coach and consultant, I continue to focus on my clients’ content strategies – whether developing new products and services, managing IP, or capturing and commercialising in-house knowledge.

I have to admit to being an early sceptic about Social Media – but I soon recognised its importance, especially when building a personal brand on-line. Now it’s just another communication channel. I sometimes reflect on our ancestors who resisted the telephone, radio and television, and wonder if my own suspicions about Social Media will seem unfounded in retrospect.

About a year ago, I started this blog as a personal brand for my consulting work, as well as giving me a license to write about “Exploring the Information Age”, however tangential it might be to my professional work.*

After 12 months, I think I have found the essence to building a personal brand through social media – otherwise known as the AAA Guide to Blogging. Those elements are: Authenticity, Awareness and Attribution.

Authenticity

In an on-line environment where people hide behind avatars and aliases, you need to find the appropriate level of authenticity if you are going to be taken seriously by or establish trust with your audience. Being authentic means finding your “voice” to express yourself in any given situation, and to be true to yourself in that particular context.

I will admit to having several on-line profiles. For example, when connecting with my family and close friends, I am very circumspect about which Social Media platforms I use, and how I use them. My profile is extremely locked down and tightly controlled – you won’t be able to find me because I won’t let you in.

For my activities as a musician, I have another profile for self-promotion, sales and distribution, community engagement and beta testing new apps. You probably won’t find me because I use an alias, unless I am inviting you in.

Finally, in my professional life, I am very pro-active, interacting via an increasingly interconnected multi-channel strategy.

Does having multiple profiles mean I am being inauthentic? I would say no, because I am being authentic to who I am in those particular situations, and I don’t believe it is unreasonable to keep my private life, my personal interests, and my professional profile separate from one another. That’s why, even though I have a public profile on Facebook as part of my professional brand, I won’t be sharing my musical tastes because it’s not relevant (unless I might be going to a karaoke sessions with my clients?).

Awareness

Just as you need to be aware of the possibilities and limitations of different Social Media tools, you also need to understand your “character” when blogging, sharing and providing status updates. I see this as a natural extension to being authentic – in my professional life, should I really be sharing selfies (especially not at the client karaoke night…)?

There are 4 main categories of Social Media protagonists and bloggers:

1) Enthusiasts – personal stuff, “what I ate for breakfast”, no real purpose
beyond “sharing” or “look at me

2) Broad Experts – know their Yammers from their Spammers, their Blogrolls from their Facebook Trolls – understand how and where they need to engage, they know what works for them (they have found their own level)

3) Niche Specialists – the Twitterati (Stephen Fry), the star fashion bloggers, the political and media pundits, viral cat videos, and the quirky (@God) – NOT Katy Perry – she probably has people to do that for her, namely….

4) Professionals – so-called “prosumers” who use Social Media as part of their job or about their work, or it’s part of their public and personal profile, and the boundaries are increasingly blurred.

Attribution

As far as possible, I always attribute third party content or references I use in my blogs, even if they are deemed to be in the public domain, and I endeavour to acknowledge the original sources as far as possible.

Not only can this create reciprocal links and traffic to my blog, I just believe it is more ethical, rather than “sharing” content with no attribution. It’s not just about copyright law, or respecting IP, I happen to think it is more intellectually honest to acknowledge original ideas, rather than imply they are our own.

I came across a good example recently on LinkedIn, where a connection “shared” an infographic on social media, without providing the original source. In fact, it almost looked as if it was an original post. However, I was sure I had seen the same content elsewhere, and after a short Internet search, I was able to locate the original post and the author very easily. Maybe it’s laziness, or lack of consideration, but this common failure to attribute sources risks undermining your work and devaluing your creativity.

Final thoughts on blogging and Social Media

• No-one gets it right 100% of the time – and even when we do, we don’t always know why
• Conversely, everyone gets it a little bit wrong, so the real learning is in that collective experience
• Prospective employers, clients, customers all expect to find evidence of your Social Media and online presence – even if you are only engaged in Social Media in a professional/work capacity, you still need to develop a personal profile

*See previous blog 10 Rules for Effective Blogging. I recently did some analysis of my blog traffic, to see where my readers are coming from. I don’t use Google Adwords, and I don’t have any paid-for SEO – so I rely on my WordPress stats:

  • Nearly half of all traffic is coming from social networks
  • One third comes from search engines (of which Google accounts for 90%)
  • 10% comes from Reddit

Search results for my blog always come in the top 10 (plus it helps to have an unusual first and last name – always #1 search result!)

Footnote A slightly different version of this article was given as a presentation at the Australian chapter of PR over Coffee earlier this month

From student hacker to start-up mogul – an audience with Jonathan Teo

“The man with the Midas touch…”

Jonathan Teo, tech VC with a Midas touch, has been back in Australia recently, and found time to stop by Lean Startup Melbourne for a Q&A with Michelle Bourke in front of an audience of 350 members of the local startup scene.

With a track record that includes Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat in his portfolio of start-up investments, Teo is obviously someone who deserves to be taken seriously, but the candour and humility with which he talked about his experience made for a very down-to-earth evening with such a high-profile investor.

As usual, the event was hosted by Inspire9, with generous support from Kussowski Brothers, Startup Victoria, Products Are Hard, BlueChilli, Investors’ Organisation, Startup Weekend and National Australia Bank.

Teo’s backstory has been told elsewhere (childhood in Singapore, college in Sydney, post-grad at Stanford, Google engineer, venture capitalist…) but the combination of having a great mentor, working in the (then) emerging technology of cloud computing, and some “right time, right place” good fortune has provided him with a powerful platform from which to join the upper echelons of silicon valley VCs.

“The Secrets of My Success”

Naturally, people wanted to know the key to his investing success. Rather than referring to some “special sauce”, Teo pointed to some simple principles:

  • Relationships – strong relationships are essential, both within the founding team, and across the right networks and insiders
  • Self awareness – many founders don’t see their own capability gaps, and therefore can overlook inherent weaknesses in their business
  • Key metrics – know what run-rates the business needs to achieve to meet its performance goals (cash burn rate, retention levels, acquisition costs, daily and consecutive customer usage)

In particular, Teo stressed that new distribution models form the lens for assessing new investment opportunities.

“Show me the money!”

During a discussion about bringing in investors, Teo was pretty sanguine – what works for some start-ups, won’t work for others. If you can self-fund, then do so; if you do need to tap external funding, start with friends and family (who will generally be more patient than professional investors); and if you have to bring in VC’s, make sure you know the trade-offs. He also suggested that crowdfunding is great for consumer plays, but ultimately valuations are determined by demand.

“New Thang”

When asked where “the next big thing” was going to come from, Teo was understandably coy (or simply discreet), and politely suggested it could emerge from somewhere in the audience. What he did offer were some thoughts on emerging trends that will influence future start-ups:

  • Fewer mass-market consumer products – according to Teo, “only China can support a purely domestic consumer play”
  • Less focus on patents, more emphasis on survival – not that IP isn’t important, just that the cost and effort of securing patents mustn’t outweigh the need to generate revenue in the early stages
  • Content niches – unique content is key to attracting advertisers and subscribers, and when combined with rich user data makes for compelling communication and network apps
  • The human touch – products that bring a more human digital experience will gain traction

Finally, Teo predicted the growth of disposable hardware – not sure I agree with this one, but I understand what he is getting at. Personally, I’d be more interested in recyclable hardware, and greater user-serviceable and customisable components.

Declaration: Thanks to the hosts and sponsors, I along with everyone else enjoyed the bounteous gift of free pizza laid on by the organisers.