Complicated things are often explained the best by making an analogy and using a simple real life example where people can relate to. Practical business examples and case studies that are based on a real project you worked on is also very good, but there is often the problem that you cannot share all relevant data and thoughts with the public, due to business interest and secrets that need to be protected.
Sure, the big successes and big blunders will make it out into the public, but those are not the best examples to be used for your average day to day stuff. Most things in life happen in between the two extremes and are, frankly speaking, boring. Try to talk to a friend or spouse about what you did at work on an average day and you will know what I mean with “boring“.
Let’s use Social Media as a (popular) example and its impact on traditional media publishing.
Famous examples are the Radiohead “Pay what you want” release of their latest album, the Nine Inch Nails and Prince albums give-away that followed as positive examples (not by everybody, but at least by the average Joe Consumer) and the Sony DRM Root Kit “inconvenience” as a negative example.
The good and the bad examples represent two different schools of thought.
Two Schools of Thought
The first represents old school and traditional thinking about your customers and your own products. It treats customers like little children that were left with you to look over them, somebody else’s children and not your own, like a babysitter. I have to say that I am referring to a patriarchic type of babysitter for the protection of the reputation of all the babysitters out there that do not do thing the way I describe now.
The patriarchic babysitter thinks that he knows what is good for them, do not expect them to know anything, but expect that they will follow the rules that you impose on them, trusting them not a bit that they will obey them, if you don’t make sure that they have no other choice. Punishment for disobedience ensures that the other children will follow the rules and reduces the chances that the perpetrator will repeat the same “mistake” again. Your stuff is off limits to the kids, with a few exceptions that you made perfectly clear and also expect to be respected. Almost every access to it is considered an exception and used as bonus for the ones who are behaving perfectly.
The second school represents a new way of thinking about your customers and your own products. Customers are more like your personal friends who you respect as person with their own opinions and thoughts that not always reflect your own. That your friends have other friends is perfectly fine and normal and nothing that you would worry about. You help them out if they are in need and let them borrow some of your stuff if you have it and they need it. If you have a lot of it and it’s not a big deal, then you might even let your friend have it permanently, especially if it is something that is needed frequently or for a longer period of time.
If you are a good person and do the things I mentioned, then you probably do not have a problem to find friends and the ones you have are loyal and helping you out in times when you need it. The patriarchic babysitter on the other hand will not have many children come to him voluntarily. The poor children sent over by their parents did not have much of a choice. They have at most some influence on their parents to make them find a different babysitter, who is hopefully a bit better. If children would have the power to make that choice every time, the patriarchic babysitter would probably find himself out of work fairly quickly.
The Transition Process
The developments over the past years seem to indicate that customers are not children and demonstrated time and again that they do have the power to make choices on their own.
That make me believe that this type of thinking is not going to last much longer and will make their way into the history books like the patriarchic type of marriage is already on its way to for many more years.
Things are not back and white and most stuff happens between the two extremes. There are companies who see their customers as adults, some even as friends, which is for many a new type of experience and something they are not accustomed to. This can look pretty sad or funny if somebody who is not doing this from his heart, but because he got told to do so, attempts to befriend you. The movie “Bicentennial Man” with Robin Williams from 1999 comes to mind.
The Giving Away Aspect
One part that I would like to discuss in more detail is the giving away stuff to your friends from time to time and why it helps to nurture the friendship or in translation to the marketing world, why giving away some of your stuff, especially the best that you have, for free to your customers instead of restricting access to it and overly protecting it as well.
A Real World Example
The example that I am using is from an artist community website where I am myself a member of. It is called deviantART.com. Artists of all ages from around the world can share their artwork with others, communicate with them, ask for feedback and opinion, form groups of like-minded or style-like artists and make your artwork available for purchase at the online shop that is fully integrated into the website.
There are many young teenagers using the site, some are great artists and others are not. It does not matter. Most of the members are not making much, if any money with their artwork, even for the good ones is it hard to get noticed.
One artist that I met and engaged in a discussion with is a young 19 year old gifted artist from Australia. He is a member of the deviantART.com community for over two years now and decided to watermark all his images and disable download of them. He hates people who take his art and do something with it, especially the folks at YouTube who make videos out of his stuff.
I liked one of his pieces but was annoyed by that ugly watermark that was very visible and distracting. Every member has the option to add any work from anybody to his own favorites or to personal collections. I would have done it with this piece, if it would not have been desecrated by the watermark. I also said that in the comment section for it.
He responded and told me about his fears about getting knocked off and finding his stuff elsewhere for not being credited for it. Those are very valid fears, but how he tries to prevent this stuff from happening impacts also the things he would like to have. He referred to another artist who is seemingly more popular than he is and that this other guy also has many friends who point out to him blatant abuses of his artwork and if somebody publishes his stuff without giving credits to him.
So I was curious about the question what makes the two artists different and the one seemingly more popular than the other. The idea to look at things a bit more closely was aided by the fact that deviantART.com provides a number of interesting statistics for each member and for each piece of artwork that was submit to the site and makes those statistics visible to everybody and not just the owner himself.