One of the things that you probably learned by hanging out with me here at Conversation Agent is that I tend to bring together a lot of ideas in a short space, show you how those ideas are connected, and why you need to care.
But, here's the thing, you care only if I catch you in the right frame of mind, if when you're reading this post you wrestle with the very same thoughts.
Attention and context
In other words, I have your attention - and sometimes I'm even fortunate enough to have your take in the comments - when you're already paying attention to that issue yourself. It's like buying a car, you're thinking about a particular make and model and, lo, you see it everywhere. That's because you're attuned to it, it's on your frequencies.
The mind is a very powerful instrument. It's held somewhere in the brain, the only closed system that can grow by use. What happens though is that it gets trained - we train it - to draw conclusions from partial information. We make assumptions. It's built in our genetics, too. That survival thing again and the brain's ability to compress complex stimuli and data into narrative.
We take shortcuts. Something would need to be in the right place at the right time to get us to move away from our patterns. That's why we don't do change so well, too. It's not so much that we don't want to - sometimes we do, others we have to - it's that we don't know how. We need someone to show us how.
Best practices and change
Hence the thriving industry around benchmarking research, workshops and conferences, and the gossip columns for good measure. One of the most frequently asked questions at events is give me a detailed case study - show me exactly how.
How do you put my business in the right place at the right time? What steps do you need to take to become the go to place for "x"? How many tweets does it take to amass 10,000 followers? What should you charge to blog for someone? Where should you build a fan page - Facebook or your own Ning community? How do I write great content that makes my stuff fly off the shelves?
And please tell me all of this personalized to me in 45 minutes, while in a panel discussion with another 4 people. Perhaps doing some homework and preparing ahead of time would help with activating the content of the session. "How to" depends also on you.
There's an inter-blog conversation right now that involves four panelists, one moderator, three books and one idea. The idea of free.
I shared with you in the past that I think free is not a benefit, it's a feature. It doesn't become a benefit until it's activated by you in the right place, at the right time. Even if you go ahead and grab free, you won't benefit from it unless you do something with it.
Free has been used by marketing in direct response successfully for years. It's the offer in the campaign, the incentive to fill out the survey, pick up the phone and call, pay attention to the message in the mailer. It's an incentive with the promise of up-sell or to mitigate risk. If not free, then I will give you a money back guarantee. (Since this post is free to you, I hope you won't ask for your time back if you didn't like it when you get to the end.)
Redrawing the lines
The trick is to make it appetizing enough so that you would give it a second thought and pay attention, but not too much so that you would be a total mercenary about it and just go after the offer. That was not the point of the campaign. The point - and money - is on you picking up the phone or going to the landing page on the Web to learn more, and buy something.
It's the reverse psychology effect of getting a fine. The fine needs to be large enough that you would follow the rules, but not too little thus tempting you to eating the cost for the sake of convenience. In both cases, the tipping point is achieved and drawn from experience, from best practices.
What happens when the line start fluctuating? When your customers become more resistant to marketing messages and offers? Citizens are flush with cash but have little time to walk the extra mile so they opt for the ticket? New rules need to be drawn and implemented, from which best practices emerge. And so we go around again.
The Web changed the game
The digital age has transformed how things are made, distributed, and sold in such a way that there are no set rules anymore.
Normally these cycles take a while to work their way into the business lifespan. However, we live in a time where the very tools that were going to set us free have accelerated the pace of change not just on our time and attention, but on the nature of the very things that used to consume or employ our time and attention.
Media companies are now wrestling with this issue. Individuals are wrestling with it, too.
Chris Anderson says free is the future of a radical price, Malcolm Gladwell says it's priced to sell but doubts that free is the future, Seth Godin says Malcolm is wrong, while Mark Cuban makes the distinction between free and freely distributed. Members of the press who met me at Mediabistro Circus might enjoy Cuban's post a lot. He writes:
printed content producers should have a brand, and use their institutional knowledge, their core competencies and ability to procure, improve and market to maximize the value of their brands and the perceived value of their content. Whether its on a central website, a co produced website, in print or on a hologram in the evening sky, I should go to the NY Times because they have demonstrated to me that they have the very best articles on the subjects I am looking for.
Chris Brogan seems to agree with Mark Cuban and thinks Seth, too is right. There is one thing all of these gentlemen have in common, and that is a passion for figuring out what the right place, right time is.
In a world of free, everyone can play.
Writes Seth. And you can be successful utilizing this model, as Chris Anderson explains while disagreeing with Gladwell. So why feel so threatened? As long as you're in the right place, a the right time, you should be fine. "The Wall Street Journal has found that more than a million subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading online," writes Gladwell.
Except for you will need to figure out what that right place, right time is for you. Mitch Joel just joined the conversation by saying the idea of free is radical, so people are going to freak out. I think people are freaking out because they want to understand how - to get attention, and time, and funds to make things work out for themselves and their business.
Sustainable and repeatable innovation - especially if you need to reach economies of scale - is hard in an environment that changes so rapidly. If only this conversation had no merit, if you could just go back to your daily grind without paying attention to it, all would be well.
You can't. When everyone can play in a world of free, you need to figure out what makes you different. Your ability to sustain a business depends on it.
Free hugs anyone?