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what is the value of nothing

March 12, 2009

The famous Oscar Wilde quote is that a ‘cynic is somebody who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing’ . Within digital media and some organisations it would appear to be ‘ we cost everything but have nothing of value’.

The problem is the proliferation of dumb marketing and a trend to monetize the un-monitizable. And sooner or later there will be a reckoning as budgeting sheets that have ‘website advertising revenue’ and ‘content licensing’ fail to materialise. As somebody who spent seven years licensing entertainment rights, I love the notion that great content is king and will always be valuable. But there is a need for honesty and a real hard knowledge of your real value.  Quality material and maximising the back catalogue is what built the industries of human happiness. The music, print, television and film industries show great content being  monetised and syndicated again and again. And again. As an old boss of mine in music publishing once told me ‘ an artist sells hit singles today but a superstar will sell anything for ever and ever’. But with the democratisation of media access and the hyper inflation of brand importance over product functionality, we now have a deluded marketing pack. Just as anyone with no talent  thinks they’re a celebrity so many a marketer with little or nothing to really monetise, suddenly thinks they own the rights to the next Coldplay album or iPod patent. Just as the reality tv celebrity gets a few months in the spotlight before reality dawns, so many a website owner or brand owner has over valued their real value in the market place. Recently, I offered a business a collaborarative opportunity that would have enabled them to very quickly reach a highly relevant, targeted consumer audience running into several hundred thousand per month. All they had to do was work with me on some website material. They are not a media business and their core revenue and business has nothing at all to do with web content or media deals. But, bizarely they adopted a position as if they owned the rights to the next  JK Rowling. ” We need to monetise our content” . Oh I thought. Unfortunately, they did not understand their own value. Their content is not unique, and whilst their brand is OK, I am not going to pay for anything that I can obtain  elsewhere for nothing from a partner who understands that I am a long term promotional partner. I am an enabler to reach their consumers, not a revenue stream. Why don’t they focus on their core business revenue and improve product or service? Why are they trying to turn into a media business? I don’t know, but it seems a worrying road that many are heading down. As Sir Martin Sorrell said last year, there is only so much advertising and sponsorship to go round and the shrinking pie can only be cut in so many ways – and so there will be a painful reckoning. The adage of  the last dot.com boom, was ‘the old rules do not apply’ – it was all about the idea, the latest website design, the new – and having a funky dot com name. Otherwise you didn’t ‘get it’. Unfortunately, some of the old rules (you know, boring stuff like value chain, functionality, consumer propositions,  value pricing – that sort of thing) – did apply. And the biggest dot.com business in the UK is Tesco.

Great content that attracts actively engaged, relevant audiences are really, really valuable. And people should pay for great content or offer something great in kind. But too many marketers and website owners have at best minimal and at worse, nothing – of real value. But they can tell you how much it costs if you want to work with them.

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