Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 24 hours you know that Tim Cook (with U2 by his side) announced yesterday that U2’s brand new album Songs Of Innocence has been given to every single iTunes user. Apple says that this means the album is available to 500 million people, more people than have ever had free access to a full album. While many people are focused on the music industry implications of this promotion I have thought about it in the context of the concept of free and how the internet enables free as a business strategy better than any other medium of distribution.
For those of you who haven’t delved too deeply into the free concept I highly recommend reading (or listening to) the book Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. Interestingly enough, the audio version of the book is…free! Strangely enough I think that Free (the book) is worth paying for if you have to because it may change the context in which you view how free stuff can be used to facilitate growth of a business. More importantly, you may understand more about how the internet has created a great opportunity to capitalize on the free concept.
Having had a couple of weeks to ponder my experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive I have settled on the decision that viral marketing (and the content that enables it) represented the most ubiquitous theme that I recognized throughout the event.
I came to this conclusion after thinking back on the conversations I had with people I met at the event, many of whom told me they were in the business of media, marketing, media marketing or marketing technology. I also draw this conclusion based on the number of companies I saw whose goal was to help other companies harness the masses taking action (or not) on social media websites. Indeed, grabbing the attention of the masses online and moving them to act appears to be the holy grail of the internet business world these days.
Given the times we’re living in it’s not completely absurd to assume that the market for development and management of business websites is a very mature one without strong growth potential. After all, every major business that we deal with has a significant presence on the internet that likely includes points of presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ (to name the most popular spots) in addition to their own corporate website(s). If you look a little closer though you’ll find that there are many smaller businesses that have either a limited web presence or they eschew the web altogether.
Consider the image above, which represents a bulletin board in community near me about thirty minutes away from Austin, TX. Right before I took the picture someone had walked up to it to place their flyer amongst the hoards of printed media, no doubt with the hope of catching someone’s eye so that the person might some day become one of their customers. To those of us that live on the web such an approach to business marketing seems awfully antiquated but the fact is that it is an approach that is still being used by more small businesses than we can imagine.