What Makes Information Worth Paying For? An “Aha!” Moment!

I just finished a complicated, but very interesting, article for an information industry publication about security and identity issues for content owners. Once I was able to get past all of the confusing terminology and “IT-speak” (which took me several interviews and multiple reviews and re-reviews of my notes, not to mention “sleeping on it” for several nights…) some key themes began to emerge. Ultimately (I think…) I pulled together an article that effectively sums up both the challenges and opportunities facing content owners today. There are two “big questions” from the content owners’ perspective:

1) How do we protect both  our own intellectual property and the personally identifiable information of the consumers who come to our web sites?

2) How can we make money (“monetize” is the buzzword generally used) from our content –especially in today’s environment of widely available free information?

Interestingly, at least to me, the first question isn’t that difficult to answer (it can be *expensive* to answer, but it’s not difficult). Technology is readily available and rapidly expanding to provide multi-layered solutions to even the most complex security conundrums.

The second one is what’s keeping content owners–large and small–up at night. Are people willing to pay for their content? Depending on who you ask, the answer can be either “yes” or “no.” Ask the nation’s newspapers and you’re likely to hear “no.” But, ask some others–even some others who are offering their content free of charge!–and they’ll say “yes.” Take MIT for instance.

One of the women I interviewed pointed out that, although MIT has made its courses freely available and FREE online, there are still droves of students who are willing to pay to attend their courses. This was my “aha!” moment. The people accessing this free content are not the same as the people *paying* for the content. In fact, the people *paying* for the content are not *really* (in most cases)  paying for the content. What are they paying for? The *degree*! There is value attached to having a degree from MIT. And that’s what people are paying for.

It’s a paradigm shift (with a nod to Stephen Covey who popularized the term). Those who own–or choose to develop–content need to let go of the egocentric notion that the content itself has value and consider, instead, how the content might simply be a conduit to an entirely different source of value for the end user.

One of my clients is doing exactly this. She’s a brilliant lady who has been extremely successful in her life and who thinks big. She’s on a mission (an important mission, I think) to better arm health care board members with the information they need to serve as informed and knowledgeable stewards for the organizations they represent. She’s doing training, both live and online, to educate health care board members. But she’s doing more than that. She’s increased the *value* of that training to those *paying* for the training (the health care organizations) by arranging for higher levels of reimbursement from a key insurer for organizations whose board members successfully complete the courses.

As the “Guinness guys” say: “Brilliant!”

She, and MIT, are doing exactly what other content providers need to be doing. They need to get to the crux of the value that they’re offering. Not the value that *they* think is important, but the value that *their constituents* think is important–and are willing to pay for.

Think about it. How can the information *you* have to offer be increased in value in some meaningful way to your end users? It’s a “business not as usual” question and one that requires content owners to think differently–sometimes very differently–about what it is they have to offer. Not what it is that they believe they’re selling, but what it is that their customers are *really buying.*

It’s much like the insight that Victor Kaim had years ago about the Remington razor. He astutely recognized that his company wasn’t selling razors–it was selling “smooth shaves.” And that subtle shift in focus can make all of the difference in the world.

What are YOU selling? No – think again – what are you REALLY selling? (And then, of course, you need to ask yourself the all-important follow-up question: “Is what you’re REALLY selling what people want to buy?”)

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2 Responses to “What Makes Information Worth Paying For? An “Aha!” Moment!”

  1. lpophal says:

    Good points. There definitely needs to be something about the content that makes it not only preferred but valued enough that consumers don’t feel they can get it elsewhere at no cost.

    When I work with clients, though, I’m always a little “worried” when their business model requires too much educating of consumers about why they should want what the business has to sell. Comments like “then (the customer) don’t understand our value proposition” seems to me like code for “we (the business owners) don’t understand what’s important to our market.”

    I realize that there are times when businesses do need to educate consumers, particularly with new and innovative products/services that clients may not yet be familiar with. But, generally I think businesses are more effective and need to invest less time, effort and angst if they can identify unmet needs and then fill them. It’s the “old school” approach, but I think it still works. And, I think content delivery models can take the same approach.

    What unmet needs for information exist that represent some form of tangible value to the consumer (meaning that the same type of content is not readily available elsewhere at less–or no–cost)? There are some people out there who are still quite successful at selling content–there are thousands (millions?) more, though, that are struggling to come up with the “magic formula.” Too often, I’m afraid, they think that formula relies more on their marketing efforts than the nature of the content they have to offer in the first place!

  2. Erin says:

    In my mind, it’s about educating your customers/clients on how to be “better buyers of your product”. I don’t think that most customers will pay for content (whether in money or an email address), because there are so many similar resources out there that are free. The exception would be if the content is exclusive, hard-to-find, or highly sought after. If that content is helping them make better decisions and become more knowledgeable or more aware, you have a better chance that they’ll buy it from you instead of your competitor.

    Which is another point – does the success of a content marketing strategy depend on what stage the customer is at? If they don’t know they need your product, will content marketing help to ‘push’ that message? Versus…if they are looking specifically for your product and comparing (inbound, or ‘pull’), will content marketing make you the preferred choice among competitors? Just a thought…

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