Helping companies devise digital strategies, while teaching graduate students how to bring their ideas to market, can be the purview of veteran journalists. It is for Larry Kramer, who does it at his alma mater, the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. I do it at my alma mater, DePaul University in Chicago. Coming face-to-face with the next generation of media and marketing leaders can be as unnerving as it is exhilarating. That's precisely what Kramer and I did together this week in a seminar I hosted at DePaul. It was devoted to exploring empowered consumers in control -- one of the tenets of his new book C-Scape: Conquering the Forces Changing Business Today. The forces, which Kramer dubs the four Cs -- consumers, content, curation and convergence -- provide an orderly way to examine the chaotic reinvention of all things media.
Our open dialogue with an audience as diverse as the consumer base was a conversation everyone in the industry should be deep into by now. It's as much about being entrepreneurial as it is being a content producer and distributor, or a marketer with messages about goods and services to sell.
That kind of interactive reshuffling of roles and function is something Kramer has engaged in from the time he left conventional journalism as assistant managing editor of The Washington Post to founding and developing Marketwatch into an online financial information provider. He eventually took Marketwatch public, selling it to Dow Jones for a cool $528 million. He now advises companies such as Discovery Communications and American Media, as well as private equity players. More recently, he has been thinking about forging still more news propositions for the digital age.
In doing so, Kramer will be mindful of the observations and advice in C-Scape, which we both use as required reading in our graduate courses, designed to help students grasp the changes afoot and fashion new business models to fill needs and voids. Companies that are slaves to their quarterly bottom line could do with a reminder about where they should be in order to thrive-not just survive. Here are some of Kramer's main ideas couched in my interpretation:
*Content is the full customer experience that assures engagement, attachment and relevance. It is a continuous flow of shared responses and transactions, built around an idea or value proposition. You can treat content like a commodity, or offer something uniquely better than the rest; a higher-quality experience.
*A common mistake companies make is trying to interest consumers in a new experience they do not want, rather than improving their existing experience. You can successfully develop new products if you take time to fully understand the experience consumers are having with your brand.
*The future of advertising depends upon changing the most basic assumptions. Give consumers something they want to pay attention to rather than "interrupt" their engagement in the products and services that most interest them.
*Price the experience, not the product! When it comes to pricing and turning content into revenues, we still ask the wrong questions. We should ask how, in the C-Scape, do we improvise and create new arrangements that work to support all constituents' needs and interest? The difference between consumer demand and what they will pay for is what they want.
*Product development becomes truly convergent when it goes beyond seeking and implementing consumer ideas and enables customer participation in the design. While producers still maintain "an essential editorial role," convergences can be "wide-ranging and powerful, combining advertising and marketing, product development and sales in a new form of interactive storytelling."
*Convergence doesn't mean that new media replaces the old. Instead, new technology is layered in with the "old," and every product experience becomes a convergent experience, digital or not. Every company is a media company that needs to reflect on whether the business they think they are in remains relevant to consumers. The biggest obstacle to creating and executing on new digital business models is not physical or technical, but mental!
*Successful partnership is convergent entrepreneurships that blend traditional corporate approaches with new sensibilities and standards for the long-term. Success in the C-Scape depends on achieving the true convergence of established brands and start-up cultures. This often means nurturing a higher-risk style that will make big wins possible by tolerating some failure along the way. That thinking is contrary but critical to the low-risk culture of most large corporations.
Everyone is struggling to translate new principles into workable solutions: the new expectations and behaviors of tech-savvy consumers; the broader, integrated definition of content and marketing; the management of information; and the convergence of all elements and aspects of media.
Business leaders who refuse to constructively deal with the pervasive complexities of digital transformation lose -- both in sustaining brand strength and engaging with consumers.