Just a few years ago, when music artists and filmmakers would come into our office to pitch projects, their main selling point was “Man, I just sold 20K units out of my trunk in North Carolina; I’d love to partner with you to take it to the next level.” Today, the criteria have changed -- the new pitch is “Man, I just got 400K views on YouTube, and I have over 100K friends on MySpace; what can we do together?”
The entrepreneurial “hustle” spirit that Hip Hop is so well known for is rapidly moving from the streets onto the Internet, where distribution and creative marketing is free and available to anyone with a broadband connection. The fact that Web businesses can be run from a computer in your living room has leveled the playing field in that you don’t need much to get up and running. Nor are you judged by class or race. Even someone with a criminal record or bad grades can have a second chance online.
You're not confined by geographical location. You can sit by your computer in say, Watts or The Bronx, and your customers can be in Beverly Hills or vice versa. It creates a bridge to communities and economies around the world you may not have had access to otherwise. This direct access to the global marketplace represents one of the biggest opportunities we’ve seen in a while, especially for lower-income households.
The general energy surrounding the Internet very much reminds me of the “freshness” and innovation that Hip Hop had in its early days. The same opportunity that Hip Hop represented to inner-city communities back in the 80s in way of exposure and revenue is now multiplied by the Web. Internet digital media is the new Hip Hop!
The new pull marketing model
“Push” marketing (old approach) is when companies or artists used overt, heavy-handed marketing campaigns to push products and content to consumers from behind the walled garden of a network or radio station. It’s essentially a dictatorial approach, where the consumer is a passive receiver of proactive marketing messages. Prior to the Internet, when TV, radio, and printed press was all we had, it was easy to control the messaging in a marketing campaign from end to end. We had no choice but to believe them.
Today, however, with the Internet providing free global distribution and marketing to the masses, the garden wall has come down almost completely. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to dictate marketing messages and trends to this generation, as they can go online and get immediate “real world” feedback from their trusted peer group.
Today’s consumers can smell a marketing angle from miles away and have grown wary of pushy mass brands. Given this paradigm shift, pulling your audience toward your product/brand via authenticity, sharing similar values, and maintaining ongoing dialogue (feedback loop) is going to be more effective. I call this “pull” marketing, because when you're on the same page as your consumer, trust is created and there’s no need to push. In fact, pushing may turn them off.
The pull generation grew up in a transparent world; artists can barely walk around the corner without ending up on the entertainment news site, TMZ.com. They’ve also grown up with freedom of choice and the ability to search and sample products prior to purchasing. Given this freedom of choice and transparency, they are more proactive in finding content and products. The pull preference is manifested in many ways. For instance, today’s generation is more attracted to custom t-shirts, shoes, and hats (digitalgravel.com), and less into the traditional mainstream mass brands as was the previous generation.
Freedom of choice has made this generation even more wary of overt marketing, as they now know, more or less, what they like and where to find it. They can spot marketing techniques coming from a mile away, thus the push campaigns are becoming less effective. Maybe this newfound individuality will also increase creativity within the arts. If so, it may be a factor in bringing the entertainment industry to a healthier state. After all, everything is personal, from your clothes to the music that you like. Perhaps the walled garden has stood in the way all this time.
This shift also presents major opportunity for those who “get it.”
I got my first real lesson in pull marketing by necessity. In 2000, after a successful 17-year run in the music business, having produced for Tupac, LL Cool, Ice Cube, and many others, I decided to make a career change into film and TV. I created a production slate of documentary treatments that we proposed to our distributor and closed an independent DVD output deal with a relatively modest budget. Void of major studio marketing muscle, we had to appeal to our audience through authenticity, quality, value, and organic promotion.
It was the pull model. Our very first QD3 DVD release set an initial shipment record for our distributor -- all without being too “pushy.” Word of mouth became our number one marketing tool, not our word alone. We’re now using the pull approach when rolling out our content/products across all platforms, including Internet, VOD, DVD, and mobile.
New business models
We’re likely to see major shifts in entertainment industry business models. Now that we have access to free music, films, and software on the Web, what are some of the other models we should consider? One cool solution I’ve seen for music is a company called Skyrider.com. They have essentially created a free legal downloading portal that inserts contextual ads on your download page based on your search criteria. It's a smart way to adapt to behavior. Although it may not be enough to save the majors, it could provide great opportunity for companies with low overhead or individual bands.
I can see artists figuring out a way to go direct to consumer, creating sites and virtual worlds where they can present their undiluted vision to their audience (with user input of course). Upon building a nice-sized audience, they may possibly have their albums and videos underwritten by brands that feel their products are aligned with the creative direction of the artists.
Instead of pre-packaged albums, perhaps the artists upload songs, videos, and taped live shows periodically on their site as they finish them, and you, the consumer, can create your own track listing. Imagine your favorite group periodically releasing songs, using your input in part to make creative decisions, and thus having a more personal relationship with their fans. That could be pretty cool.
Many people are losing enthusiasm for music because they feel that most of it looks and sounds the same. For practical reasons, labels tend to encourage artists within a certain genre to work with the same small group of stylists, video directors, and music producers -- according to formulas that have worked in the past. This has created a pretty homogenized marketplace.
In order to infuse new life to the industry, next-generation bands may want to consider including a Web designer, film maker, and clothing line designer as permanent band members that would create sites, visual media, and custom merchandise lines that become part of the group's creative rollout. This would give each group its own unique creative look and feel across the board.
The one thing I am certain of is none of us can afford to miss the opportunity that digital media currently represents. This is especially true in communities that are already at a disadvantage. It's time for the land grab. Find something that you’re passionate about, something that you are uniquely qualified to do better than anyone else in the world, and pursue it using online or wireless networking.
While the big corporations are trying to figure out how to bridge their traditional legacy with all the new opportunities that the Internet represents, smaller, more nimble companies currently have a nice window of opportunity to move faster in trying to create new models.
I look forward to potential dialogues and collaborations at our site, QD3.com. I'm in the forums daily and look forward to hearing from you!
— Quincy “QD3” Jones III, Hip Hop filmmaker, producer, and visionary