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The Power of Content

March 26, 2009

One of the key themes I kept encountering at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference was that of “doing right by the consumer”. While articulated numerous different ways, it always came back to the notion of focusing on the consumer instead of (or sometimes at the expense of) the bottom line. And by focusing on the consumer, I don’t mean swarming over them like a pack of desperate car salesemen. Rather, it’s the idea of doing what’s right for your customer, even if it means losing the sale. 

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, put it very well when he said his company wasn’t interested in maximizing every transaction, but rather in building and nurturing a lifetime relationship with their customers. If that means referring someone to a competitor who has the item they’re looking for in stock, or eating the cost of next-day shipping, so be it. In many ways, this is a rehash the old adage about attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar, but it’s also an idea the business world seems to have forgotten in the pursuit of ever-higher quarterly numbers. And it’s something that a new generation of business leaders appears to be picking up on. 

One thing that struck me about Hsieh’s examples, and those of others, was that they were essentially one-on-one customer service interactions. While powerful and a great way to build relationships on an individual, case-by-case basis, this is hard to implement on a broad scale, not to mention hard to measure in terms of ROI. 

The more I thought about this, the more I came to appreciate Powered’s approach of providing free, relevant, professionally-produced content. Content that doesn’t attempt to close the sale, but rather to provide something of value to the consumer. It’s the same idea of “give before you get”, made available to the broader online community, and, properly supported, it can help foster the same affinity and increase returns over the long term, certainly better than the “buy our crap!” advertising that is increasingly lost in the clutter, or ignored altogether.

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