Jun 28, 2012

What If We Give It Away: Lessons from TED

"Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right"

What if the value your service or company provides may not be the one you originally or naturally think it does? TED used to be a simple conference - you pay (a lot) to attend, and in exchange you get to see, in person, some great speakers and meet some interesting people. Great content and even better networking. 

But then TED started giving away the content (TED talks) - basically for free and in almost real time. It also started giving away its brand - allowing the use of the "TED" moniker for other events, conferences, in related and unrelated fields (TEDx). And then giving away its methodology - its format and processes. So what was the result? The TED brand recognition is greater than ever, its content is viewed on the web by millions of people who have never even been to an event, the TED speaker slot is coveted and is even a form of credibility or accreditation, many many more people have been to "TEDx" related events than ever before, and the flagship in person conference sells out as fast as it ever did at the same high prices.

In other words, by giving away what one would generally think of as a company's (a media entity) greatest assets - its content,  brand and business processes - the business has grown enormously in just a few short years. "We found that, giving stuff away, we received even more in return" says Bruno Guissani, European director of TED.

Flipping and basically giving away what one would normally think of as core competencies, core assets, can grow a business dramatically and quickly. With the content, processes and brand more freely available, the community and the set of values can instead drive the business. And those are not as easily replicable. In the case of TED, there used to be just one price point and opportunity for users to interact.  Now there are many (attend the event, watch the videos, go to a local TED, do a TEDx). It is now a 365 day brand, whereas it used to only be a 3 day event.

Imagine how powerful this could be in other areas - for example, what if I could throw a BonnarooX concert in some back yard, using the methods form the festival, inspired by the music clips freely available to me to watch.  

And now maybe we are beginning to see this in other areas too - such as education (see EdX out of Harvard and MIT as one example). I wonder what other areas this can and will be applied to - imagine not only media but also life sciences. 

Giving away what you hold most dearly may turn out to be the best business strategy there is.

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