Over the last year within the Consumer Product Strategy team here at Forrester, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how media companies should innovate products to build relevancy in the digital age.  We’ve had many interesting conversations with media companies of every shape, flavor and size you could imagine.  Each of them of course have their own unique challenges and opportunities, but one of the things which applies almost universally is the need to reassess what it is that they sell.  In short, to understand what their product actually is.

In the 20th century, the answers would have appeared so obvious as to make the question look facile.  ‘We sell books of course!’ or ‘CDs!’ or ‘Newspapers!’.  Now though, in the age of digital delivery and on-demand access, it is increasingly apparent that those were simply the packaging in which the actual products were delivered.  The product is what is delivered within those packages.  ‘Content is king’ right?  Well yes, but that’s only half of the equation.  People didn’t just pay for the content, they also paid for the experience that the format helped deliver — whether that be the experience of settling down on the sofa with a first-edition hardcover book, reading a double-page spread in the Sunday newspaper, or listening to the warm crackle of a vinyl LP on the living room hi-fi. 

Whatever the media, the experience has always been an integral part of the experience.  In the analogue age, the experience as part of the product wasn’t always so obvious because it was so intrinsic to the product consumption.  But in the digital age where free infects everything, the experience becomes one of the few things that a media company can hope to effectively differentiate with.  In a face-off between a 99-cent download, a 50-cent download, a 1-cent download, and a free download, the free one will always win hands down.  The content has become divorced from the experience.  The consumer creates the experience themselves by deciding when, where, and how they consume the content. 

The only way that a 99-cent download can ever compete against the free one is by the quality of the experience which is built around the content itself.  And that’s where the title to this blog post comes into play.  It is content experiences that people will pay for.  Not content products. The closed ecosystems (iTunes, Xbox, Kindle etc.) work because they guarantee the quality of the experience and the consistency of the experience.  But content companies don't just need to start focusing on designing great content experiences, it’s more profound than that:

Experience is the product.

I’d like to take full credit for that quote but it’s actually taken from a fantastic Business Week article from 3 years ago.  The author continues that:

“Products, necessarily, begin with the technology that makes them possible.  [But] products are realized only as necessary artifacts to address customer needs.”

As media companies grapple with how to address the multiple challenges of disruptive consumer technology, such as the iPad, mobile phones, and DVRs, many make the common mistake of focusing on what the technology solution is rather than thinking about what experience those technologies can deliver.

Does any of this ring true to you?  We’ll be continuing this theme a lot over the coming months, including a simply fantastic document coming shortly from James McQuivey (watch this space!).  But we’re also gathering information about this in our Disruptive Strategy executive survey.  If you haven’t already taken part you can do by clicking the link: https://deploy.ztelligence.com/start/index.jsp?PIN=15YDJ8RYKLMXG

We are also continuing the debate in our online community: see the discussion topic here http://community.forrester.com/message/7758#7758 It’s open to everyone, so please feel free to come along and join in the discussion.