Looking at the incredible availability of very decent content today, many people claim that we live in an era of abundance, which changes established rules in industries whose business model is based on allowing or denying access to content. I agree with them: access to content is no longer a good way to "extract" value out of the market. Defending an outdated model may be a way to extort money from some people, but I don't think it is a durable way of making money in a way that keeps all participants (customers, intermediaries...) happy.
That being said, while researching Cirque du Soleil (here's a review of a fairly interesting book they are selling), a question came to my mind: in an era of abundance how do they manage to derive value from the content they own? After all, there are quite a few beautiful shows combining great choreography and beautiful music... So what's the big difference? I believe the difference lies in the way Cirque du Soleil creates first and foremost an experience for their customers. Their business is not so much about granting or denying access to content, but rather about creating a unique experience for the audience and extending that experience in the form of clothes, costumes, books, CD and DVD. Looking at the business from the angle of user experience is probably something that content industries ought to do instead of trying desperately to cling to old ways or to force software tools designed to enforce artificial scarcity (DRM for example).
When that shift happens in the thinking of a content dependent company interesting questions arise:
- what are the contexts in which we want a customer to become exposed to our content?
- putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer, what are the different steps we will need to follow to experience the content?
- what do we want the customer to think, feel, say and do before, during and after their exposure to the experience?
- what are the obstacles and negative aspects of the experience for the customer?
- how can we extend the experience beyond the contexts we control in a way that preserves its quality and reinforces the positive emotions generated while the customer was in a more controlled context of experience?
- how does the experience we offer differentiate from existing propositions on the market?
- what is the potential for profit for each form of customer experience?
In fact some of the best tools and techniques I have ever come across for generating meaningful questions pertaining to the target user's experience were developed by a company called Ideo and they are making those methods available in the form of the Ideo Method Cards, which I find just great.