What Do They Mean When They Say You Are The Product?


Tuesday, 9.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Many respectable physicists said that they weren’t going to stand for this – partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sort of parties. – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’ve been thinking about marketing mixes for a bit, and particularly about options that give you access to an audience of some kind.

For example, my LinkedIn feed right now is full of posts of conferences – places where people come together to share knowledge and connect with others in their industry.

That seems like a good thing.

But how do these conferences make money?

Well, they get speakers, high profile ones and ones from businesses that you would probably like to work with and invite them to speak.

They often give you free entry and cover their costs and make a profit by selling stalls and marketing packs to companies that might be interested.

One of the things I need to be careful of is my own scepticism – the urge to question whether something is of value.

That kind of thinking quickly leads to pithy sayings like “if you get it for free, then you’re the product” and variants on that theme.

And perhaps because I don’t get invited to participate in such sessions I feel a bit like the physicists in Douglas Adams’s quote above.

Now, there are people who argue that the saying about products and us should really be questioned further, such as Derek Powazek, because the fact is that just because you pay for something it doesn’t mean you get value.

In fact, we get a lot of value for free these days – and you know that Google makes money hand over fist even while it gives you free email.

There’s a business model there, perhaps not one we fully understand or can replicate – but it exists.

Powazek does sum this up quite elegantly when he writes “If you don’t know how a startup will make money, neither do they.”

Or a conference that you attend.

I started this post with a question – are the organisers of these events evil?

Do they stand there rubbing their hands at the prospect of making money off you?

Or are they promoters, showmen and women – who love nothing more than the buzz of getting a great event together, throwing a fabulous party and getting people out talking, laughing, drinking and doing business.

Should we be thanking them for the opportunity to get together with like minded business people and create value together?

If you think about it, throwing an event is a bet – a gamble that you can create enough buzz to attract people – some of whom teach and some of whom learn – and get others to pay for it all to happen.

It’s clearly a bet that more and more people are willing to take – the number of face to face events seems to be skyrocketing as people try and find real connection and take a break from their virtual social systems.

People seem to crave connection – and these events provide that.

The conclusion, then, is that events and products and businesses are not inherently evil.

But, like every other industry, the vary in quality and the value they provide.

I guess you have to try them out to see if they work for you.

The thing that won’t work is staying cooped up at home with the curtains drawn.

If you want to do business, you have to go out and do what needs to be done to help people find you.


Karthik Suresh

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