Anyone involved in spreading ideas can learn a lesson from this terrific cnn.com article, “How TED Got Famous.” It talks about how the TED Conference exploded its influence and brand awareness by essentially giving away its intellectual property. Or perhaps I should say, “sharing it freely.” It started offering free, online access to videos of talks given at its conferences and then doubled the price of its conferences, only to sell out a year in advance.
If that sounds completely counterintuitive to you, read the article. Notice the statistics. Ask yourself how many people knew what a “TED talk” was 10 years ago vs. now.
TED has become the GO-TO in its space.
A natural inclination with thought leadership and content marketing efforts is to hold back, particularly for organizations that market intangibles and/or expertise. They fear that if they give away their ideas, talk freely about their methodologies, or teach people how to fish, then they won’t be needed. Why would anyone buy what I’m giving away for free? Well, you’d be surprised. Think of your thought leadership efforts as free samples. For the people who need what you’re selling, they are going to read/watch your material and want to know more. And guess what? Even if you teach them to fish, you’d be surprised at how few people have the time to fish and would just as soon hire someone to fish for them. When they read about your unique style of fishing and why it’s more effective, and when that resonates with them, they’ll call you in.
Yes, some people will read your book and white papers or watch your online videos and never call you in. But they were probably never buyer candidates for your services anyway. However, they could become evangelists for you or send your material to someone who is. Yes, competitors could get their hands on your material, but if what you do is unique enough, they won’t be able to duplicate you on the basis of what you’ve published. They won’t be able to execute like you do.
Who can learn from this? How about content marketers, technology entrepreneurs, enterprise solution marketers, anyone selling to the C-suite, universities grappling with the perceived threat of online learning, other educators, and professional services organizations, for a start?