“What? You asked your friends from high school for advice on how to do your job? What qualifies them to help you with that problem?” I asked my college marketing intern in 2007.
She shrugged her shoulders and responded, “I dunno. One of them gave me the answer and took care of it.”
It would have never occurred to me to ask a bunch of random people a specific technical question. I’d likely have to sort through dozens of nonsensical answers, and even if I got something that sounded plausible, there would be no way of knowing if the answer were any good.
But in 2007, for a young person, it was the most natural thing in the world. Everyone’s opinion mattered equally, whether they were an expert on the topic or just some crackpot. Everyone had something to contribute and should be heard.
Social media platforms flourished. Twitter exploded in popularity, giving everyone a platform to publish their ideas, and the rest of us a way to consume it via hash tags.
This meant death for subscription businesses that focused on curating content or information. In a world where an expert’s voice is no more important than the uninformed, why pay for curated expert content when I can just get my information via hashtag on Twitter?
Better yet, if I need advice or information, I’ll just post the question on Facebook and trust the answers my friends give me. I know those people, so I trust them more than an expert I don’t know.
Donald Trump becoming president is a result of this trend. Setting aside the policy differences, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign speeches were all about “fellow Americans,” “bringing America together,” and “each of us.” Trump’s speeches are, “Trust me, when I’m president I’ll drain the swamp and I’ll be the best president ever.” Where Obama promised he’d work together with us, Trump’s message is, “Trust me, I can do it.”
This difference goes way beyond personality. Trump was elected because Americans are increasingly wanting someONE to show them the way.
Fake news has been a buzzword since the election. But people have been publishing fictional news stories since before the American Revolution — it’s nothing new. Until recently, what we now call fake news was a welcome voice in the conversation. Today, as a society, attitudes are changing. The trend is now moving away from the clutter of unfiltered information toward curation.
There’s an explosion in box-of-the-month businesses today. Most outsiders see the growth of diverse offerings as consumers responding to new choices. As a subscription insider, I know the reverse is actually true.
Book-of-the-Month, Tie-of-the-Month, and hundreds of other of-the-month businesses have existed for decades. Today’s offerings aren’t so innovative that they’ve sparked new demand. Rather, the popularity of these new boxes is a response to the shift in what customers really want.
These of-the-month programs weren’t growing five years ago, because consumers didn’t value curation. Why get make-up samples in a box in the mail when I could just ask my friends about the best new stuff?
Most people thought the massive decline of the network news, magazine, and newspaper industries from 1996 to 2006 were because of the internet. What was actually happening was customers weren’t valuing the curation those media provided. Customers valued raw, unfiltered, “authentic” information.
It’s not until your prospective subscriber stops relying on advice from random strangers and seeks out insight from an expert that she will seek out your subscription-of-the-month program.
Just like President Trump is erecting a wall on America’s southern border, and enacting tariffs that “protect” jobs and travel restrictions that stop “threatening people,” your customers are erecting their own walls. As evidenced by Facebook’s slowing down of ad media inventory, your customers aren’t checking their News Feed as often. They aren’t posting questions to “friends” when they need information. Instead, they are seeking out recognized experts. And they aren’t trusting the information their friends post, instead seeking out trusted reporters.
Your customers are shutting out the random noise of advice out there. They are seeking curation instead. For a curation company in the subscription business, this is excellent news.
I expect this trend toward curation to grow subscription businesses through 2023, based on my interpretation of the research presented by Roy Williams and Michael Drew in their book, “Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Presents and Predict Our Future.” Williams and Drew document a recurring 20-year shift in values from a “we” orientation to a “me” focus and back again, since before at least the 19th century. While the book was published in 2012 during the height of the “we” orientation, it predicts much of what we are seeing today.
While customers five years ago trusted friends and strangers more than experts, that trend is shifting more and more each day. Providing expert guidance, a beacon of hope in a foggy, cluttered well, and custom curation is the growth formula for the next several years.