My backlog of RSS feeds topped out at over 400 this week, a sure sign that my blogging has taken a back seat to other priorities. And when the week started, I really thought I'd get a newsletter out.
So I'm not even reading a lot of the posts on subjects that I'd normally comment on. I'm just skimming headers. But one over at gapingvoid got my attention: The Ignorance Premium. I had to stop and read it.
Hugh's post is good reading. And an excellent start to a conversation our industry needs to have.
His point is that people pay more for a product when they don't know much about the product category. That's when they pay for "brand" or "hipness". An Armani vs. a bespoke suit. iPod vs. a cheaper alternative from Microsoft. Or in our case, a "name" speaker vs. someone who might be much more informed about our problems.
The difference in what the uninformed and informed pay for essentially the same thing is the "ignorance premium".
He then makes the point that "smarter conversations" - that is having access to and getting answers/opinions from smarter people than you on a particular topic - will eventually whittle away at the "Ignorance Premium". And he provides examples in the way of bloggers Robert Scoble at Microsoft and Thomas Mahon of English Cut on Savile Row.
Then the alarm goes off. The conference business is ALL about making money on the ignorance premium. That's all every single one of us who markets conferences does. We promote new angles of educating essentially the same people on the same stuff year in and year out. Sure, there are new subjects dealing with new technologies each year. But the meat of your program is the same as it was last year. Just different titles and speakers. Don't try to tell me otherwise.
There is very little we offer in the way of education that couldn't be answered directly by somebody online. If - and it's a big if - people were willing to invest the time to go search for the information and find the right people willing to engage in a "smarter conversation", where would we be? What value would we provide?
What we really sell isn't education. It's convenience. We provide the ability for someone to spend one, two or three days immersing themselves in a lot of education. Maybe not the best education and maybe not the most timely. But by God, lots of it. The case could be made that we're making money because people are lazy. They'd rather spend $495 or $1,495 or more for the learning packages we present because to get to the information online or otherwise is too much work.
One of the replies to Hugh's post makes exactly this point in a very effective manner using Hugh's example of the Armani suit. The respondent's point was that if he makes $600/hour, he's actually losing money by spending time looking for the best price/value ratio of a suit and it's actually more economical for him to grab the Armani, even at the premium.
So what's convenience worth?
If we are indeed selling convenience instead of education, then pricing is no longer inflexible. Someone - a VP who specializes in marketing association conferences - mentioned on the MIMlist yesterday that attendance was going down in one particular industry where they have several clients. And it's going down at venues all across the country.
As a marketer, you hear that and you say, it's got to be either the content or the marketing. One or the other must be bad. But you could be wrong.
It could be - for the first time - that the same price point which was OK last year is now perceived to be too high. Attendees in that particular industry may have reached the point where they weren't willing to pay the "ignorance premium" - it just wasn't worth it to continue to pay for attending the conference when there are new - and maybe better - options online for "smarter conversations".
I could be wrong about her problem. But the idea that we sell convenience and not education makes a lot of sense. And if that's the case, we all have to start worrying about our own price points.
As social networking through blogs, wikis, podcasts and you have to think video podcasts (whatever name those will go by) continue to grow, there will be more and more smart conversations. And more and more options for education, even if not "accredited" or "sanctioned" by trade or professional associations.
The irony is that most of us thought our exhibitions would be severely hurt when everyone could get product info on demand over the web. But our human need to maintain face-to-face relationships and the implied trust therein keep us walking through exhibit halls.
Rather, it's conference education that might take the big hit.
No need to change careers yet though. Read the comments to Hugh's post for some perspective and alternative views on the topic.
Make the time to read it, it's that important.