Buy One, Give One Free: What Artists can learn from Social Entrepreneurship

One of my greatest frustrations with respect to marketing has been that while I speak often about human’s predisposition to share, we’ve yet – in the entertainment realm – developed a way to encourage/reward sharing/sharers.

A bit of background. It was when music/books/movies/etc. went from being objects (analog) to being information (digital) that people could finally satisfy their hard-wired impulse to share with no downside.

Prior to this, if I wanted to share an album/book/DVD with you, when I gave it to you I was deprived of my copy – you win, I half lose/half win. Post the shift to information, when I share my digital versions with you, I still keep my copy – we both win.

This switch, naturally, had a massively disruptive impact on media (and other) businesses. It’s really the underlying cause of the crumbling of the firmament of the old-school media businesses. We’re doing what we’ve always done/wanted to do (share information), it’s just that now, with the switch from objects (analog) to shareable-information (digital), scarcity-based economic business models are left scrambling to find a purpose that can be monetized.

In any case, we can all agree with Mark Earls when he says:

Human beings are to independent action, as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we really have to, but mostly we don’t…. Instead, we do what we do because of what those around us are doing (Whatever our minds and our cultures tell us). So if you want to change what I’m doing, don’t try to persuade me — don’t try to make me do anything. I can’t make anyone do anything. They do what they do because of their peers.

So, we as content creators desperately need to encourage our constituents to share. In the past, I’ve made facile suggestions to artists (musicians, visual artists, etc.) to attempt things like “buy one, give one free” in the analog realm. That is, when someone buys a CD at your show, offer them a second for free, with the request that the person buying the CD give this second one to someone they believe will appreciate the music. Same with prints of photos, etc.

While not exactly the most innovative (or measurable) strategy in the world, I still think there’s merit to to this approach. However, it doesn’t really scale, and I’m constantly asked by people with whom I work if there’s a way to reward digital sharing.

So far, what we’re seeing is variants on the “RT for song” that firms like CASH Music have developed. I, of course, love this type of approach, and hope more utilize it (Disclosure: I’m a proud CASH board member).

However, I believe this approach needs to be expanded upon.

I genuinely hope that artists in 2011 take the approach that when a customer purchases their digital work, they are presented with the opportunity to email a copy to a friend they feel will appreciate it. Perhaps this is part of the transaction cost that the initial customer must bear. In other words, prior to the original customer gaining access to the digital work, she must not only pay, but also enter a verifiable email address of one of her friends, who she believes would enjoy the work.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Beyond the fact that I’d be surprised if someone smart in the media world hasn’t tried this (it seems like, for instance, something Topspin or Kristin Hersh would be doing), it’s very consistent with what appears to be an emergent tenet of social entrepreneurship. The most visible example, of course, being Toms Shoes. Their “One pair sold = one pair donated” approach is not only virtuous, but also great marketing.

When I introduce the concept of social entreprenuership to my students, the very first example I offer is Toms Shoes. When I ask how many people have heard of Toms, typically two-thirds of the students raise their hands. There are very few companies that when I ask my students if they’ve heard of that I get that type of response. And, yet, to my knowledge, Toms has spent little on traditional advertising. Rather, their conceit of “buy one, give one free” has done the work for them (of course, there are costs associated with Toms’ approach, but I’m guessing these are less than what a traditional ad campaign would cost, and clearly their approach is more effective and vrituous).

I’ve long felt that there is a linkage between social entrepreneurship (“team of teams,” small groups, emphasis on “changemakers,” “purpose-driven brands,” etc.), and the creative arts. I believe both can learn from each other.

I do hope that more in the creative arts glean from social entrepreneurship this notion of “buy one, give one free.”

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of a mechanism for this type of sharing of information, which makes it easy for the existent constituent to introduce the work to her friends. As above, one may exist, and, if so, I’d love to see some examples, so please leave them in the comments.

Here’s hoping we see this develop in 2011.

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