Rent or Buy? How Does a Company Decide to Use New Media

I just tripped across the Custom Content Conference being held this March in New Orleans. It is targeted at brand managers and ad folks who may be considering creating their own serialized web content or new media/social media channels. I thought I’d mention a few of the companies who have already ventured in to this arena, and hopefully you may have some more to add to the list.

secret_ingredient_web.gifWhole Foods (link has expired) has been doing this for about a year with both audio and video podcasts, all of which are produced using in-house talent. Scott Simons, Regional Marketing Director, hosts the Secret Ingredient (link has expired) show. There has been discussion on the Yahoo Videoblogging List about this show and the opportunities to also integrate both freelance-produced content as well as user-generated content. Word on the street is that Whole Food is not interested, preferring to control the show in-house. It’s a full service blog-based site, with comments accepted and RSS. Visitors can manually download the flash version of the episode, though that is not playable on most MP3 devices.

American Express last year launched (link has expired) which is a combination traditional web site and video blog, using the “new” part of the media and not so much the “social” part of the media. It is Flash-based, which makes the site a bit slow for my tastes, but does allow the designers to create a very rich, urban mood and feel. They use freelance contributors and the episodes focus on restaurants (AMEX merchants) and celebrity/social life. You can get an RSS feed, and in their grab the embed code for each episode, but the flash programming makes that part very cumbersome and the interface is elusive unless you know what the little icons represent. Viewer comments are not accepted.

thelobby.jpgStarwood Hotels launched The Lobby as a text blog in 2006. It also hires freelance contributors around the world, sharing local life stories and virtually always ending with a link to a hotel or hotel service found in the region. They have started including YouTube-hosted videos made by their contributors. I really like the widget they have in addition to traditional RSS options.

We are in production with a Fortune 100 company to develop a branded show that is educational in nature. Naturally, the goal is to drive sales for this particular service, but the company believes (and so do we) that creating original branded content that is useful and entertaining using new media (aka your own internet TV station) is a terrific, largely untapped opportunity at this time.

There are many other examples of companies who are doing direct ad sponsorships of independently-produced shows. I discussed the Ford – Amanda Across America collaboration in this post with follow-up in this post. Earthlink was an early sponsor of the Washington Post video podcasts and pharmaceutical companies are pursing this as well.

I definitely have my preferences, based on years of experience as a consumer (!) and also the past three years of being on the forefront of creating audio and video content for the web. Keep in mind as well that the criteria will vary depending on your audience and your product/service – there is no cookie-cutter solution here. And if things go wrong, as they did on the Edelman-managed video for Walmart, do like Edelman did and learn from the experience. It’s not possible to know it all – and that’s the reason for us to keep talking. For those of you attending the HAF Conference tomorrow, we’ll be discussing this in more detail.