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The value of emotional value

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Brands & Campaigns

This post was contributed by Kate Bradley, founder of Outlandos Music and alumna of XM Radio, Pump Audio, and a virtual alphabet soup of radio stations up and down the Eastern seaboard.

As a consultant for independent musicians on social media and brand building, I find myself observing my own habits as a consumer and music fan. What motivates me to attend shows, download music, and invest in schwag? Two words: Emotional value.

Many musicians these days are giving their music away for free. This makes sense, generally, because bands that might not otherwise be heard are getting broader exposure and being shared by word of mouth. So the free music is driving revenue associated with touring: Tickets, merch, performance fees, and the occasional sale of a CD with creative perks such as bonus tracks, artist signatures and limited edition artwork.

The trouble though — and this applies to many industries — is that “free” may, in fact, be dead. Now that we expect it; where’s the value in that? I’m not alone in this thinking, either. Seth Godin agrees: There’s just “too much free.”

Is there, then, a new free? My feeling is that the new free may be the opposite of free. The complete opposite, a.k.a. expensive. Case in point: the new food. $5 Kashi. $4 for a dozen local, farm-raised, cage-free eggs. $8 Pom Wonderful. $6 rice milk. We’re willing to pay ridiculously high prices for incredible quality.

Another example: every year I give my public radio station $100, money that as a fledgling entrepreneur, I frankly just don’t have. NPR — public radio that can be consumed for free — goes back to the well that is my pocket every year. And they are masterful at it. They have me (and my credit card) without reserve.

Three essential psychological factors seem to be at play here, driving my emotion and my wallet.

  1. Outstanding quality, from high-end organic food to world-class radio to a stellar live concert.
  2. The experience of shopping at Whole foods, enjoying NPR driveway moments or being there when your favorite band does something outrageous or unique.
  3. The ability to share these kinds of quality and experiences among friends. This piece cannot be underestimated.

The takeaway? Emotional value may have surpassed free as a primary driver of consumer behavior. When we create music, products, services, and experiences that make consumers feel so good that they want to tell the world about them, people will pay for them – recession or no recession.

This message has been resonating with my musician clients who are jumping with two feet into the world of social media. Their fans are responding in a big way. And they told two friends and they told two friends, and so on.

Photo credit: David Chernis