Is Quality the Ultimate Victim of New Media?

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At the headquarters of the Gucci Group there is a plaque that inks the Gucci Family Slogan, “Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.” And for years, many of us in the marketing and sales community have lived by similar versions of the same code: Quality First, Quality Control, Total Quality Management and etcetera. But in the new world of New Media, is there actually any value to quality?

Here are four examples of the hottest new media trends I observed in 2006 and what I would argue is the distinctly anti-quality nature of each of them:

Blogs: I know we are a pretty biased crowd here at OneDegree so let’s just suffice it to say that it is inarguable that blogs are an ever-increasing way that an ever-increasingly large group are accessing their daily news and editorial media.

Anti-bloggers would argue that user generated blog content is unprofessional and lacks quality. I totally agree with them. Let’s take this blog for example. I threw it together in an hour or two, maybe read it over once more for glaring errors and then sent it to Ken for review. Maybe he’ll catch the spelling mistakes, likely he’ll leave in the grammatical errors and possibly even a factual error or two because in the end, who the hell am I anyway, just some guy talking. But this is exactly the point.

Those who would argue that blogs lacks merit because they lack quality are missing the boat. The popularity of blogs has little to do with their ability to fit a traditional media quality mold. Their appeal is almost anti-quality in nature and speaks to value attributes that exceed quality.

Video: Many would agree that the hottest trend in video in 2006 was user-generated video content like that seen on sites like YouTube.com. Traditional media representatives and advertisers alike are stepping all over each other to put deals together with these sites or to buy them out completely because of what they see as their huge consumer appeal. Again here though, the quality and professionalism of this new media is downright terrible. In fact, some of the most popular downloads are almost “unwatchably” bad. But again, to a certain degree, this is the point with this new media. There is something else going on in the appeal-o-meter that goes beyond picture and content quality.

Music: So what’s happening in music these days? I remember when the big thing was to have the best quality sound systems with the best quality super-speakers with woofers and tweeters and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really understand. Now, it’s digital music swapping and iPods. And anyone who would like to argue that the sound quality of a downloaded song played over those crappy white earpieces from an IPOD rivals the sound quality of even a 1980’s Sony Walkman would be kidding themselves. Half the songs are too loud or too soft, or have funny noises in them. Let’s face it, again, there is something else going on here besides the drive for ultimate sound quality.

Image Content: My father was a photography and home-movie nut. He followed us around everywhere snapping shots on his SLR Nikon with all the big expensive lenses and his 20 lb home movie camera. Going back and looking at his shots of the family from the 70’s and comparing them to the shots we take today, there is simply no comparison. I take the family shots and video’s today either with a small digital camera or with my wife’s phone and then post them to sites like shutterfly.com or youtube.com for all the family to see. These devices produce plentiful, fun, but comparatively low quality images of the family vacations. But yet, SLR camera sales are down and video camera phones are selling themselves right off the shelves. People are making image content choices beyond quality and increasingly, this style of image is being copied by the mainstream media to fit into this trend.

So if each of these examples demonstrates that in the world of new media, Quality is out, then what is in? In all of these examples, I would argue the consistent theme is a trade off in quality in exchange for three other more captivating value attributes: convenience, connectivity and most interestingly, authenticity. Convenience in that I want something small to carry or to download that works in every environment. Connectivity in that I would prefer to be connected to all networks rather than connected to one network. And authenticity in that I want to hear real voices speaking their real truths rather than listening to one pretty voice telling me what they think I want to hear so they can sell me more soap. I really don’t need more soap.

So for those of us in marketing and sales who have traditionally thought of quality as king (or queen for that matter), it’s time to shake up our thinking and focus on the new value attributes our customers are focused on.

     
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3 thoughts on “Is Quality the Ultimate Victim of New Media?

  1. mose

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said, and more. However, you have to understand there is no such thing as “subjective” quality. Quality does not = goodness.
    What we have seen in the last number of years is a change in our society. If someone feels/believes/wants a service or product that is of – oh call it inferior – to a similar product produced 25 years ago (a 64 bit MP3 of an Indie group vs a SONY pressing of say Weather Report) then that person is getting 100% quality. To them.
    You see, Crosby (one of the quality Guru’s) stated that “true quality is meeting client requirements”
    This has now been updated to Five Absolutes of Quality …
    First Absolute: Quality has to be defined as conformance to requirements, not as “goodness”.
    Second Absolute: The system for causing quality is prevention, not appraisal.
    Third Absolute: The performance standard must be zero defects, not “that’s close enough”.
    Fourth Absolute: The measurement of quality is the Price of NonconformanceTM, not indices.
    Fifth Absolute: The purpose of quality is to ensure customer success, not customer satisfaction.
    sadly we live in an age that does not really care much about stuff like service, brand (except some superficial badge loyalties by the unwashed teeming millions) nor do we value things like manners and civility.
    So quite frankly we will live through this small trough of substandard needs and wants til someone again finds that quality and value are way more important than a “good deal”
    i call it the Walmart Phase of our society.
    It will stop because the low prices cost somebody something. Either it is the manufacturer scrimping, the retailer not paying proper wages or the customer sacrificing wear and tear…
    Not a pretty scenario. But one we have ALL created.

  2. Sean Moffitt

    Michael,
    Great post…I was head nodding most of the way but then I stepped back and realized two different trends have happened that modify my takeaway:
    1) the entire market has moved up in quality – I think the reason we can’t see quality anymore is that there is a very little differentiation between products, product life cycles are measured in months not years and as Peter mentions in his comment, quality has expanded in definition beyond “goodness”. Taking the long view, who would have thought the average household would be able to afford 10 megapixel cameras, 52 inch LCD TVs, the safest and most reliable cars for still under $20k, 350 channels at a click of a dial, the ability to build your own website in 1/2 an hour and the world’s information and entertainment through a Google click…quality is there, it just takes an Apple or a Target or a Westjet to reveal it to us by operating so differently. As Gates once said “Microsoft is always two years away from nowehere” – the quality bar is always getting raised.
    2) there is no middle market for “quality as goodness” – in nearly every market segment, you can make money as the low cost guy or the premium brand and being in the middle is no man’s land –that’s one of the big reasons why North American cars are taking it on the chin — they don’t have the cachet and they can’t produce their cars any cheaper…why buy a Pontiac when I can buy a similar car from Kia for less or an entry level BMW for less than double …in the book Trading Up, a good case can be made that people are stratifying their purchases – they will gladly scrimp and buy generic cola, Lakeport beer and IKEA furniture in order to be able to buy a Starbucks latte, a Coach handbag or a trip with GAP adventures. Even in media, where My Space and YouTube are the “trailer park, nouveau riche”, my belief is media like New York Times and entertainment like high definition live action events may become even more important in the future as people seek out the best in quality that equals goodness.
    Thanks for the article, a nice provocation and the true testament of a quality post – I noticed it, it made me think and now I’ll likely talk about it. Cheers.

  3. Michael Garrity

    Peter and Sean, thanks for your comments and insights. It’s always a compliment to have care enough to comment.
    Sean – I wrestled with adding some commentary in the blog about the emergence of High Def and the mega-pixel race so I’m glad you put it out there.
    My view is that these are the types of improvements made at the top of the “S” curve for those industries. Not a lot more to do with television until along comes HD – boom – innovation that forces an upgrade of an existing system versus a new innovation that captures an unfilled market need. I would compare how many people upgraded to HD last year to how many people got addicted to YouTube or how many people bought the 6 – 10 Megapixel cameras versus how many bought the 1 mega pixel camera phone. I bet the latter basket in both examples was significantly larger and with higher growth rates.
    But maybe this is Peter’s point. Quality is not necessarily seen the same by all market segments.
    To many, it seems, other quality attributes like “more local” or “more convenient” may be more important than a more purely aesthetic view of quality.

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