The Next Segment Of Luxury: Subscription Everything

By -

If there’s one thing that will always be in fashion, or in vogue it’s this: Someone having something others don’t by one of two means – “in the know” or, they can afford it. Followed with the willingness to flaunt it.

Over the last decade or so brands have been the item du jure of this expression. Although having or using the “correct” branded item has always been sought since probably the cave days. Today we’ve seen just about everything that could have a brand – get a brand.

All one has to do is truly pay attention to what people are wearing or using, and you’ll see the branding everywhere. Yes I understand many are thinking right now, “well duh!” However, what I’m trying to express is when you really pay attention, really look for clues as if doing a science project, the amount of it and the relationship with the wearer or user is absolutely breath-taking. People it would seem have not only brushed aside, but rather – have eschewed their own singular identity for a culmination of brands as their identity.

So again is this a, “well duh” insight? It is if you don’t extrapolate where this phenom can move or morph to. If the basis for “branding” is formed from the tenons of having or using a product that is exclusionary by either price or knowledge, that would inherently suggest anything basically free or accessible to the masses isn’t worth branding or bragging about. Then as anything, that category will get overlooked until someone sees what others may be missing. (Yes, that’s an over simplification, but I’ll trust you get my point.)

So where would the next area of branding look if it were wanting to branch out? Another designer line of clothes? Car? Zip Code? Well, it could always add to, or improve a brand within a category. However, if you really wanted the explosive growth area that any self-respecting brand dreams of; it’s taking what once seemed worthless, and transforming it into something not only sought after, but has both exclusionary and aspirational characteristics contained as well.

Just look at previous everyday items for clues of this phenom. Can you say shoes? Handbags? Sunglasses? Computers? _______fill in the blank. (again either by price or “in the cool crowd”) Suddenly it seemed over night a great set of women’s shoes needed a red sole. A handbag now needed someone else’s initials to be sought after. A computer needed to have a fruit attached and so on.

So where could this next area or product category be? Maybe, its right under our very noses. (or fingertips might be a better example)
The entire web or internet as we now know it via the humble URL.
Let me explain…

The web and everything about it; what people have access to, the speed of that access, the curation of that information, along with the amount of it has been handed a serious new set of rules never before thought plausible. i.e., The web is (or will be) no longer an unenforceable, unrestricted vehicle in both information as well as speed.

For the first time the rules of the web as we have known it, have been inverted. i.e., The web and your access to it can be both restricted as far as what information, along with the speed delivered, with a now monetary enforceable pricing mechanism. It used to be if you wanted better, faster, more – you just bought the equipment you needed, hooked up, and you were off. Now? You still might need all that however, if you don’t pay or have the proper subscription it may not matter.

We live in a world currently under the guise that every URL (aka a web address) across the web is equal. That no longer is, or will be the case going forward. Depending on what today’s menu of search engine algorithmic criteria are ( and will change tomorrow) one may, or may not even wind up in the results. You can pay to be higher, i.e., sponsored ads. And, currently, more traffic means diddly. Just ask any SEO (search engine optimization) veterans.

Remember when the more traffic or search inquiries a URL received meant or implied a higher ranking given on a search page or inquiry? That’s been a misnomer for a while but, the vast majority of users have no idea.

How about just plain ole generic privacy? With all the new “privacy changes” and more happening on platforms such as, Facebook®, LinkedIn®, Google®, et al  or their products; how can one not consider deleting any and all accounts one may have with them? Unless you have to use them because they’re – free. (catch my drift?)

What if I can have all that access or benefits but under a branded pay for banner? One that’s decisively, or more importantly distinctively shows I have something, or better access to something – than someone else.

Hard to contemplate and more than improbable if by law every URL had to be treated equally. However, change that law as in invert it? Then contemplation turns into realization near instantaneously.

So where could all this be leading us, and why in the world did I use the word “luxury” in my opening line? It’s because of the ruling handed down this past week by the courts. Below is an excerpt from an article on Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality: What’s at stake and what comes next
By Cale Guthrie Weissman On January 16, 2014

“Earlier this week, a ruling from the DC Circuit federal appeals court was passed stating that the FCC could no longer regulate broadband Internet providers as if they were common carriers. In essence, this meant that Net Neutrality — the belief that all content diffused on the Internet must be treated equally — had been struck down.”
(Link to original article here)

So I’ll reiterate; what does all this mean? It means this: If content no longer must be treated equally, then ipso facto – one can now charge a premium (That’s enforceable! Remember that’s the big sea change here.) for not only what you get, but how much, and how fast. Think about the ramifications of that one revelation very carefully. It affects everything  you now know, or once took for granted, about anything and everything. And I mean everything!

Let me try to put this into an analogy of what I see on the coming horizon. Currently today’s social media darlings are based primarily on the assumption they’ll become profitable in the future based on advertising revenues. However, if ad revenues never materialize (which by all accounts they never do) how can these curators of information of any and all kinds make money?

In a world that’s no longer based on everything being equal, access will have its price, and that price will be a paid subscription. For if one no longer needs to treat every URL the same, by law, that means just as an advertiser needed to pay to get seen by the most eyes on a platform, so to will a URL. And if one can charge an access premium to a URL then exactly; who, what, and so much more will, or will not, be found or seen on the web as it currently stands?

The internet based on search engines as well as broadband providers can morph electronically into the same curation based models they decimated over the last decade: Brick and mortar businesses.

Hypothetically let me ask you this. Let’s say all you were allowed was to visit and shop at a Macy®’s department store. Then I suggested if you were bored with that choice just go on the web and search out other clothing brands. As you do what you’re not totally aware of is that this search only delivers (or shows) you the exact same brand URL’s in your results found in the store itself. Almost in the same order as if you were walking the aisles. So what have you gained by going on line?

Based on this ruling hypothetically, if those brands were chosen for what ever the criteria a search engine decides, based on how much it has to pay your broadband provider access to deliver that information to you. The results may be based on nothing other than your past search or buying habits, with those brands paying to be on that search – that paid the search engine – to pay the broadband provider – to then make it available to you.  As laughable as it may sound today. This ruling – opens that door. Think that has value to an advertiser?

Another is the amount of data you receive and how fast. Need a result quick? Maybe you need to pay more for that. Need more than only a limited amount of results? Again, maybe they’ll be a premium due for that also. Think of the “value” in selling that to an ad agency over some pop up.

With an ever more increasing disdain for intrusive ads popping in and off of one’s screens, if the suppliers of information can now charge extra for access and delivery? Just think about the implications. Want no ads? Sure, but (and its a very big but) you get limited access to X.Y. or Z.  Or, the results you get will probably be “paid” placed URL’s. (Can anyone say “native content advertising?) Want real information as opposed to Wiki? It’s all yours instantaneously and worthy of rigid scientific analysis with your paid subscription to _________fill in the blank.

Just one example of how deep and far-reaching the implications of all this goes is this: Why would any advertiser spend a penny of Facebook® or the like for an ad, when one can pay and have sole dominion via a search or subscription model?

Would you rather have full access to a free Wikipedia® if your child has a sudden ailment because it’s free with your service to Google? Or, would you pay to have let’s say Bing® as a paid subscription service if it comes with unlimited access to something like “www.Ask A Real Doctor” because only real doctors are allowed to post or approve text on the site?

Take away the theory that ads will supply the revenue of these platforms by allowing those very advertisers to move funds into what could possibly be the greatest bang for the buck customer interaction or engagement since the start of the web as we now know it, and $1 million dollar valuations seems too much for many of today’s Wall Street darlings let alone $40, $100, $200 Billion, and more.

The term “walled gardens” once attributed with distaste to companies such as Apple® and others might be just as brand centric and sought after as the very devices themselves. The world as we now know it could really change in ways unforeseen in shape and scope as smartphones and tablets themselves revolutionized everything digital. I think the implications are that great. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic. I truly believe the implications are staggering. Whether they turn out to be true is another matter.

I can just visualize the various commercials to accentuate all this:

Two people sitting at a desk or bar…
First person: Did you have a chance to look up that vacation area we overheard that couple talking about the other night? I couldn’t remember the name and it sounded great the way they were carrying on. But when I looked on-line I couldn’t find anything remotely near what they were talking about. I typed in what I thought was the name and where but still nothing. How about you?

Second Person: Oh yeah! I couldn’t remember it exactly either, but when I typed in what I vaguely remembered it popped right up. I couldn’t remember the name either but I guess I was close enough. They have everything there! Great shopping with designers like X,Y, and Z. Great restaurants, shows, and more. That place seems incredible! We should book something together with our spouses they’ll freak on how great the place is.

First person: Wait – what did you use for the name when you searched?
Second person: “vacation hot spot island paradise.” You?
First person: Same thing. Only all I saw were free Wi-fi addresses to use when on vacation, and liquor recipes for “island drinks of paradise.” Followed by cheap rates to motels with or without wi-fi hot spots.

Second person: Tell me, just how long are you going to keep acting like you’re 26 years old and get off your parents plan, and pay for your own? Or start realizing being cheap isn’t being frugal – you’re being left out. What good is gobs of free useless information? That’s why I use Bing-a-rooni. It may cost more but based on your latest “free” search on Google-riffic (or _______fill in the blank) you want a real vacation or know how to get free wi-fi cheap?

Fade to a logo followed with: Subscribe today at www… And join the rest of the adults. Corny? Yes. Plausible? Absolutely!

Who knows what, where, why, or how things transpire from here. However, what you thought you knew about the internet, branding, and their relationship to each other; as well as whom pays for what going forward just re-entered the great unknown in my view.

Yet if history is any guide. Once you allow anything to be “exclusionary” with a component for entrance to that club to be money:  Some, “gotta have brand” that people will pay for as to show they have it and you don’t will emerge – one way or another. And that changes everything.


© 2014 Mark St.Cyr      Mark