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Innovation In Distribution For Apple And U2

By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine

If you happen to be one of the 500,000,000 people out there with an iTunes account, you received a free gift last Friday.

The Irish rock band U2 gave away its new album “Songs Of Innocence” to anyone with an iTunes account.

Just gave it away. 

I personally tapped a few buttons, and within a minute, I had it on all of my mobile devices and my iPad.

And I thought of two things:  it’s free.  And it’s the perfect example of innovation within distribution.

Yes, I have seen the criticism online.  But keep in mind that when you give a product to 500 million people, you are not going to have 500 million happy people.  It doesn’t matter how great the product is.  And, human nature says you aren’t going to see a lot of praise on social media, because it’s so much easier to be negative on your Twitter account.

Rolling Stone Magazine gave “Songs of Innocence” 5 out of 5 stars.  Billboard gave it 4 out of 5.  If you are going to take the experts’ opinions, U2 has a really great product to distribute.

With that part out of the way comes the innovation in distribution.  Taking a step back, think for a moment about the way music was distributed just 10 years ago.  You would have to drive to a record store (most don’t even exist any more) or a retail store like Target or Wal-Mart.  Then you would go through the stacks of music, find what you want (hopefully it is in stock), pay for it, drive back home and then put that music into a device so you can hear it.

Now, you can hit a couple of buttons on your smart phone, never have to worry about if it is in stock, hit play, and listen.  Distribution is the key to successfully delivering the product to the end user.

U2 and Apple took that a step further by creating an innovative way to bring you that music even faster.  In a new generation where most new music is distributed digitally before you can buy a disc, this innovates the process another step.  And it gave U2 fans what they wanted before they even knew they wanted it.

“We just finished it last week and thanks to Apple and iTunes it’s with you today. That’s already amazing to me as it normally takes a few months to turn this stuff around,” lead singer Bono wrote in his blog to fans.

Turning “this stuff around” is rock band lingo for “distribution”. How can you do it faster and better, plus make sure your customers are getting what they want and need before they even know they want and need it?

Due to the innovative way U2 distributed its new music, it also allowed the band the opportunity to expand its audience, which is something all electrical distributors are trying to do.

“Part of the DNA of this band has always been the desire to get our music to as many people as possible. In the next 24 hours, over a half a billion people are going to have Songs Of Innocence… should they choose to check it out,” Bono added. “That is so exciting. People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. Country fans, hip hop aficionados from east LA, electro poppers from Seoul, Bhangra fans from New Delhi, Highlifers in Accra… might JUST be tempted to check us out, even for a moment. What a mind blowing, head scratching, 21st century situation. Over 500 million people… that’s a billion ears.”

I didn’t need to bring up the innovation in distribution to Dirk Beveridge, the founder of UnLeashWD.  He already knew about the agreement between Apple and U2.

“What we should be considering is – if we were to peer into the future – what this move signals regarding value proposition and business model innovation.  For example is Apple “private labeling” an artist to deliver new value to their customers?  Is U2 exploring new distribution channels and partnerships in the age of digital disruption? We could go on, but suffice it to say there are lessons we in distribution should be exploring and learning from this amazing Apple and U2 move.”

The time to innovate how you distribute your electrical products is now. You don’t have to be a rock band to come up with new ways to make your customers more loyal to you.  But you need to do something to make sure they are treated like rock stars.

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