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Privacy and big data: happy with light products

A strange article on the web: Microsoft patented the technology with which the Kinect sensor of the Xbox 360 can “sense the emotion of users” and “show advertisements based on these emotions” because “using cookies to track behaviour is being restricted more and more”. The Kinect sensor is, according to the patent information, able to deduct a user’s mood from faces and body language, and with this information “for instance show unhappy people advertisements about weight loss”. So depressed people will be bombarded with advertising for light products? Until they are happy? Or until enough is sold?

A knight’s privacy
I will not try to be a moralist, I have to admit that I get goose bumps too from ‘privacy knights’ who find that you shouldn’t publicize the personal information of criminals because of their privacy rights. Or who think that all companies and governments are out to follow all of their steps. Contrary to their beliefs, only a few people are really interesting enough to track. And it’s not them. That is why the reaction of Scott McNealy is so characteristic (at that time CEO of software company Sun), when a journalist asked him about the privacy of a new software product: “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it”. It is also the standard reaction of Google on accusations that they think lightly about the privacy of their users: you have no privacy, so let us go ahead with it.

The pregnant data miner
The feeling that companies have gone too far with their urge to track customers struck me when I read about a recent incident (click here) at retail chain Target with an overly active data mining department. An angry customer walked into a Target establisment in Minneapolis and said “My daughter received these coupons for baby clothing by mail? Do you want her to be pregnant?”. The shop manager would investigate and call back a few days later, but when he did the telephone conversation took a turn: the daughter was apparently really very pregnant. The statistics experts at Target had set up a so called ‘pregancy prediction score’ that deducted from the buying behavior of the girl that she would be going in labour in a few months….What they learnt from these incidents is that their ‘pregnancy coupons’ should be more disguised, for instance by placing it next to an advertisement for a lawn mower: “And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”.
So this is how it works: stalk the customer, but as soon as he or she looks around, you dive behind the lighting post. Sick. I also don’t understand the complaints about ‘cookie laws’: just for fun you should go to selectout.org and see how many companies are ‘stalking’ you around the internet. And when you’re there, click the ‘opt-out’ button, the webite will ask 200 of these ‘stalkers’ on behalf of you to stop doing that. And while you watch a shrinking list of stalkers (when you listen well, you can hear their death scream), you get the feeling of living in The Matrix,  “A computer generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to turn a human being into a battery”.  You really get the feeling that business sees you like that: a battery. And we marketers come up with these ideas, and complain when they bake a law against it.

No Big Data but Vendor Relationship Management
You can talk long about marketing ethics, but the question is if this behaviour will be neccesary in the future anyway. In his book ‘The Intention Economy’, Doc Searls shows a glimpse of the world “when customers take charge”. In The Intention Economy, he writes “the buyer notifies the market of his intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase”. Marketing will become very different, you don’t have to haunt and catch customers: “free customers are more valuable than captive ones”. Companies don’t need to collect ‘Big Data’ about large numbers of customers, the customer will manage his ‘Small Data’ himself. Not in CRM but VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. By giving control to the customer, we will earn more money: “The market will have many more dances when customers can take the lead”. Great image of the future, isn’t it? Who will dance with me?

This post is the fourth chapter of the yet to be written book (click here) about ‘REAL Inbound Marketing’. All comments are welcome!

 

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Inbound Marketing: Sales leads, the Sun and the North wind

The Sun and the North wind decided to put their strength to a test. They saw a man walk by a lake, and the goal of their game was simple: make him take off his coat. The North wind would go first: he started blowing and blowing, but reached the opposite effect: the man held his coat more tightly to his chest and walked on. Then the Sun took her turn. She started glowing and beaming, until the man got warm and decided to take off his coat and bathe his feet in the lake. The moral of this story? Most power is not in the pressure from outside, but in the surrender from within. Does this sound familiar to you as a marketer? Could be, but the fable is already very old. It is even written before the birth of Christ by Aesop, a man that started his life as an ugly slave, but ended being an advisor to kings. You don’t believe it? It’s on Wikipedia.

Dirty conversions
So warming is better than blowing. But just for fun, you should check how many articles on marketing weblogs still believe in ye olde sales funnel, a funnel in which you throw ‘leads’ at the top until they ‘convert’. It sounds more dirty than it is, it just means the ‘lead’ becomes a ‘customer’, the wallet opens. And then of course you loose interest and go back to the lid of the funnel, to throw in new leads…
The art of marketing and sales has always been to pressure the right parts of the funnel, like the blowers in the wild water rivers at water parks. The world has changed drastically however, as David Edelman has taught us in a recent article in Harvard Business Review (click here): there is a phase after the sale at the end of the funnel that is becoming more and more important in these transparent times, the phase ‘enjoy, advocate and bond’. In the past, our customers could share their experiences with us only on parties and other gatherings, but nowadays they can tell the whole world through social media, just at the moment we are in the upper side of the funnel, looking for the next lead to convert. What David Edelman tries to tell is that this phase is nowadays perhaps even more important than the pre-buy phase, when our customer was still a ‘lead’. He wants to learn us two lessons:

  • The judgments of others have more influence on the choice processes of our customers than all ‘outbound marketing’: advertising that nobody is watching or clicking. Just look at yourself in your customer role: where do you rely on mostly? Advertising or word-of-mouth? And what are you doing tomorrow? Making advertisements and trying to convert leads.
  • We’ll have to shift focus from ‘paid’ media (in posession of others, on which you can buy the right to advertise) and ‘owned’ media (your website, brochures etc.) to ‘earned’ media (media where customers are boss, like social media).

The night life of Sao Paulo
So the magic of ‘outbound marketing’ has disappeared, at least in the Western world. When I was invited to speak on a marketing conference in Brazil a few weeks ago, the manager of the congress bureau introduced me to the night life of Sao Paulo the night before the meeting. He told me enthusiastically about the way he organized the ‘sales funnel’ for his bureau, he had gathered 350 conference attendees in a few months. When I asked how many ‘cold mails’ he had to send to get to these 300 (in Brazil there is no law against that eh yet), he replied ‘40.000’. “So you irritated 39.700 people?” I asked with a whiff of Dutch directness. “No Edwin, people don’t receive that many mails here”. Hmmm how different from Europe… But when I asked him how he found me as a speaker for the conference, he replied “Because you were active on LinkedIn in discussions on the topic”… So Inbound Marketing does work on the other side of the equator, and here the day will come too that people are fed up with being interrupted by companies that want to shout some commercial message in their ears.

Your small print?
But it goes even further. I read the book ‘The Intention Economy’ while travelling to Brazil, and the subtitle says all: ‘When customers take charge’. The book is a real eye opener and makes you aware of the absurdity of the fact that we as customers, the ones with the money, still let companies take the lead in our dance. That we should conform to their small print (‘click to accept’), but they won’t have to conform to ours. Wake up, we have the money!
In his book, Doc Searls shows us the future, a future in which people with money show their needs to the world, and potential suppliers are free to respond to these ‘intentions’ (hence the title). When you read the book you have to acknowledge that this will be the future one day (there are more and more signals on the internet), but that it will take a while. Not because of the companies, but because we as customers are reluctant to let go of a model that is a remnant of the industrial revolution, we will have to get used to the idea of having the power. And companies don’t have to fear to loose money in this future: “The market will have many more dances when customers can take the lead”. Who will dance with me?

So it will take a while, but that is no excuse for us as marketers to not already work with the idea. Break down these sales funnels and replace them with a joyful ‘inbound marketing’ slide…. Much cheaper, and much more fun! We will have to stop trying to blow the coats off people, and start deliverering a bowl of water for their feet when they tell us they are warm. And they would like to pay gladly for it…

This post is the third chapter of the yet to be written book (click here) about ‘REAL Inbound Marketing’. All comments are welcome!

 

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Telemarketing: let’s all scream!

A funny thing happened a few months ago: a 61 year old German woman blew a telemarketer into the hospital with a small whistle. She was fed up with being cold called, and whistled loudly right down the telephone. She now has to pay a fine of 800 euro’s for the hearing damage at the telemarketer, but she refuses. Actually a very original thing to do, especially for people who don’t know that they can be registered so telemarketers won’t call them. People are sick and tired of us marketers. But there is hope.

Slasher movies
That is what is called Marketing, interrupting people to get attention, or to quote Seth Godin: “I am a marketer, I have money. That gives me the power to interrupt you […] But people are getting better and better at ignoring you”. Actually pretty absurd when you think of it, that we marketers see it as a profession to harrass people. And that we are abhorred by all the ‘rights’ that people have nowadays to protect themselves from us. But nothing will stop us: we will skip around their infofilters, anti-cookies and do-not-call-me-registries, we’ll just start selling at the door again, just like in the old days. Or we will pay their friends to recommend our products, or tweet about it. Isn’t this behavior absurd? Or is it me? It feels obsessive, like the script of a slasher movie, “Here’s Johnny”. Nobody escapes.
A characteristic example of this absurdism is shown in an article about so called ‘ad-blockers’ (browser plugins that hide advertising banners in Google Chrome) and in which a marketer utters the unforgettable words that “consumers of course have a “moral right’ to install ad-blockers, but that these blockers are ‘businesswise not sustainable'”. We marketers want to harass people with our advertisements of course, and all attempt to block this are of course not ‘sustainable’. Duh?

Cold dripping
“People shop and learn in a whole new way compared to just a few years ago, so marketers need to adopt or risk extinction”, Brian Halligen from Hubspot twittered recently. Yet still: if you follow all discussions in the marketing groups on LinkedIn, you will notice that still a lot of marketers want to take this risk at extinction: “Cold acquisition is still the best way to find new customers. People may feel harassed when you call them but in most cases you are bringing them money, arent you? 🙂 “. Notice the smiley at the end: dripping with contempt for the customer. And could you get away with this contempt in the previous century (click here for a nice docu about ‘sales boiler rooms’): we live in a transparant era now!

Jealous husbands
Why is it that we marketers so badly want to interrupt people? Why can’t we just leave them alone, and wait till they come and buy from us? Is it a scream for negative attention? In the last few weeks, I have been in discussions on LinkedIn with people that earn their money with ‘outbound marketing’, and at one moment it struck me: we get impatient if we are not pushing the buttons…Like jealous husbands, we want to know exactly where our customers are, what they are watching, and feel uncomfortable if we cannot find them. We cannot cope with the idea of anonymous people watching our content, we have to know who they are and call them five minutes after downloading our whitepaper (“I just saw that you”…). We cannot leave them alone, we need their money and fast.
A few weeks ago I ordered the long awaited book from Doc Searls about the ‘Intention Economy’. He had already written an impressive article (click here) on his theory in the Harvard Business Review (and I dragged him into a LinkedIn discussion about the subject, click here). In the article, he tells about the future ‘Intention Economy’, when the customer finally has all the power and “tracking customers like animals” no longer makes sense. Consumers ‘throw their intentions in the air’ and potential suppliers can catch them. For us marketers, this means an enormous turnaround in thinking, we will have to learn to be successful in another way… But the beauty of it is: the rest of the world will enjoy too, because we don’t have to bother them any longer.

“Selling starts the moment the customer said ‘no’. When people start ordering blindly, you will not need salesmen anymore“, someone said in a LinkedIn group. Actually a very typical remark, because ‘alas’ we live in a time that customers become more and more independent and mature in the buying process. Be honest: do you still listen to marketers or salesmen when you want to buy something? And what do you do when the commercials start on TV? Wait and listen? Apparantly, the world needs something different. And the whistle market will notice.

This post is the first chapter of the yet to be written book (click here) about ‘REAL Inbound Marketing’. All comments are welcome!

 

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