Archive for the ‘Privacy & Technology’ Category

Don’t Go Away Mad… Just Go Away: A Marketer’s Perspective to the Thorny Issue of Technology & Privacy and What to Do About It Now.

November 6, 2010

Last week there was an interesting article in the October 25, 2010 Wall Street Journal, A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name, about a web company called RapLeaf that takes data collection and web profiling to a new level.

Privacy in the 21st Century: A Brave New World

This is one of a whole onslaught of articles in the Journal and media overall regarding the apparent erosion of privacy, information and how it is and will be used in our 21st Century world. The information that is collected about us and our behaviors and now embedded on our computers and mobile devices for “harvesting” by companies intent on delivering ever more relevant marketing to us based on our actual search, purchasing and other trackable behaviors on and offline is astounding.

As a marketer, this is a nirvana like condition… a “brave new world “ of actionable, personally relevant information. Information that can be applied to customers one-to-one, with the idea of improving response rates for our online marketing programs. Better clickthroughs on PPC (pay per click) ads and banners, more targeted and specific messages to our prospects and customers. Eureka! The proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is at hand.

…Or 1984

And the “best” part that this is done automatically. We don’t have to do anything differently, it is done for us. I don’t know about you but this almost sounds more like Big Brother and “1984” when you put it like that.

So let’s circle back to what started this off… RapLeaf. Up until now, we have been told by Google, by Facebook, by ISPs, by Telecoms and all the rest that they collect anonymous data about us.

Fair enough, perhaps. At least we are used to it and may have a cookie (sounds so innocent doesn’t it) or a beacon implanted on our computers that may identify our habits, but not our names and e-mail addresses, we are number. That is until RapLeaf. They have collected it ALL… names and e-mail addresses and other contact info along with the rest.

Although RapLeaf claims otherwise, companies or other entities such as political parties and candidates use this information for highly targeted, pinpoint marketing programs, as the example in the Journal so clearly noted. This opens up an array of questions and issues that I am sure will be a part of our national (and international) conversation for quite some time, as these capabilities grow in every increasing frequency and at a faster rate beyond the traditional checks and balances, regulations, etc., that are now woefully out of date.

However our real fear, and possible solution, a marketing one at that, is a bit different.

A Marketing Point of View

Offering users the choice of how they wish to interact with technology increases ad relevance and value. Loyalty and other incentives for user determined levels of engagement further improves performance and reduces privacy concerns.

For an example of what I mean… if today you are a member of CVS’s ExtraCare® or similar loyalty program, and you swipe your tag at point of purchase, you may receive a seasonal discount offer for say, suntan lotion in the summer after every two or three purchases you make. Basic and static, these swipes are more about information gathering and over time CVS has acquired massive amounts of information this way.

Moving forward from now, it can and will be quite different. There is the new reality, currently in the process of being built.

Every time you interact with a CVS or any other retail environment, it will be tracked. And not only can the swipes be accessed in real time, so can your overall purchase behavior and credit card info as well. Tie this in to your personal info like mobile phone number, e-mail, web and actual addresses, now a whole new level of direct interaction is possible.

Let’s say you have allergies and every Spring you buy Claritin®, for example. That e-mail offer you may get, or ppc link on your Google or Bing search, or text message in March at the beginning of allergy season may feature, you guessed it Claritin… buy two, get one free. Or if the GPS on your cell is activated, you are in a CVS store around that time and isn’t that ironic, there is that bar code on our smartphone for you guessed it, that very same offer delivered to you in real time, right at the point of sale. At some point you may be walking by a Walgreen’s and…

Fantastic! So what is the difference between the realities of Brave New World or 1984?

The Customer-Oriented Solution: Transparency, Control and Choice…

In the CVS example, you freely give your information in exchange for discounts, relevancy and other benefits in exchange. There is a clear incentive. In the other, it is done to or for you without your consent or control, as we saw in the Journal article.

What about relevance?

Clearly having relevancy defined for you, sometimes doesn’t always work as intended:

  • Remember that baby present you purchased for your niece or nephew a while back? Isn’t it weird to have sponsored links for baby carriages and disposable diapers follow you around, even if your kids are off to college, or you never had any?
  • Or if you do have kids. One way or another they have figured out how to work around the parental controls and now you are getting all kinds of e-mails, and links to crazy sites you would never visit in a million years. Ooops.

We know that one of the hallmarks of Web X.0 and the Inbound Marketing trend is control, customer control. Transparency in being up front and offering choice supports this reality. Permission as we now know it, giving your permission to engage or accept a newsletter or such, is only step one.

We argue that we need to go further. As you can see in one of our earlier blog postings Hulu Pulls a Lulu, there is a strong bottom line marketing rationale to offer customers more control, more often.

And if choice and choice were adopted side by side with the latest information processing capabilities of say a RapLeaf, we can see that even more value could be created, not less as it may appear, and in a manner that does not conflict with the issue of privacy, in fact a manner that respects it.

How is that?

Choice = Value

Remember the old axiom from Direct Marketing 101? The one that says the greatest cost and lowest return is in the initial “getting the hands raised” action. Say you spend $1 million to reach an audience of 1 million people. The cost is $1 per person, and you get a 1% response or 10,000 people act. The cost per response is $100. It’s expensive.

Now you a pool of 10,000 folks that have already acted and declared an interest in you and your product. Working that audience not only costs less, but since they are aware of you and have already expressed an interest the product or service, response rates can go up, often significantly, as the relationship develops, if you engage this very valuable audience of folks that have “raised their hands”.

One argument I have heard is that if you offer choices, you in fact limit the impact of your message to only those that act, and slash your response rates. This is valid I suppose, especially if say you trying to go viral with a compelling white paper and force readers to register first. Response rates can drop to almost zero.

The question is does it have to be either/or?

First. Using the direct response model and our technological quest for more marketing relevance, it may be true that overall response rates go down if active choice is offered, but at the same time shouldn’t the value of the response go up? If I choose to view automobile ads, or better yet, brand-specific auto ads, aren’t I self-selecting and indicating my possible interest?, and doesn’t that have higher value than just a general click through on a banner, a sponsored link on Google, or other such online device?

The next step of course is to learn if I am a potential buyer, and if so, when? But isn’t that easier to assess once our interest is established?

And if a short-term buyer I am not, could there still be longer-term value as a quote unquote lead. I may know someone, or have a child looking for a vehicle, or I may be in the market later. In other words, underneath the choice to receive information, is my customer initiated response, opening the door to develop a long-term relationship.

To continue with the car example, information and technology could add value, as an added layer on top of my choice levels. It could offer me a variety of car options using what it “knows” about me… to validate brand, type, features, and my needs, and then facilitate the most appropriate, highest value interaction with the product. This way the technology is my information partner so that I get the most relevant information, because I choose it to do so.

Re-Positioning Latest Technologies as Enablers to More Relevant Information

In this case the technology is an enabler helping me get information I want and need.

What if we don’t want and choose not to actively interact, and therefore want the technology to do it for us, to serve us messages and links that the system identifies as relevant, much in the way Google does based on our search query today?

Create a mechanism to let us choose this option.

If we want to be creative, we can even use a CVS ExtraPoints/loyalty program as a model. Imagine if incentives are in play in return for the freely given exchange of information? This recognizes and provides value in exchange for levels of privacy that in essence are “surrendered” and offers the opportunity to deepen the relationship over time, at the same time.

And of course, there will be those that won’t, don’t or can’t respond. That may be the subject of another posting.

Let’s take this approach to another hot spot that has received a lot of attention relative to its privacy policies lately, Facebook, the 800-lb super gorilla of social networks.

Under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership, Facebook has consistently attempted to stretch the privacy envelope in order, it appears, to monetize as marketing intelligence, the deep, deep profiles, Likes, Friends and other information it has on it’s users. Again and again we have seen sudden changes to privacy controls and policies, and more feature introductions like the ill-fated “Beacon” program that would have been used to create high value information that could be sold at a premium to third parties.

What has astounded me over time is:

  • how people haven’t fled the network as these initiatives were imposed, often without warning
  • how Facebook’s users have pushed back when they felt privacy envelope had stretched too far, and
  • how Facebook has responded, pulling back as it attempts to monetize the information on hand.

I would have thought users would leave… but we didn’t and apparently don’t. And the question remains, knowing that this robust info about us exists, how can Facebook marry in a cool, mutually beneficial way the information it has with marketers that still gives us as consumers control and allows us to determine the levels of relevance we want?

One simple way could be to add a profile section specifically for marketing purposes. Invite us to participate. The promise: relevant communications between companies looking to match their products to people with expressed interests with products or services of that type. The value of the interaction to all parties jumps here.

Facebook could get slicker and stickier create a platform where we get points when we click, when we share, and when we buy or act. This way the user could be recognized as an influencer driving word of mouth and/or a customer.

More Choice = More Relevance = More Value

In return there could be an interaction where we are actually offered a dynamic menu of advertising choices based on our profiles and technology where we then get to choose (raise hands) for relevant products with a higher likelihood of interest.

By the way, couldn’t this type of thing work with Google too?

With such a mechanism, Google could engage with us when certain potential buying patterns emerge with our queries. Kind of a super Pay Per Click.  “Are you looking to buy… a car “ type of dialog could help Google serve up even more relevant links based on an actual declared interest. This could even have an impact on organic search as well, where a simple added interaction would help Google fine tune their search results to truly match our needs immediately and over time.

Couple this with the semantic web capabilities coming up and this enhanced search capability could add even more value to search, which could help offset inevitable maturity of the product.

And yes, choice does apply to YouTube, Hulu and so many others. Give us choice and the value of our information and interactions increase and privacy recedes to the background, as long as it is treated with respect, which includes transparency and security. Under these circumstances, a RapLeaf offering may not be so intrusive after all.

One last thing… please talk to us in plain language. Have you seen the electronic terms and conditions for say Apple’s App Store? The basic agreement is 55 screens long. Who reads this? Not us mere lay folk.

Maybe we need to agree in the form in legalese, but give us a one-pager in every day language please. And if you make an update to the terms, give us the bullet’ized version summarizing changes in plain language again. Then when we agree, especially if it is in relation to control, transparency and such, we know what we are doing, and as such have added the value of conscious choice to the action, which adds true marketing value to the relationship overall.

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