Freaking Out About Surveillance at SXSW

The topic of surveillance threaded the general conversation at the SXSW Interactive Festival this year. From live video keynotes by the exiled Julian Assange and Edward Snowden to ever present sensor enabled wristbands and a surprising amount of people wearing Glass, privacy — caused by sensors, data, and the Internet-powered applications they empower — found its way into the very pores of the conference.

As a result, the always-on quantified self created a bit of a freak-out amongst attendees. Almost every conversation I had touched on this topic.

First, let me say it was refreshing to see social media and marketing take a supporting role at SXSW as the conference moved to discuss larger trends in the interactive sector. Clearly, the movement towards an omnipresent Internet creates dramatic implications for society and businesses beyond extrapolating personal data to deliver contextual marketing.

It was ironic to see everyone wearing sensors and discussing the latest personal data-driven app, while they conveyed concerns about societal. Those fears included stalking, government and corporate abuse of data, personal privacy (will your Fitbit report your bedside activity?), and the impact on self identity caused by constantly being on.

Yet, most of us felt that while valid, the sensor train has already left the station. We move about our lives vaguely knowing the tech we love is disrupting our own privacy and security, and ignoring the consequences. People may value their privacy, yet they strap on their fitness band or allow access to personal data via social networks, mobile phones, sign-ups and web browsers.

Perhaps it was the Snowden and Assange video keynotes that caused the underlying meme. Invariably, when conversations begin about on these topics people become concerned.

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Having attended (and walked out of) the Assange session and seeing what Snowden said, the two keynote speeches struck me as the self-justifying rants of sociopaths. The exiled self-proclaimed defenders of the public interest seem to need the attention, and enjoyed the audience. It is clear Assange and Snowden think they are above the law, and have no remorse for the certain deaths their actions have caused.

I am not saying that the societal impact of surveillance by friends, family, co-workers and government is not a worthy topic. People are rightly concerned.

BUT surveillance is a government, corporate and personal action that has been occurring since the beginning of civilization. Discussion of spies can be found as far back as Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The medium creates the current manifestation of data and video surveillance. It’s no surprise that governments are collecting and sharing data, while pressuring companies to open their information repositories.

Unrestrained corporate actions leveraging personal data are not a surprise either. We live in a free capitalist economy that influences the government with lobby or special interest dollars.

No Restraint with Personal Technology

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My reaction to a full explanation of sensor-driven personal data.

What is surprising is our personal lack of restraint about data and privacy. We treat it like we treat the environment. There is no personal valuation or action to address the situation even though we fear the worst.

Yet when surveillance in this new digital world order is discussed, we freak out. That is ironic given the larger context. In reality, the fear is self-centered. We don’t like the thought of our little wrongs and guilty pleasures becoming easily accessible to others via the Internet.

Vulnerability is not openly embraced by a vast majority of people.

In the social media era, we saw ourselves, good and bad. In the end, we saw the ugly side of human nature. Perhaps we’re not ready to see even more of the bad openly served to the digital public thanks to our various personal technologies.

Yet, you have to think that such exposure would be bad business for many of the companies involved. Who wants an app that’s going to out them at every corner? Of course, if you live an honest life this is not an issue.

In addition, this is an issue of the moment, and for the older generation. The next generation, the children of today, will grow up in this world. It won’t even bother them.

What do you think?

Automation Is Everything But the Machine

In creating algorithmic driven segmentation and automated content and nurture paths companies still need humans at the helm.

No better example can be seen than the recent outing of a young lady’s pregnancy by a direct mailing driven by algorithms. The issue may have been avoided if someone had looked at the algorithm and considered the potential invasion of privacy, or had at least segmented the list by age groups.

Clearly data is a huge driver behind automation. To make big data manageable, companies need to create governance a high priority issue. Data standards need to be implemented so data is easily handled, processed in the correct fields, and in turn, empowers the company to better serve prospects and customers with great, precision-oriented information.

Most importantly, strategists need to run marketing automation as opposed to automation dictating paths. They need to decide when someone is going to receive an email. Or a custom landing page. Just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should.

The key to great automation is to take a strategic business approach , ensuring your corporate personality and value proposition rings through in automation, people behind the brand serving its customers with great tools. Great automation maintains the personality of a brand.

Consider how Nordstrom manages to keep its incredible high quality customer centric personality through the decades. You better believe Nordstrom uses database marketing to send you its timely emails and direct mail. Yet you never get the sense that Nordstom is pushing it, always maintaining its high touch personality. The tools serve the brand rather than shaping it.

When brands move to adapt automation they would be wise to remember the holy grail, a great customer experience that is seamless. It is so well tailored that customers see interactions with the company is timely, useful, and prescient.

To get there companies need to do more than implement powerful software. They need to understand and implement better business processes, integrating teams, training to work technology across business functions, and a commitment to adapt to rapidly evolving media. Most importantly, they should treat automation as a means to end, a way to communicate and deliver their very human commitment to their customers.

What do you think about marketing automation?

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. Image: -sel (Creative Commons)

People Don’t Care

There’s one assumption that I start every marketing campaign with: People don’t care.

Every communication must assume that customers, prospects, and other stakeholders — e.g. people — don’t care, and aren’t looking for a brand to communicate with them. Even with permission, most folks aren’t eagerly awaiting our next outreach. As communicators, it is our job to give them a reason to care.

Yet, self-centered drivel fills most corporate and nonprofit emails, blogs, social updates, etc. An inability to focus on the customer plagues brands through era and medium.

Companies can’t help themselves.

They create a game of messaging tic-tac-toe to satisfy an innate need for their work to be important. It’s important to executives and marketers because that’s how they spend 50 hours of their week together, building something every week, month and year.

Meanwhile, the customer turns to the brand for an answer, a resolution to an issue, perhaps a special something to make life better. And that’s where it begins and ends, with the customer and their decision to buy or not to buy.

So when marketers bore them to death with messaging and facts about why x is important, we actually turn people away. Because we have not delivered an answer or something special.

Where is the utility? How is it entertaining? Why should anyone not employed by the company care?

Native advertising is such a big craze these day because brands have to pay-to-play. They have no choice because their communications bore just about anyone who reads them. The attempts to make them social have failed outside of core evangelist communities.

This continuing failure forces me to conclude that a vast majority of customers, prospects and donors just don’t care about brands. We haven’t given them a good reason to invest in us.

Everything created for them has to focus on giving them reasons to become interested. Communications have to revolve around the customer’s core motivations and needs. Otherwise you create messages that serve as lukewarm rallying points to keep employees and vendors motivated rather than true marketing touches.

What do you think? Do people care about marketing content and messages?

Image by Ida Stalder

Blog Against the Machine

Heavy Industry

They say that professional blogging is a dying social marketing tool. The University of Massachusetts revealed a 25% drop in the number of corporate blogs in the Inc. 500 (from 50% of the general surveyed population to 37%).The next generation of trade media — team and professional “blogs” — have risen to the fore and dominated their various niches. Lost in the dust are the individual and small business bloggers who can’t create enough content to compete effectively against the content machines.

In the marketing sector we have strong professional trade media plays from Hubspot, MarketingProfs and Copyblogger. Individual blogs like Jason Falls’ Social Media Explorer have augmented the individual voice with guest posts, providing daily or near daily offerings to remain competitive. In the nonprofit sector, I helped start a similar professional team blog, Inspiring Generosity.

Most individual bloggers — blogs like this one, which feature, one, two, maybe even three posts a week — simply cannot command the traffic to generate competitive market attention in the face of these machines. They don’t cover breaking news like these more professional outlets. Responding to the news cycle requires a dedication to blogging. Most people with jobs that are tied to other activities beyond social simply cannot afford to spend the time necessary to compete.

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