Monthly Archives: January 2007

Direct Marketers are Insane

One of the pop definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. One of the pillars of direct marketing is running continuous campaigns that hit the same consumer numerous times. That means any direct mail campaign that does not evolve and adapt over time is insane by definition. Today, I received in the mail my regular dose of United Airline’s credit card campaign–the same exact ugly piece of mail I’ve now shredded every couple of weeks for something like two years. It has *never* changed. I will *never* get a United credit card. People wonder why United is on the rocks? These people couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag.

Marketers love to measure campaign metrics, and every marketer knows that a successful campaign entails multiple impressions, often over many weeks. A good Direct Mail campaign might return conversion rates of only 1% and still be successful, but that rate typically goes up when the marketer adjusts the campaign with different messsages and offers. What marketers often ignore, however, is the equal and opposite measure of conversion. A vulgar but effective name for this might be the Peeing in the Pool metric. For every 1% of the market you convert, you annoy, anger, and alienate some percentage of your potential future market, which makes it more expensive for you to market in the future.

Although few actually track this metric, it’s probably close to the inverse of your rate of conversion on successive campaigns. As the curve of conversion drops, the curve of alienation grows. And I strongly suspect this effect is magnified when the repeated campaign goes on forever unchanged. Each repeated drop of the same message to an unresponsive customer becomes an annoyance associated with your brand. It’s like you’re actually paying to alienate future potential customers. And that is insane.

IE 7 Sucks. Still

This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. After writing a blog post a couple of weeks ago about my frustration with IE 7, my blog traffic has spiked with incoming hits from "IE Sucks" search queries on Google and Yahoo. Someone helpfully pointed me to some instructions to keep my IE 7 browser from crashing every time I merely think about clicking on anything that looks like a link. Now IE 7 seems to stay open long enough for me click on a Web site or two. Fantastic. What did I have to do? Oh, just disable a bunch of pesky Security settings under the Tools menu–settings deemed important enough to be the OEM default. I guess that’s the strategy now for rock-solid Web security–if the browser is constantly crashing, no one can hack it now can they?

What? You want the browser to work? Well then, you’re just asking for malicious viruses aren’t you?

Stupid Flock 2.0

I know this will come as a shock, but as we move increasingly toward this brave new world of Social Media, an entire class of marketers clings to the notion that you’re stupid. Not you specifically so much as the abstract concept of you, as demonstrated by your behavior as a consumer. "You" are a tantalizing wallet attached to a vaguely sentient biological mechanism that somehow figured out how to use a Web browser. You travel in flocks that have endless varieties of stupidity: some are young and hip, some are greedy and vain, some are penny pinching luddites. But the unifying characteristics of flock stupidity are laziness and impressionability. And the marketers that seek to target, tag, and monetize you and your flock conceive of Web 2.0 as an evolving set of tools designed to corral you into a warm and soothing place where you can be more efficiently relieved of your cash.

If I sound like I’m exaggerating, read this article on the emerging technology of social search, by iMedia Connection’s Kevin Ryan. From a technical standpoint, the article is interesting and informative. Social Search is a growing phenomenon describing online tools that allow users to shape the results of search queries. But when the author’s guiding perspective bleeds out between the lines, the impression is stark. Take this comment from the introduction:

"…the idea of consumers entering data into search results has far-reaching implications for advertising models and how users perceive — and ultimately use — their information resources."

Notice how the consumer’s actual use of information resources stands in relation to implications for advertising and perception. Rather than being a cause, usage is framed as an effect of perception, which is in turn shaped by advertising. If that seems like a nitpicky analysis, Ryan comes more clearly to the point in his interpretation of search engine evolution:

"Search engines were so inefficient that we needed graphic advertising served
alongside keyword search results to help us find what we needed."

Thank god for advertising.You see, it’s advertisers and marketers that have brought much needed meaning to the murky world of search, while technologists keep screwing around with these crazy ideas that threaten to put consumers in charge of the asylum. But have no fear, consumers are too lazy to actually make any of this Web 2.0 stuff work.

"…history has taught us the more you require a user to do in completing
a simple activity like conducting a search, the less likely they will be to
complete the search."

It’s not a problem of technology, it’s not a problem of our evolving formulations of user interaction and engagement–both of which are in a frenetic state of rapid evolution–it’s a problem of user laziness. If you thought Social Media and Web 2.0 was all about our accelerating transformation toward user engagement, Ryan wants you to think otherwise.

"In short, as marketers and content owners, the only activity we want users
engaging with is the interaction with the search box. And we want them engaging
with search beyond the one or two word phrases they use now. So if tagging and
sharing aren’t the answer, what is?"

In response, Ryan points to the Swicki, a kind of community focused search engine, whose main attraction is apparently that it is "an easy-to-implement search
application that requires no active participation on the part of site visitors," and one of it’s main features, the buzz cloud "requires little or no thought on the part of the searcher." Keeping users minimally engaged is apparently expedient for such marketers, because this Web 2.0 stuff could be dangerous.

"People may have good intentions, and a precious few may exhibit altruistic
actions in other areas of life, but when it comes to search, people are lazy
followed closely by malicious when the opportunity arises." 

So, for those kinds of marketers who want to target, tag and monetize such lazy and malicious consumers, the best approach is to advocate more simplistic tools that keep consumers stupid and happy, while demanding more sophisticated tools to target a constant stream of advertising more efficiently. 

There are three things that disturb me about such an outlook from a marketer. First of all, it completely ignores the primary issue that’s driving search evolution: search, as it currently stands, is not that great for consumers–there’s far too much noise to signal. Second, it puts consumer interests secondary to advertisers, and that’s stating it diplomatically–it’s a view of marketing that looks at consumers like they’re disposable batteries. Third, and most disturbing of all, it’s a viewpoint with a long history in marketing, and a large number of adherents.

To me, the phenomenon of Social Media and Web 2.0 is not only about an exciting new potential for social engagement enabled by technology, it’s a response to this kind of denigrating treatment from companies that employ mercenary marketers to turn customers into a commodity of idiots. But hey, you’re all stupid and lazy. So good luck with that.




Happy New Year

I’m just coming back into orbit after a nice holiday from business and blogging. I had some time over the break to think about the year past and the year ahead, to reconnect with some old friends, and to meet some new ones. A number of people asked about my resolutions for the new year, and I had to say I’ve stopped doing resolutions. I used to get amped up about change and big aspirations, and write down ambitious goals for the new year. A few decades of the expectation-and-disappointment cycle showed me that process didn’t work for me–it was more of a rut. But stepping back once a year to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m going is good. So instead of resolutions, I now ask myself three questions that I take enough time to think deeply about and write down so I can return to them when I need to:

What are the most important things I learned this past year?
What are the opportunities I missed?
What do I want most for the coming year?

As an example, one of the most important things I learned this past year–and keep relearning over and over again–is the importance of my social network. Who I connect with is a choice that matters. There are a number of people I’ve missed the opportunity to connect with over the past year, and I want to get beyond the ubiquitous excuse of being too busy to connect with these people this year. The best way I can see to make that happen is to leverage my blog to forge those connections. So look for more engagement on Marketonomy this year with people in the business and marketing communities that have a compelling vision.