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(USS Enterprise being pulled into a vortex) It's no use, Captain - we're caught in a sales funnel.

Dammit, Jim.

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The most pernicious thing about marketing these days is how the lines of commerce and social interaction have blurred. You may think you’re having a pleasant online conversation with someone; they think you’re agreeing to be bombarded with email offers until you succumb and hand over a credit card number.

My wife and I have had this happen with salespeople before, where we’d all spend time together talking about anything and everything other than the transaction at hand because they felt a real connection with us, a genuine, human meeting of the min—… oh, wait, you aren’t ready to make a purchase? Ciao. Out of the sales funnel you go.

We should have known better. As a Toyota sales rep told us as he ushered us out the door once it became clear their lack of competitive financing was a deal-breaker, “getting coffee together sometime” doesn’t pay his mortgage. Fair enough.

But we weren’t any more naive than the countless folks out there interacting with brands and their happy, chatty online personas. All that banter is great, but at the end of the day, it had better convert enough of the banterers to justify itself. For many brands, conversation is Scheherezade, staving off its execution with sales instead of stories.

There’s nothing wrong with that, except we consumers forget that, and most businesses are perfectly happy to let us. And then once in a while we catch a jarring glimpse of the skull beneath the skin. All it takes is an obtusely crass use of sales copy or an unartful bit of fake urgency, and for a moment we remember that we only imagine we’re friends — that the relationship goes contact, lead, customer; not acquaintance, friend, BFF.

That’s when you realize you aren’t in a virtual coffee shop or digital agora, but instead in the cold, rapidly narrowing confines of a sales funnel, being pulled headline toward conversion. That term has always struck me as the kind of euphemism for “painful disintegration” that some authoritarian alien civilization would use—right up to the point where Kirk overthrew them and remolded their government into something more like the Riverside, Iowa town council.

I’d actually wonder how Kirk would react to the discovery that a relationship had all been an elaborate charade, except we already know: he’d cure the ambassador’s daughter of Vegan choriomeningitis. I like to think he’d also then unfollow the ambassador and delete his GideonNet profile.

(hiker in forest discovers Promoted tag, and thinks...) Well, shit.

Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets?

Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets? published on No Comments on Wait – why don’t we have DEmoted tweets?Purchase print

We’re really working hard to avoid saying the word “ad,” aren’t we? Promoted posts, tweets, accounts and hashtags; sponsored content; “Suggested for you” links…

And we aren’t just looking for euphemisms — we’re camouflaging ads as “native content,” with tiny little disclaimers engineered to be as easy as possible to miss while still providing plausible deniability to platforms and publishers.

The goal is to make advertising look as much as possible like authentic conversation. And when we get taken in — when we think we’re having a genuine conversation with someone, only to discover we’re being led down a sales funnel — then it diminishes our trust in conversation across the board.

That’s happened to me even in the BSM* Era.

My girlfriend (this was also the BWGM** Era) and I struck up a conversation with another couple in a bookstore, seemed to hit it off, and made a dinner date.

A few nights later, we arrived at the restaurant (Vij’s, by the way — if you’re ever in Vancouver, you have to go). First sign something was up: only the guy showed up.

Second sign: he brought out logotized binders with dividers five minutes into the conversation.

Here’s a pro tip about logos, binders and dividers: not one of them augurs well for a nascent friendship. Together, they sound alarm claxons.

Sure enough, out came the pitch for his multi-level marketing company. I don’t think he’d quite reached the part about downstream revenue before we’d knocked back our fizzy lemon drinks (be sure to order them, they’re transcendent) and headed for the door.

When the subject of sponsored content comes up, I often think of our dinner companion and the bereft expression on his face as we explained why we were leaving. I think he was genuinely hurt.

But so were we. If we’d known from the start what kind of conversation he wanted to have, that would have been one thing. But we’d been deceived, and no amount of rationalization (the tiny “Sponsored link” text is the 2015 version of “I just wanted to share this marvellous opportunity with you lovely people!”) can convince us otherwise.

Rescuing authenticity from the clutches of commercial exploitation is a big task… but maybe as a tiny first step, advertisers and publishers could bump the disclaimer text up a little. Increase the contrast. And make sure their audience knows just what garden path they’re about to stroll down.

Who knows? They might even go willingly, if it’s worth the walk.


Huh! Geekiness aside, I apparently have a Romantic-era sensibility bubbling away in my subconscious. This isn’t the first time I’ve juxtaposed the wonders of nature with the blandishments of civilization, whether it’s with sunsets, hikes or kayaking.


* Before Social Media
** Before We Got Married

Boss to two employees: Dammit, people - this Prism thing's all over the news, and I'll bet we don't even have a marketing presence there.

Branding secrets of (insert name of new platform here)

Branding secrets of (insert name of new platform here) published on No Comments on Branding secrets of (insert name of new platform here)Purchase print

Fun fact: Prism’sArmageddon” tour is the first rock concert I ever saw. ‘Twas up at Camp Fortune; The Pumps opened for them.

Please, Not Another Banner Year

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There are times when it seems like the economics of the web seem to boil down to:

  1. Find some white space on your site.
  2. Fill it with an ad.
  3. There is no number three. Check out these great discount air fares!

It starts innocently enough, with a few AdSense text placements. But before you know it, you have one of those Flash-based monstrosities lurking in your sidebar – the kind you don’t dare roll over, because if you do it spawns some demonic window that extends outside the boundaries of your monitor and knocks over furniture in your family room, while playing The Macarena at 130% volume.

It’s kind of nice, then, when a player in the — oh, god, what do we call it nowadays? ah, yes: the content industry — manages to come up with a revenue stream that’s a little more win-win than just hurling ads in readers’ faces. This week I stumbled across The Washington Post’s Master Class series: online courses that put the expertise of Post writers at your disposal.

It launched last month, and the tuition fees aren’t small; they’re along the lines of what you’d pay for a decent continuing ed class at your local college or university. That puts them in a different price bracket from most of the approaches I’ve seen newspapers take to finding a new source of income, like subscriptions or pay-per-article fees.

I wish them luck. Anything to avoid another banner ad.

 

 

Knock, knock

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Think about spam, and you probably think about unsolicited commercial email. You know, replica Rolexes, cheap pharmaceuticals, suspiciously low prices on Adobe software and, uh, enlargement offers (which turn out to betotal ripoffs that take advantage of emotionally vulnerable people… ahem).

But it turns out it’s also an issue in the building-a-better-world world. Nonprofit organizations that get a little caught up in the importance of their message turn to blasting out email to recipients who’ve never given them permission… and wind up surprised when their domains turn up on spam blacklists.

Enter No Nonprofit Spam, a new blog devoted to the premise that nonprofits are damaging themselves and the broader ecosystem with unsolicited bulk email. The blogging team includes some giants in the nptech community, folks like Deborah Elizabeth Finn and Peter Campbell.

Even if the issue doesn’t speak to you, it’s a fun read. Especially because it hasn’t shown up, unsolicited, in your inbox.

 

 

My brand, my BFF

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Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb. For the record, I’m happy to be their friend.

There’s nothing like air travel to drive home just how broadly social media has permeated the marketing psyche. I drew this on my way to NTC last week in DC. At every turn on the trip, I saw Twitter and Facebook icons: littered throughout the in-flight magazine, plastered on the now-ubiquitous illuminated billboards in the terminals, on the cash registers at newsstands and restaurants.

I visited a few of those Facebook Pages and Twitter feeds, and most of them actually do have an active presence: tweets, updates and content designed to engage me.

What they lacked, with one or two exceptions, is people – a name, a photo, a human face to attach to all that Content™ and Engagement®. I had no idea who I was dealing with.

Absent a personal identity to relate to, I have to assume that I’m talking to The Brand: a mix of carefully-crafted informality and meticulously-planned spontaneity. And maybe I’m an outlier, but I don’t want to be friends with a brand.

You?

 

How hacktivist of you

How hacktivist of you published on No Comments on How hacktivist of you

Originally posted to ReadWriteWeb

Agree or disagree with the DDoS attacks attributed to activists affiliated withAnonymous, they’ve put the word “hacktivism” squarely on the radar of the chattering classes.

I’ll cop to a kind of Pavlovian response to hearing “hacktivism”, because Alex wrote her doctoral thesis on the subject and for several months it damn near displaced “What’s Steve Jobs going to announce next?” as our primary topic of conversation. (Thank god for those iPad 2 rumours, or we’d be in danger of it happening all over again.)

I’m enjoying hacktivism’s time in the sun, but part of me knows it can’t last. Already I’m hearing commentators stretching its meaning so they, too, can be using the word du jour: “Meanwhile, Biffixcor restated their third-quarter earnings for the second time. That’s what I call hacktivism. Right, Carol?” “That’s right, Jim. Coming up, weather and traffic – with our hacktivist eye in the sky, Monty. We’ll be right back.”

The eternal mystery

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You know what would bring those kids running, don’t you? A Facebook page.

Before you know it, “booking your revenue when it’s earned” will become the new “keepin’ it real”. You’re welcome.

Vogue meets PC World

Vogue meets PC World published on 1 Comment on Vogue meets PC World

Jolie O’Dell sparked a fascinating thread on marketing to geek women – specifically, marketing cutesy pink stuff to them.

Okay, so maybe there is a long-tail market for Barbie’s Dream Server Farm. But my experience in shopping for consumer electronics says there’s plenty of room for folks who sell technology of all kinds to get a little more savvy on how gender relations have changed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into tech stores with Alexandra and had the salesman (I use that word advisedly) glom onto me… despite the fact that Alex is the household video, audio and telecommunications geek. Some get it after a few not-too-subtle hints (Alex: “Now is that true MEMC 240Hz, or just scanning backlight?” me: “TV’s hard! (giggle)”), but a surprising number of them can’t seem to resist directing their pitch exclusively to me.

I’d like to think times have changed from the days when cars were sold to women on the basis of how many cupholders they had. (The cars, not the women.) But I wonder.

Originally published on ReadWriteWeb.

2008-11-25-marketer

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