Saturday, May 20, 2006

Everybody's Watching...You

This is still a marketing blog, not a political one, but topics where the two areas intersect are fair game. So it is with the recent flap over the NSA searching for suspicious patterns in the phone records of Americans, which is even less shocking than the revelation that professional athletes sometimes chemically enhance their performance.

The fact is, we have very little privacy left, from either the public or private sector. Ever checked your credit report? (You may not want to.) What's in there may surprise you. And it isn't just the big three credit reporting agencies who have this information; almost anyone with a checkbook and a lick of creativity can get the information, including your insurance company.

Got any vices? Alcohol, cigarettes, chocolate almond fudge ice cream? Unless you exclusively pay with cash, your favorite retailer knows exactly what you buy and how often you buy it, and RFID technology will soon provide them with even more information. Once again, if your supermarket clerk knows this, anyone with capital and curiosity can find out.

Do you market a luxury item? Want to know who the wealthiest Americans are? Forget the old Forbes list. You can buy the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the one million most affluent households online. You can even buy lists of consumers based on their health status, hobbies, home value, and buying habits.

The U.S. government has access to all of that data and more. The government, of course, knows where you work, what you do there, where you live, how much money you make, and how many kids you have. You help them update their database every year sometime before April 16th. If you live in a place that has toll roads, the government even knows the route you drive to work and about what time you normally arrive and leave. They also know what's in your backyard (pool, trampoline, hot tub?), how often you use it, and how many people you use it with. (Google's tool limits how closely you can zoom in; the government's view is much closer.)

The government uses its own tools, and partners with the private sector. Ever wonder how the FBI knew so much about the 9/11 terrorists just days after the attack on the World Trade Center -- where they had eaten, rented cars, had lap dances, bought their plane tickets? They got it all from a little Arkansas company called Acxiom. Unfortunately, that little company knows a lot more about you than it does about protecting that information.

But back to the politics: none of this loss of privacy has been caused by George W. Bush. Nor, to be non-partisan, is it Bill Clinton's fault (though it may be partially Al Gore's, since, after all, he invented the Internet).

To anyone with a libertarian bone in their body, this complete lack of privacy is no doubt troubling. Perhaps we need new laws, or perhaps better technology to enable individuals to protect their privacy. But regardless, it is simply ludicrous to assert that government agencies obstensibly tasked with defending our safety and freedom shouldn't have access to the same information as someone wanting to sell us cars or mail out coupons for toothpaste.

*****

Terms: NSA phone records, online privacy, Acxiom, credit reporting, lifestyle data

The Web marketing portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Marketing Wisdom for 2006

Marketing Sherpa recently published Marketing Wisdom for 2006: 110 Marketers and Agencies Share Real-Life Tips, its annual compendium of practical marketing knowledge. As always, the report features a mix of the off-beat and on-target, but provides enough creative and useful ideas to keep marketing practicians busy until next year's report is published.

One item that immediately caught my eye was a paragraph in the introduction by editor Anne Holland: "The more broad the copy was, in a misguided effort to appeal to more people, the less it appealed to anyone...to write great targeted copy, you need a pile of market research to base wording and focus on. And, in trying to get campaigns off the ground quickly, we all sometimes skip that essential step."

I shared that lesson in a company I was doing some work for a while back. They brought me in at the 11th hour on an email campaign for a new product launch. The copy was watered-down mush designed to appeal to the broad array of companies the email would be sent out to, which meant, as Anne points out above, that it didn't really appeal to anyone. It was too late to rework the campaign at that point, so I tweaked the copy as best I could, but the result was predictable: a whopping 0.1% response rate.

For subsequent campaigns, I persuaded the company to target their messages much more precisely. For example, instead of doing a campaign to "computer manufacturers," do separate campaigns for mass market branded manufacturers (e.g. Dell, HP, Gateway), white box makers (e.g. Systemax, Equus), and high-performance specialty producers (e.g. Alienware). Although precisely targeted campaigns are more costly, response rates are also inevitably much higher.

Campaigns do best when they approach one-to-one marketing, at least using micromedia to target micromarkets.

*****

Terms: Marketing Sherpa, marketing wisdom for 2006, micromarkets, micromedia, practical marketing ideas

The Web marketing portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

More on Blogging for Business

George Dixon of the Minneapolis-based virtual marketing agency KC Associates recently put together a concise but helpful summary of the pros and cons of business blogging titled To Blog, or Not to Blog. The conclusion is "yes," despite the fact that, as George points out, "there’s no real business model for turning corporate blogging into a tangible return on investment."

The article points out that business blogs can help build your brand, drive traffic to your Web site, and establish your company as a thought leader. Blogs may show up well in search engines, though I remain unconvinced at this point. (For a quick and easy check of how well your blog shows up on all of the most popular search engines, try a few key key phrases from your blog in this handy search position check tool from Mike's Marketing Tools.)

George also provides a number of sensible recommendations for business blogging success, including having a plan before you start; promoting your blog; establishing metrics; and, most helpfully, "Don’t expect miracles." Blogs can be a productive supplement to other marketing activities, but are not a replacement for PR, newsletters, and other communications.

The VantagePoint article library on the KCA site also contains a number of other practical postings, such as 5 Tips for Selling at Trade Shows, 7 Tips for Online Media Buys, and Top 10 Biggest PR Mistakes.

*****

Terms: virtual marketing agency, business blogging, corporate blogging, blog search position

The Internet marketing strategy portal: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Forrester on Blogging

Charlene Li at Forrester Research has put together a nice report on how businesses can effectively utilize blogging (free, but registration is required for non-clients), titled "Blogging: Bubble or Big Deal?." The report describes the growing popularity of blogs; why companies should consider blogging; how companies can take advantage of blogs; and best practices in corporate blogging.

A few of Charlene's key findings:

- Although overall blog readership is still a small percentage of the total population, blog readers and bloggers themselves are highly influential.

- "Blogs...entered the common mainstream this summer during the political conventions." While there's no reason to doubt the accuracy of Forrester's consumer research, this statement is somwhat misleading. Blogs have been highly popular and widely read within specific communities (for example, IT, marketing, and politics) for considerably longer.

- Companies, particularly public companies, should, at a minimum, monitor what is being said about them on blogs. This seems like obvious advice -- companies should monitor their coverage across all media -- but it is commonly ignored.

- Companies can't stop their employees from blogging, but they can and should provide guidelines as to what is appropriate and permissible. That certainly makes sense; one could say the same things about Web surfing or company email usage.

- Internal blogs are a great way to keep project teams informed.

- "Companies that present a human face have an advantage." Blogs are informal conversations with customers. Companies that are comfortable with such conversations should find success with blogs. Companies that aren't comfortable with such conversations won't have customers for long, regardless.

Charlene also writes her own blog.

If your company is wondering how blogs fit into an overall communications strategy, this report is a great place to start, along with Why Write a Blog for Business? on WebMarketCentral.

*****

Terms: Charlene Li, business blogging, business blog strategy

Web marketing resources and news: WebMarketCentral.com

Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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