Bulletin 16 November 2018. Marketing is the new porn

You can’t beat an attention-grabbing headline, can you? But in this case I think it is appropriate. Back in the early days of the Web, so went the principle, most of the great innovations came from the pornography industry: first to e-commerce, first to video and first to fleecing punters of every penny they had whilst ensuring a steady stream of addicts. 

I paraphrase of course, and I confess to not be speaking from experience. Equally lacking is my inside knowledge of the previous holder of the technological crown, the military, from whence of course came the Internet Protocol itself. By the time I came onto the scene, personal computers had opened the door to a new breed of happy-go-lucky hacker whose only interest was typing lines of code from magazines. 

How naive and halcyon those days were, for any school kid, back in the day… but that’s a subject for another bulletin. Where was I? Ah yes, marketing. To introduce the topic I feel another digression coming on, around clichéd anecdotes. I reckon I have about ten that I keep trotting out, whether I’m writing for myself or others… 

For example, if I am going to write about computer viruses, I will probably reference John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider. Here’s one from 2013 but they go back much, much further — probably to 1999 when I first started writing about such things. If security is the topic, I might also reference the quote “never put down to malice what can be ascribed to stupidity.” 

And meanwhile, when talking about various aspects of commerce, I might quote the apocryphal question asked of a criminal: “Why do you rob banks?” “Because that’s where the money is,” he is reputed to reply. 

And so, to marketing, and the current obsession with ensuring the we give customers what they want — this latter all too often, still, a euphemism for the aforementioned fleecing punters of every penny. I’m not going to turn this into a rant: I’ve railed against the horrors of ‘monetisation of data’ before, and  you’d have to be crossing the Sahara backwards on a camel with a bag on your head, not to have had some personal experience. 

Nonetheless, the fact that we all shoulder the burden of being algorithmically marketed to, even as we (and certainly many of the people reading this) are working for organisations doing the deed, bears some scrutiny. I’m reminded of speaking to a director of a charity about the practice of ‘chugging’ (charity mugging, another personal bugbear). “But it works,” he said, with a what-else-are-we-supposed-to-do expression. 

Indeed. Not only is the use of technology to reach inside our wallets and purses the most obviously tappable opportunity; also, in a world where margins are tight and a race to the bottom exists across retail and other commerce, it offers a potential lifeline. Not to mention all those digital-first startups that seem to have whipped the lion’s share of custom from under the noses of traditional merchants, providers and everyone else. 

So, all attention is on the use of technology for marketing. Digital transformation is all about, you guessed it, selling more things to more people. Or at least, orienting your organisation so that understanding buying behaviours becomes a major influence. Pretty much every new technology is first seen in terms of what it can do to enhance customer relationships, i.e. do better targeting, Case in point: the low-hanging fruit for AI, for all its potential, is around recommendations engines. 

Meanwhile, it’s without irony that ‘customer experience’ is a big thing at the moment: CX is one of those strange topics which only exists due to its inherent absence. “You mean, we should try to understand the customer better and deliver better as a result?” said no company ever, apart from all those who had completely lost touch with their raison d’être. Which, wait, is an awful lot of them. 

I’m not downhearted. Attention will move on, from direct targeting to differentiation; I have no proof but I like to believe that the hold of ‘brands’ over individuals, the product version of our celebrity culture becomes more tenuous every day. We can wear Gucci spectacles for example, but they will be made by one of two companies, to the same standards: only the logo will change. Of course I could be wrong, we are as sheep after all, but I hope not.

On that, cheery note, here’s the latest section of Smart Shift. 

 

A platform for the web of everything

Who remembers Prince Charles talking about “grey goo”? An interview with Graeme Hackland, top bloke and CIO at Williams Formula 1 team, took place a few years now but remains illustration enough about the law of thresholds, which has taken sensors from chunky things on aeroplanes to tiny devices that litter our transportation and other systems like dust. 

That’s all for this week. Still queuing those articles up and (extra curricular) have been progressing both novel and musical, watch this space!

Cheers, Jon

Bulletin 16 November 2018. Marketing is the new porn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *