Halt, Who Goes There?

I was reading an article by a friend of mine in which she points out a desperate need for some type of noninvasive rich media advertising format. My initial thought was, “Right on!” followed quickly by, “But isn’t all advertising invasive?”

Marketers walk a fine line between providing product information and annoying the people they’re trying to reach. Complicating matters is the fact the difference between a message that informs and one that annoys rests on individual recipients’ perceptions. Simply put: If I like the product and offer, it’s information. If I don’t, it’s spam.

I’d love to create some sort of revolutionary, noninvasive marketing format. But before I can lay claim to the next wave of online advertising, I must first figure out what the consumer wants… and doesn’t want.

The hurdle is not really knowing who the consumer is. In cases where I’ve established a vendor/consumer relationship, I can tell a lot about my customer base, at least as far as buying my products and services is concerned. The sticky wicket is finding new customers. The traditional marketing approach of sending a message to a wide range of consumers and selling to those who step forward has long been advertising’s core. But in an age of supersaturation email and pop-ups, returns are diminishing.

People are also less and less willing to provide personal information. They don’t want to invite more marketing. Issues such as identity theft are making increasingly more people skittish about giving away any personal information online.

Years ago, several companies set upon the task of creating huge consumer profile databases that could be sold to marketers for prospecting. The ensuing hue and cry triggered privacy lawsuits and legislation limiting the use of such information.

So today, online marketing finds itself in a position where:

  • Most online marketing returns poor results as an outcome of bad targeting and message saturation.

  • Consumers don’t want to provide personal information so marketers can market to them.

The only solution is to give consumers the power to determine what they want and how to best reach them.

A few years ago, I contemplated an information model in which, instead of a master database keeping tabs on who we are and what we supposedly like, information is controlled by individual consumers. In the model, each computer system or account has a consumer profile filter. Each consumer could set a level of interest for product types, based on need and relevance. A parent of young children could express interest in products that assist parenting, such as educational materials and diapers. Parents of older children could bypass the diaper ads. Only computers (or browsers) with a profile set for childcare products would receive those messages.

How do marketers benefit from the approach?

According to Scott Martin, managing partner of Strategic Direct Marketing Group, a company that provides integrated e-marketing solutions, the future of permission marketing will have to offer incentives to draw consumers forward. Martin says some emerging models allow consumers to use their profiles as currency when shopping online.

These shoppers have a strong interest in what the vendor offers. Vendors save time and money reaching them. As the consumer saves the advertiser time and money, that consumer is now an asset to the advertiser. As a result, consumers who opt in can receive discounts and other incentives.

The approach can also be used in a manner similar to the way a mortgage clearinghouse works. Were you in the market for a new snowmobile, you could submit that information to a company that specializes in linking consumers with vendors. The buyer could receive offers from all participating snowmobile manufactures.

In any event, it’s the consumer who controls personal data and how it’s used.

The control of personal data will be a big issue over the next five years, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Identity theft reports are on the rise. They account for 42 percent of all complaints to the FTC last year. Many online vendors need make only one mistake that appears to be fraud — the FTC will fall on them like a ton of bricks. I’d surmise that as a result, consumers will be even more reticent about providing personal information to companies doing business online — unless they have a strong feeling of control.

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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