Friday, December 01, 2006

The Quest for the Holy Grail

A recent article in The NewStandard, which bills itself as an independent online newspaper untainted by the corrupting influence of corporate mammon, carried an article dated November 27 with a provocative headline:

"Marketers Still Free to Stalk Consumers Online"

Written by Megan Tady, the, article describes the activities of Internet companies and online marketers as “predatory behavior,” and reports that the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) have filed a 50-page complained with the FTC in an effort to enlist the aide of the feds to put a stop to their attempts to achieve one-to-one communications with consumers.

What a bunch of nonsense.

The complaint is based on the faulty premise that interactive marketing, by definition, requires that companies spy on consumers. It's ridiculous and dangerous assumption, and one that ignores the concept of customer choice. It also removes a huge incentive for companies to place a premium on treating customer information with respect.

I often shop for fly fishing gear at the online properties of Orvis, LL Bean. I have done business with both stores for years, I trust both to respect my personal information, and when they communicate with me, I’d rather they stick to telling me about the stuff I’m most likely to buy. And as long as that trust is not violated, I’ll continue to do business with both companies and to provide them with information about my preferences so they can better serve my needs.

Orvis and LL Bean don’t need to “spy” on me because they’ve earned my trust. That trust translates to a competitive advantage.

In effect the article attacks the holy grail of marketing by saying that companies, rather than target customers and potential customers with highly specific messaging, should instead go back to the mass mail model – send postcards to tens of thousands of "residents" in a particular zip code and hope for a strong enough return to make a profit off of the effort.

In marketing they call it “spray and pray,” and it is far more maddening than behavioral targeting. Regulating away a company’s ability to target based on behavior would be counter productive; it would eliminate an important tool that responsible companies are already using to provide consumers with better service.

Behavioral targeting isn’t about spying, it’s about two-way communication and it’s about achieving a positive one-on-one experience.

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