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Concealed Weapon

The irreconcilable differences within the gun control debate are at the forefront of our national attention again. Should it be within an individual’s civil liberties to carry concealed weapons of mass destruction? One side ardently pleads no and one side defiantly shouts yes. This debate will wage on until only one is left standing.

Simultaneous to this debate, a similar, quieter one is underway within the marketing profession. Is there a way we can control the current technology available so that we maintain the right balance of personal privacy yet monitor buyer behavior in a way that allows us to achieve all the marvelous potential of marketing X.0? Protocol development is underway, utilizing a self-governance model, such that we keep the web free of regulatory burdens but observe appropriate rules to protect the buyer. This is a hopeful endeavor. On the other hand, it is somewhat akin to taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens with no possible hope to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

The future of effective marketing programs is centered around the automated monitoring of buyer behavior, largely on the world-wide web. This concept is not a bad thing. If you search on a topic, such as the comparison of top data analytics tools, and then download a sponsored whitepaper, it should be acceptable for different interested parties, especially the sponsors of the content, to have access to that information. How that information is used and what actions it drives are the core elements of the debate. The abuse of the information is what we all want to prevent. No matter what we agree to, there will be web sites and data hijacking technology that attempts to abuse as a central objective. It is as unpreventable as keeping Saturday night specials out of the hands of those who intend to kill.

Tom's Guns

One of the things I hear mentioned often within the debate is the term trust. A wonderful aspect of the internet is the two-way nature of its utility. User generated data also allows us to monitor those sites that can’t be trusted because of their behavior. If a site performs inappropriate monitoring behaviors, in essence breaks our trust, we can then collectively ruin their brand by posting the trust-breaking activity as a response. Criminals can try, but it is truly hard to hide when anyone can make a citizen’s arrest in the evolving social structure of the web.

So, I guess the moral of the story is self governance should become truly as the term implies. It is fine for an industry to govern itself, but I suggest that self-governance be performed by the marketing department. If you break the trust of your buyers you will be black-listed. Spam ratings are just the beginning. As social networks of buyers become the norm, brand value will be impacted by user-generated content based not only on the product or service, but also based on marketing procedure.

Certainly, one of the safest approaches to manage trust is through community development. Buyers are joining communities everywhere. Participating in those communities and sponsoring communities of your own will become essential. As your buyers self-select to operate within your community (think Amazon as role model and Facebook as scofflaw) they will learn whether you can be trusted and allow more and more control and offer up more and more data. If you conceal your weapons – gather data invisibly and use it inappropriately - you lose customer trust and that will erode your brand. On the other hand, if your customers opt in and you maintain their trust, they will stay in as long as there is value to them as a member of the community.

This is new territory we are forging and there is a lot to learn. There are plenty of businesses in the forefront of this, especially focused on B2C social sites. However, you don’t have to wait to exploit the possibilities just because you are a bricks and mortar B2B organization. If you are not pushing your customers and prospects to some form of community within your own site, I suggest that you initiate this as a starting place. If you don’t push your customers to your site at all, that is actually the starting place for you, but you need to get through that stage quickly because you are still operating in the previous millennium and you are going to be left behind.

One final thought on this topic; let’s stop using the metaphor of targeting our opponents in our crosshairs. That is literally a killer practice.

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