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Potential Solution Strategies for Spyware

Isaac Scarborough
Potential Solution Strategies for Spyware Isaac Scarborough

I attended a panel on spyware recently titled, "Solutions Strategies." The discussion was part of a Workshop on Spyware hosted by New York University's Information Law Institute. (Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the whole event, though).

This discussion was actually quite different from what I'd heard before-- for two main reasons. First, the arguments over spyware have, as we had hoped, moved forward. Today's problem is less, What is spyware? And more, What are we going to do about it?

Second, this panel wasn't made up of folks from the online marketing sphere. In fact, although some marketers were in attendance, all four speakers -- and best I could tell, the audience -- were technology and legal analysts, with a few bleary eyed students in attendance. So their perspective was a little different, and sometimes even hostile to many advertising platforms. Yet while I may not have agreed with everything said, it was valuable to hear a take on solutions to spyware from outside of the marketing sphere. In fact, many in the online space may do well to take note of what was suggested.

What solutions to spyware?
The panel I attended had four participants -- Ben Edelman of Harvard University (and blogging fame), Professor Orin Kerr from GWU Law School, the redoubtable Ira Rubinstein of Microsoft, and HP's Mark Miller -- and was moderated by Harry First, professor at NYU Law. First started off by joking that "spyware is a perfect field for lawyers, because the language we use is malleable," and this set the tone for each panelist to present his own take on how best to tackle spyware.

Technical progress
Reflecting that this wasn't a marketing workshop, two of the panelists focused on the technical side of things. Ira Rubinstein and Mark Miller both suggested that changing how software is distributed and used would be the best method for combating spyware. The ever incisive Rubinstein argued for a focus on distribution, highlighting the value of "code signing." If more software was digitally signed -- i.e., if the author could be strictly determined -- he claimed that, "you’d have the basis for stronger trust assertions." This standard of trust, Rubenstein believes, if combined with reputation standards, could be "the beginnings of a real solution."

Mark Miller, however, thought differently. "Spyware is an architectural issue," he said, meaning that the problem wasn't how users got the software, but what it did once it was downloaded. The real issue, Miller argued, was that any application, once opened, can do anything at all "without breaking any of the OS's rules."

Miller went on to give an intriguing presentation of new software being developed by HP that restricts each software program to a sort of user "slice." Since the user slice has a very restricted set of access privileges, the actions a piece of software can take become quite limited. So if software turns out to be malicious, it still can't affect or damage information outside of its restrictions.

Legal maneuvers
The words used by lawyers might be malleable, but Orin Kerr didn't think they could be bent to neatly fit around the problem of spyware. According to Kerr, "there are no good ways for the law to address the problem." Having started so optimistically, he went on to explain how he felt the available venues for legal action were insufficient. From the "shady zone" in which spyware operates to the difficulty in tracking down the small purveyors of online software, Kerr argued that neither criminal nor civil proceedings were likely to do the trick.

So what about new legislation? Again, there was some skepticism. "The solution," Kerr said, "can be worse than the disease." Those of us who remember the original version of HR 2929 (the "Spy Act"), understand collateral damage and the law of unintended consequences. Kerr's point is well taken.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant"
Ben Edelman's focus was somewhere outside of strict legal or technological analysis. He started by stating that "disclosure is kind of an amorphous concept," but went on to outline a series of what we believed were unacceptable and deceptive adware disclosures. He also noted that both major advertisers and search engines were helping to fund spyware. Although a search engine could restrict it selling ads to those who were flagged as adware or spyware, Edelman said that "Google doesn't even claim to provide any oversight on Adsense." He argued that this can lead to consumers downloading deceptive software from search links and even lead to search ads showing up in spyware pop-ups.

Ultimately, Edelman seemed to favor the idea of shaming advertisers into changing their practices-- and that school of thought has definitely received some support recently. The FTC, for example, has threatened to humiliate advertisers who advertise with spyware (or adware) companies, and the CDT has just released a report which would seem to do just that. With both the FTC and the CDT getting behind this agenda, online marketers may want to take notice. It's also becoming clear that this viewpoint is strikingly different from the one we have from within the online marketing industry.

Seeing things a little differently
From what I saw at the panel, there are two major differences between the views. First of all, the agency theory is gaining steam. In other words, advertisers are increasingly going to be held accountable for where their ads appear. Secondly, those talking about "solving the spyware problem" often make little distinction between spyware and adware. Since they may believe that most adware programs are deceptively installed, the focus is often on removing the whole spectrum of applications, not creating a hierarchy between adware and truly malicious malware.

So I think most interactive marketers -- whether in the adware space or not -- have an interest in following this debate. As opposition to different forms of online advertising increases, we're all likely to feel the consequences.

Isaac Scarborough is manager of market intelligence at Chapell & Associates. Read full bio.

Don't sell the new service
If you decide to offer a new service, the last thing you want to do is sell it to existing clients, says Steve Minichini, president of interactive marketing at TargetCast.

"In terms of offering new services to existing clients, our philosophy is to never force, but to make sure that the client base is aware of all our services," Minichini explains. "It's more about a partnership than selling, so if you are a credible and trustworthy partner, it's only a matter of time before existing clients will engage with the new service offering."

But another way to think about how you present a new service to an existing client is by connecting that service to your overall approach, says OLSON'S Fugleberg.

"If you can suddenly offer clients a depth and breadth in an area you haven't had before -- or perhaps have an entirely new offering altogether -- that new something should be a natural extension of what you're already doing," Fugleberg explains.

According to Fugleberg, that means you don't want to view that new practice area as a separate entity. For example, you don't want to say, "now we offer mobile" because you're essentially cross-selling and -- more dangerous -- telling the client that you now have a new profit center that they need to feed.

"That's the last thing a client wants to hear," Fugleberg says. "Instead, we try to build a single offering, so our growth needs to further underscore that goal."

Pace yourself
In boom times, it's easy to get carried away and grow too fast -- just ask anyone who worked at a dot-com in the 1990s. But during lean years, it's just as tempting to hunker down and say no to growth. Of course, the trouble with that strategy is that your agency stagnates and eventually the industry -- and your clients -- pass you by.

"Healthy growth is critical," Minichini says. "You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself because you have to pace yourself the right way. When you hire new talent, make sure there is an alignment with the vision of the organization. Find smart and passionate people, but make sure there is an alignment between what that person wants to achieve in their career and where the organization is headed."

Integrate the new service
Whether your agency is offering an entirely new practice area -- complete with new hires or even a wholesale acquisition of another shop -- or you're building on a related offering, it's critical to get the entire team on board with the change. To do that, you need to educate your staff on the new practice area, which means you can either do it on the fly or take time out to bring everyone up to speed. But according to Taylor Bryant of Mullen, it's probably going to be a little of both.

"We can talk to an employee about social marketing or mobile apps until we are blue in the face, but until they do some hands-on work, they have a very hard time developing new ideas or uses for digital platforms, let alone being able to sell them to clients," Bryant says.

For Mullen, Bryant says that means teaching through a formalized classroom process a couple of times a year, bringing in outside speakers on a regular basis, and organizing the agency so that information is shared informally across practice groups.

New hires
While new hires aren't always a part of growing an agency's offering, there's typically a demand for more people at some point. Nearly all the agencies spoke to this point. While there were no general rules for hiring into growth, there were a few key suggestions.

First, it's important to trust those new hires. While that seems obvious for any new employee, trust is an especially important factor when you're talking about growth in a new area because you might not have the skill set to oversee that new employee as closely as you would if they were working in your own specialty.

Second, many of the agencies mentioned the importance of hiring thought leaders to helm your new practice area. Most importantly, those thought leaders bring relevant experience and ability to innovate that any new entrant into a market will have to leverage. But thought leaders also bring credibility, which is especially critical for an agency operating in a new area because it won't be able to show clients relevant work product or produce references in the initial going.

Third, a number of the agencies said it was important that they set realistic goals for what the hires could do. For example, if an agency acquires a smaller shop and therefore expands its offerings, the expectation is likely going to be that the new group hit the ground running. After all, they already had clients and a wealth of experience to draw on. If the agency hires experienced people but builds its own team in a new practice area, the expectations need to be a little less since the initial focus will have to be on establishing a workflow and culture for the team as well as building client awareness. And if the agency decides to grow entirely from employees it has in-house, it should be aware that the new practice area's timeline for growth is likely to be a long-term commitment.

Of course, expanding into a new practice area is a long-term commitment in its own right. To that end, many of the agencies stressed that their expansions were successful because they considered the problem as part of a multiyear approach to planning, rather than thinking about what was happening to their business from quarter to quarter.

Michael Estrin is freelance writer.

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Don't make decisions on bad data

Glenn Cipolla, vice president of technology, INTAP

Before making decisions based on big data, you have to ask one question: Is it good data?

It's very easy to search a large data set for the answer you want and find it. If you are searching for a desired result in that vast amount of data, the chances are you will find the answer you desire.

Instead, try doing negative searches of your data to disprove what you are looking for. If the positive results are in place and there are no negatives to offset those positives, you have your answer.

Pinpoint your demographics

Brian Clayton, CEO, GreenPal

Studying the data your own business generates can tell you which of your online marketing campaigns works best. Do the ads appeal to your target market or another market altogether? The data may also point to completely new areas of customer interest.

At GreenPal, the "Uber for lawn care," we recently used the power of big data to better connect with our potential customers.

In a recent campaign we ran in Nashville, Tenn., we ran a pay-per-click AdWords campaign with one ad targeting the entire metro Nashville area. The headline read "Local Lawn Pros in Nashville are a click away."

I thought the performance of the ad was good, but we wanted to make it even more contextual and relevant to the viewer. So we researched census and found that East Nashville is an up-and-coming neighborhood populated with more working class, and a creative class demographic. So we segmented those ZIP codes and ran a specific ad for them, with a headline, "The Cheapest Lawn Mowing in Nashville. Lawn mowing from $20."

After running the ad for one month, on-page analytics proved the guess to be true. We saw more than 200 percent lift in click-through rate and 30 percent lift in on-page conversion.

Keep the data as updated as possible

Lateef Mauricio Abro, Omega Performance, @latab

Data drops in value when it cannot be accurately tracked across touchpoints. It is critical to establish a system that tracks activity throughout the entire buyer lifecycle. This is where a robust customer relationship management system and airtight marketing automation programs come into play.

When you don't have these systems in place, the data-update onus is on the people who interact with the buyer, at each critical touchpoint.

This is where the utility of big data starts to fall apart -- because, even though we selected a handful of high-value columns, we devalue the data by allowing for gaps in tracking the data's activity. This can be as simple as forgetting to mark a record as unsubscribed, to a more critical issue like failing to re-segment a buyer based on stated product interests.

Make your data human

Carlos Hidalgo, CEO and principal, ANNUITAS

Though having big data on your customer and knowing that data is a big competitive advantage for marketers, true customer knowledge and insight must go further.

Want to really know your customers? Ask them what they need.

If, as a marketer you are not in the habit of talking to your buyer, start now. If you are and ask leading questions, change now and ask more open-ended questions that get you into the mind of your buyer. And if you truly want to understand your ideal buyer, ask those folks who are not your customers. Again, keep the questions open-ended and not so focused on "why did you not choose us?"

And don't forget to talk to sales to find another dimension to the buyers' personas, and conduct in-depth research on the world in which your customers live and external factors affecting them.

Vivek Sharma is CEO of Movable Ink.

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"Man looking astonished in a network data center" via Shutterstock.


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