Today I wanted to talk about some recent changes in the online search model. As many of you probably know, some of the larger search engines are increasingly entering into the behavioral targeting space.
This is to say that they're using information about users and their past behaviors (in this case, the searches they've conducted) to optimize their ad placement. This includes the text-ads that appear within or next to search results, but it can also mean banner ads, if the search engine also runs or is partnered with a portal or network of websites.
These moves have been somewhat under the radar, and major privacy concerns haven't been raised -- up until very recently.
Some industry experts have started to expound on the potential challenges surrounding the incorporation of behavioral targeting into search. A large part of this concern stems from a recognition of the increasing consumer anxiety over how and why data is collected about their online activities.
Just as importantly, though, those of us who follow privacy trends recognize that consumers are increasingly more willing to use technology that inhibits the ability of marketers to reach them.
What's a search engine to do?
At ad:tech New York, search guru John Battelle had a suggestion for search marketers. "To get to the point where people are giving up this kind of information," he said, "[W]e need to be able to see this information" (MediaPost, November 8, 2005). What I think Battelle is saying is that for consumers to provide the information necessary for targeted advertisements, they may need to be shown what information is collected, how it's stored and why it's necessary.
I think this is right, and moreover, I think there's another reason for providing that additional information. But first, some background.
Privacy professionals often talk about a "right of access" to one's information. The right of access is spelled out in (among other places) the Code of Fair Information Practices.
The Right of Access concept was conceived to empower an individual seeking to find out what information an organization has on them, and provide some opportunity to edit and/or delete that information.
Worth the expense
Providing individual users with some visibility to the data that has been collected about them would doubtlessly require some expenditure of resources. Let's be fair: it probably wouldn't be cheap. And while the transparency might make some consumers more willing to provide their information to marketers, this remains something of an unproven assertion.
But even so, search engines may still want to think about providing that transparency.
Let's think about the environment in which online marketing exists. There's a whole cottage industry of what I sometimes refer to as "anti-marketing technology products" out there. I apologize -- the term sounds so negative. It's not meant to be derogatory -- just broadly descriptive. These technology products can serve as valuable tools to protect consumers from marketing messages (and other stuff) that they don't want to receive.
At any rate, anti-marketing technology products, broadly defined, would include pop-up blockers, spam-filters and anti-virus and anti-spyware software. It might also include the TiVo feature that allows consumers to skip through television advertisements.
What most of these products have in common is the ability to provide consumers with a level of control and transparency over the operation of certain marketing channels. Many consumers place a good deal of trust in these technologies to provide that control, and in some instances, make decisions for them.
In fact, I'll bet that everyone reading this column is currently using one or more of these technology products right now. In many instances, they are extremely helpful and provide an invaluable consumer service. So what's the problem?
Well, as anti-marketing technologies become increasingly sophisticated, it's easy to envision a consumer tool that provides a window into the data being collected from a consumer's computer. Crazy right? I'm not so sure.
We all know that consumers are demanding more control over their online experience. And if this trend continues, consumers will insist upon a greater ability to determine what marketing technologies and processes are being used on their computers. This means they will want to see, specifically, what data is being collected and by whom -- and what processes are running on their computer and why.
And anti-marketing technology products will be there to help them make sense of it all. But keep in mind that the makers of these products may have a very different interpretation of what your company is doing than you do. In certain cases, one man's paternalistic collection of data for security purposes is another's illicit data mining scheme -- one person's behavioral targeting process is another's spyware.
Who do you want talking to consumers?
Here's the bottom line: consumers are learning -- and will continue to learn more -- about what information is being collected about them. When they discover it from a piece of software they've acquired to "protect their privacy," they're very reasonably going to be concerned. When they hear about it from the company that's collecting the data, there's a chance that they might accept the proposition.
Privacy is increasingly becoming part of your brand -- part of the story that your company tells. You can choose to tell that story yourself, or you can let someone else tell their version. Which one would you prefer?
Alan Chapell, CIPP, is president of Chapell & Associates, a consulting firm that helps companies understand privacy and incorporate consumer perception into product development. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Mr. Chapell is the New York chapter co-chair of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy and taught a class on privacy and marketing at NYU this past summer.
Disruption 2: Customer permission expectations
Debate and subsequent legislation concerning spam email made consumers increasingly aware of the nature of the email marketing communications they were receiving, and significantly raised their expectations over the amount of control they were entitled to have over those messages. Increasingly, powerful consumer email clients gave customers more control over their marketing messages; hitting the "spam" button not only stopped the offending email, it did direct damage to the email sender (possibly more damage than the customer realized).
Now consumers are even more savvy about the value of the marketing communications they participate in; indeed they look upon these communications reciprocally. In an era of smartphone apps, the value of positive or negative ratings and comments in venues like Yelp or GetGlue are clear to both the brand, the consumer, and the ratings platform itself. What used to be the hidden mechanics of direct marketing is now the very public business models of social media apps in which the consumer is asked to knowingly participate.
This means that marketers must enable customers to manage their own brand communications, particularly as to the topic, frequency, and channels on which they receive brand messages -- otherwise they run the risk losing the right to message to their customer. On the other hand, brands that successfully offer their customers the level of messaging control they've come to expect can reap the rewards of having a truly successful one-to-one relationship.
Disruption 3: Publishing to a complex multi-channel environment
It was so much simpler at the dawn of the digital age; in fact, digital communications were going to make it easier and less expensive to stay in touch with each other via email rather than fussy and awkward postal mail. The web was going to put key information at your fingertips -- no need to get out the yellow pages or encyclopedia. And indeed this came to pass, but now the explosion in messaging channels and platforms has added new complexity for consumers, and new costs for marketers.
Simple email messaging has metastasized into multiple messaging channels such as instant messaging, chat, SMS, Twitter, and social media messaging, just to name the most popular. New forms of messaging have arisen: ratings, commentary, shout-outs, and viral pass-alongs that spread opinions anonymously or semi-anonymously. Digital content, once found on a relatively static web page from a links list or a search engine, has now become unanchored and disaggregated from its source and spreads through the digisphere via XML/RSS to be consumed in many different readers.
Indeed digital devices have multiplied and mutated to such an extent that their original functions are being eclipsed. Mobile phone usage is at an all-time high, while paradoxically mobile voice conversations are declining as consumers use apps, news readers, and SMS to send and receive messages from their friends, families, and trusted brands. New and hybrid devices such as tablets, digital media players, and smart pens blur the distinctions between hardware categories.
Each of these channels and devices has their own messaging and content delivery mechanisms and conventions. A comfortable-length article on an iPad might be too long for an iPhone; a brand message might be welcome in an email, or even in a restaurant review app, but might be considered annoying as an SMS. Rich media such as video can be easily viewed in an iPhone or desktop app, but could only appear as a link in Twitter or email. Increasingly savvy consumers may resent being advertised to, but welcome useful branded content. Regional, cultural, and generational differences add additional complexity to a brand's digital content and messaging strategy.
Disruption 4: Measurement complexity
As with all direct marketing, measurement is still the key to success, and measurement has never been easier. Nearly every digital interaction leaves a trace, and digital consumers can be coaxed to provide even more information. And that is the challenge: How can marketers use large volumes of disparate information to make smart choices about deploying limited resources among nearly unlimited digital messaging and content channels? Measurement is made even more complex as messages and content are sent, forwarded, received, and re-forwarded across multiple digital channels.
Marketers need to distill the large volume of widely diverse cross-channel measurements to describe campaign ROI and subscriber value normalized across those channels, as the measurement of content interactions is far more complex than standard email metrics. Each channel also needs to be analyzed by its specific parameters in order to maximize customer engagement for each channel.
It is not possible now, and it may never again be possible, for a brand to pick a strategy and a vendor and then let its messaging system run itself. Engaging with your customers on a one-to-one basis requires ongoing effort to manage the mechanics, the messages, and the relationships with customers. Getting the right message to the right recipient at the right time and on the right channel keeps getting more complicated, while at the same time marketers are under pressure to prove the effectiveness of their messaging and content publishing initiatives.
Email and other messaging vendors are now offering improved tools to help their clients manage customer relationships; and marketers now understand the importance of achieving deeper engagement with their customers. Having a comprehensive universal messaging strategy in place will help brands communicate their essence to their customers in a fun, engaging, and authentic manner.
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Vine: MTV, GE, and HP
Jerome Jarre is 24 years old, and the going rate for one of his Vines is $25,000, according to Adweek. His Vine account has 7.4 million followers, which must have caught the attention of MTV, who recently hired Jarre to post Vines on his own account during the MTV Video Music Awards. For example, the following Vine, "How to make Beyoncé Giggle," features, as you would expect, Beyoncé laughing in apparent response to Jarre's selfie antics during her performance.
Furthermore, to celebrate the first ever Gravity Day and undoubtedly increase its followers, General Electric sent Jarre and fellow Viner Marcus Johns on a zero-gravity flight. Rather than posting on Jarre's page, GE featured the videos on its own account and gathered roughly 330,000 likes, thousands of comments, and became the first brand to hold the No. 1 slot on Vine's "popular" page. Here's a look at one of the clips:
Lastly, let's examine a truly unique and integrated approach from HP involving a number of Vine personalities. As part of its "#BendTheRules" campaign promoting its convertible laptop-tablet, HP collaborated with six influential Vine personalities, releasing not only six individual Vines, but also a 30-second TV spot of the clips combined.
Prior to the TV spot's release, HP announced the campaign with a clip from Vine star Robby Ayala, which now has more than 12 million loops -- the most for a branded Vine in the platform's history. Ayala told Business Insider, "I thought people would like it, but I had no idea the video would go viral…Most of the Vines I've made where I can't hold my laughter back when filming have turned out to be successful. The second we finished filming the HP Vine, Eve (the girl in the video) and I were crying laughing. You can actually hear her start to giggle towards the very end of the Vine." This quote gets to the very root of Vine's appeal to advertisers: authenticity. Although the clip is branded, its authentic feel is entirely refreshing to its audience.
Snapchat: Disney and Mondelez International
The obsessive, socially savvy, and viral-hungry population under the age of 25 is enthralled by Snapchat -- likely drawn to the platform's ephemerality, as Snaps disappear after 10 seconds and Snapchat Stories live for a mere 24 hours. And homegrown Snapchat celebrities are selling their transient photos and videos for thousands of dollars a pop. One such entrepreneur is Shaun McBride, aka "Shonduras," who creates kooky finger-doodles for his more than 140,000 followers.
Working with Disney, one of the many brands on Snapchat, McBride flew to Disneyland and took over the company's official Snapchat account for 24 hours. During that time, he created various Snaps around the park, sharing them across social platforms to increase their lifespan.
Smartly foreseeing the fact that some of its audience members were new to the emerging platform, Disney created a branded "How to Snapchat" graphic to encourage conversations across the platform.
As a result of the apparent success of Disney's first Snapchat campaign with McBride, the brand flew him to Disneyworld to create a Snapchat Story for the motion picture "Frozen." According to Forbes, McBride "followed" Olaf, the movie's snowman character, around the park, snapping and editing photos along the way.
(Image source: Forbes)
Disney isn't the only brand to reap the rewards of Snapchat and social media influencers. Mondelez International's Sour Patch Kids recently enlisted social media celebrity Logan Paul for its five-day campaign, "Real-Life Sour Patch Kid." Taking over the brand's Snapchat account, Paul posted a Snapchat Story each day documenting his adventures with the "sour then sweet" life-size Sour Patch characters. For instance, in the inaugural clip, a Sour Patch Kid drenches Paul with water (i.e. sour side) then shifts attitude and offers Paul a drink of water at the clip's conclusion (i.e. sweet side). The following image exemplifies Paul's work with the brand:
(Image source: The Verge)
Farrah Bezner, the marketing director of Mondelez candy division, told Adweek, "Snapchat is a quick, easy and fun way to communicate that provides a different kind of creative expression than other platforms." When marketing to this young and influential demographic, quick, easy, and fun is clearly the way to go.
Instagram: Gap and Casamigos Tequila
When brands work with expert, homegrown photographers on Instagram, the line between advertisement and user-generated content becomes very blurry. Rather than featuring the social media personality within the creative, as is typical with Vine and Snapchat marketing messages, Instagram brand photos typically hide the user behind the lens. Take, for instance, Marte Marie Forsberg's image for a Gap Kids campaign.
(Image source: SayDaily)
Absent of any overt branding, Gap is capitalizing on Forsberg's more than 210,000 followers and allowing her to serve as an indirect brand advocate, discussing the campaign in the comments section, for example.
Furthermore, take a look at this incredible image from Instagram personality Elise Swopes, aka "Swopes," shooting for luxury tequila brand Casamigos:
Although it is difficult to uncover the amount of money earned by users when partnering with major brands, Digiday reports that top Instagrammers -- like Anastasia Ashley -- "typically receive up to $10,000 for an image."
There are a number of agencies attempting to bridge the gap and build working relationships between brands and social media's brightest stars. It's never been easier to not only locate and hire the most influential social celebrities whose creative skills and personality best align to your brand, but also to track the overall performance of your collaborative social campaign. With this in mind, would you invest in a social media star? Have you, and was it worth it? This article provided only a small sampling of the current work that's being done in this arena. If you feel I've missed a crucial example, please share in the comments section below.
"group of golden stars on green background" image via Shutterstock.
Kyle Montero is contributing editor of iMedia Connection.
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