Steve Cutts‘ video titled “Happiness” is disturbingly accurate portrayal of so many aspects of our daily lives. When I watch this video, I can’t help but wonder why we buy into all these promises of happiness, and chase them so relentlessly?
Cutts’ work seems to capture so much of the futility of so much of what we do to achieve happiness in our lives. There is a better way to live our lives. Realising that and shifting our perspective isn’t as easy as it seems, though.
That question made me wonder: how much of our social media has become marketing that people actually question something for which you profess your love. I admit, sometimes I have asked myself — so what is that guy selling? I read Medium posts, and one in three are selling something. They are a variation of – my startup flamed, I am amazing, hire me as a consultant. Or look at how amazing my growth hacking idea was for me, so hire me. The “Medium post as a resume replacement” is part of the larger trend – social media as a marketing platform. It isn’t social when you have to question the motives behind “social objects” be shares.
I write for myself and I am employed as a marketing writer so I spend my day moving from one side to the other; between focusing on writing that feels right to me and then writing stuff that promotes my employer and its products.
There are days when the stuff I write as part of my day job is not the sort of thing I’d publish here and that is where the difference between being a blogger/writer and a professional marketing writer. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I write marketing text, my goal is to speak in my employer’s voice. When I write for myself, I use my voice. They don’t have to be the same and they usually aren’t.
At the same time, it should be clear from the context when I am writing with which voice but with so much emphasis on writing to increase exposure and attract more attention; writing just for the sake of expressing yourself often takes a back seat.
This blog is my space and I write about the things I am interested in. I don’t write for some form of remuneration, for the most part. When I am compensated for something I write here (and I haven’t been for several years) I am careful to disclose that so you can decide for yourself how much credence to give what I write.
As Malik pointed out, not everyone makes those disclosures so it becomes difficult to draw a distinction between self-expression and self-promotion. This just leads to more cynicism. I wonder, is this growing cynicism diminishing how much people trust bloggers, generally speaking? Is it something most people wonder about or is it generally accepted that most bloggers are pitching for someone or something?
It’s a clever tactic that plays on our preference to deal with human beings rather than some or other impersonal brand. The more you relate to a brand the more comfortable you feel with it. It becomes a “someone” and not a “something”. As Alexander puts it:
Anyone you admire starts to feel available to you via social media, and the more they cultivate that impression of a relationship, the better you, as a consumer, will perform.
I think we’ll see much more of this going forward, especially as we start interacting more and more with smart systems like messaging services (I think we can expect Facebook Messenger to start “behaving” like this first) and our digital personal assistants as they become smarter (for example, Siri and Google Now).
I can see some people specifically wanting an obviously artificial experience in the near future as these personified brands and services become a little too personal, a little too realistic. I wonder if service providers will take steps to ensure that their interfaces look just artificial enough to make us more comfortable using them. Making a service or machine too human may be a little too freaky for us humans for a while still.
One of the transitions I feel most comfortable about is my switch to a job in marketing for imonomy, an online in-image advertising company. It’s easy to think that my transition from being a lawyer to being a content marketing person is the real career shift. In some ways, it is, but I realised that the major career change actually happened over 14 years ago. I wrote this article on Medium so here is an embed that will take you to the post:
A paradigm-shifting conversation with one of my editors prompted to consider the merit of not targeting online ads using consumers’ personal information. That, in turn, led to my latest article on MarkLives titled “Marketers should reconsider targeted online ads” which was published today:
Conventional wisdom in the marketing industry seems to be that better targeted ads are more effective. It makes sense. If you can present an ad to a consumer whom you believe is actually interested in your services, surely that consumer will be more inclined to purchase from you?
A prominent example of this thinking in action is Facebook, where ads are customised based on your Facebook activity and profile data. If you start posting about your love for sushi and share that love in your profile, you can be sure you will soon see ads for sushi products and restaurants alongside your News Feed.
One of the implications of not targeting consumers using their personal information is that your marketing campaigns may sidestep the Protection of Personal Information Act’s constraints. It is an interesting benefit, if that pans out, because of the compliance overhead the Act requires. Of course marketers would have to weigh up the benefits of targeting ads using personal information and the costs of complying with the Protection of Personal Information Act but its an interesting idea.
There is more to my article so go read it and let me know what you think?
I receive a fair amount of unsolicited marketing email (you probably do, too) that manages to evade Google Mail’s spam filters. I usually just scroll down, find the “unsubscribe” link and opt-out. One of the emails I received today had an interesting unsubscribe “protection”.
I’m accustomed to seeing a CAPTCHA mechanism to prevent automated email subscriptions (and logins, for that matter). It is an anti-spam protection and although CAPTCHA implementations can be problematic, it is a decent way of ensuring a human is interacting with you deliberately. That is a first step towards consent.
This particular implementation is odd because the CAPTCHA mechanism was presented to me when I clicked on the “unsubscribe” link in the email. Why would I need to prove I am a human to remove myself from a mailing list I didn’t ask to be included on (or even if I did request it, why require this verification if I decide to opt-out)?
To add to this peculiar configuration, I was presented with this screen after I typed in the number:
Again, pretty odd. After clicking on the link to unsubscribe and then going through the process of satisfying the CAPTCHA mechanism that I am a human, I am still prompted with a button offering me a chance to opt-in just in case I experience some sort of opt-out remorse?
This whole mechanism is pretty ironic considering I didn’t go through this process to receive the emails in the first place. It isn’t designed to prevent spam, it is designed to add friction to the process of unsubscribing and preventing automated means of unsubscribing from spam. That seems a bit backwards to me.
I’ve rethought a lot of my life in the last 6 months or so since I was diagnosed as diabetic. It wasn’t so much that my diabetes was so out of control that I was facing imminent doom (at least I realised that when I got over the initial surprise and learned more about it) and that sense of my looming demise forced a rethink of my life and general direction. No, it was more that my diagnosis prompted changes in my lifestyle which necessitated different approaches and perspectives which led to further changes. It was a cascading series of changes. In the process my life changed fairly profoundly and continues to change.
I have been thinking about a number of things during this time that I have realised are mostly bullshit. Those things include the almost religious zeal with which many of us (I include myself in this insular group of tech- and digital-aware pundits with too few substantive challenges in our lives or who lack the appropriate perspective to recognise the real issues) approach consumer tech. Another item on this list is commercial banking which we allow to totally screw up our financial wellbeing.
The consumer tech rant
The consumer tech obsession isn’t new. It’s been going for ages and I have made a small contribution to it in my brief time blogging about it. I still obsess about aspects of it, mostly social services like Google+, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as part of an externalised series of thought experiments. I still find myself getting caught up in new shiny things from time to time and that annoys me. I have been reading posts about recent new devices and the commentary is pretty much the time. The difference is that specs change.
The commentary is generally that some device is the death of another because of its size, screen resolution (aside from whether a device looks good to you as an individual, do you really care precisely how many PPI you can squeeze onto that screen?) or some other arbitrary factor. I use an iPhone and I upgrade to the new one every other year or so. I largely do it because I want more capable devices (better camera for better photos on the go, faster processor so my phone runs my apps more effectively and so on). Yes, Google’s software is pretty good and, yes, many non-Apple devices have multi-core processors and other features that seem better on paper or in a multitude of virtually identical reviews (which is why I don’t do gadget reviews anymore) but I like my iPhones and they work for me.
Unless you are a tech journalist or blogger who gets caught up in specs for the sake of it, most people probably use the devices they use because it is what they could afford; because it works for them or because it was probably the best of a selection available to them when they upgraded their contract. Tech specs and the extent to which one device’s screen has worse white balance compared to another (insert comparative gripe here) are largely bullshit. Each of us have a preference for a device or range of devices based on what may appeal to us at that point. Tech bloggers and journalists are basically spoilt sales people who hype new tech based on meaningless criteria (at least for a substantial number of people). All this talk of devices being iPhone- or Android-killers is about as meaningful as, well, it really has no meaning in real terms.
I don’t know what the solution is. For me, at least, being amused because I still have an iPhone 5 when there are any number of bigger, brighter or newer Android/Windows Phone/Blackberry phones out and asking why I haven’t switched is pretty idiotic. If I really cared about the new thing, I would have changed over. What I have works for me and the same thing probably applies to most non-tech bloggers and journalists.
Oh, one more thing on this rant: I noticed a newish trend for tech journos to write really cynically about new tech. That newfound cynicism is just the flip side of what most be totally old fashioned fanboyism. It is still bullshit, just negative and oxygen-sucking bullshit.
The bank rant
We had a time in the last couple years where banks were falling over themselves to show us just how cool they are and how much they innovate. Many of us consumers were rushing to switch to one or more of these banks because we completely bought into the hype.
That new and shiny smell has worn off and we are still stuck with much of what we had at our previous banks, although service levels have benefitted somewhat from the competition. The flashy banks that offered us manufactured status, perks and loyalty programs have become victims of their success. They are overwhelmed and can’t meet the service expectations they created. They almost never call you when they say they will and their offers to support you with seemingly fantastic products and services have very fine and contradictory print.
What I realised about banks is that they sell lifestyles. At least, the money they loan to us in substantial quantities is justified by co-created visions of better lives (we are just as much to blame, we aspire to be more than we perceive ourselves to be) made possible by higher credit card limits and overdraft facilities. This problem tends to be exacerbated by most of us buying into this very early on, usually when we start working and are just happy to make a break with relatively poor student years. Once we are caught up in that world, it just becomes progressively more expensive until we find ourselves in our 30s and 40s and in obscene debt.
The people who keep their costs down out of university and save as if they may need to pay for cars and houses with their own money (imagine being able to do that!) are the ones who have living expenses at a fraction of everyone else’s, much higher disposable income (which they probably mostly save) and who retire at 65 with a smile on their faces.
The rest of us are fools. We start off buying into the promise of a better life and wind up pursuing it because we just want to go on that one holiday or survive the month before the next payday. Although these banks are our best friends and @-mention us on Twitter when we are first dating them, we are eventually reminded that until we generate substantially more income than we did at the beginning (and merit more attention), we are economic slaves in tough economic times. All that advertising and all those benefits of switching from one bank to another are also mostly bullshit.
What really counts
Twitter co-founder, Ev Williams wrote a post a while ago in which he sets out his Formula for Entrepreneurial Success. Two of the items stand out as truly important things in life (they all are important and meaningful, so read the whole post):
3. Take Care of Yourself
When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers.
Love those Close to You
Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationships is.
It is easy to get caught up in bullshit and I still do it far too often for my liking. Developing a healthier perspective on that stuff takes work and it worth the time and effort. When you do, you begin to reintroduce more meaning into your life which becomes more your life the more you do it.
My diabetes diagnosis is one of the best things to have happened to me as an adult (after meeting and marrying my wife and having our children). It has become a metaphor for how I manage (loosely) my finances and even how I perceive attitudes to my work. I have more thoughts and questions about so many aspects of my life and far fewer answers. How about you? How conscious are you of the cruft in your life? Assuming you’re living your life, of course.
My recent encounter with Bay Point Trading left me thinking about a couple things including our relationship with marketers, generally. The more I thought about the encounter and the criticisms I received for my blog posts, the more I wondered what the appropriate response would be to similar encounters? My critics went to some lengths to condemn my post as “bullying” and otherwise objectionable but they didn’t present any substantive suggestions for what they considered an appropriate response would be.
The sort of scenario I have in mind is an unsolicited communication from a marketer pitching a product or service and which is premised on the notion that consumers should make time to receive the pitch as entries on a database, selected for some characteristics they have which led to them being in a particular database segment in the first place. These marketers make little effort to seek permission to contact us and likely rely on traded databases which are currently, roughly, permissible. As the Protection of Personal Information Act looms large in the near future, lazy marketers are making the most of the time left under a largely opt-out regime to send as many marketing messages to consumers as they can. They may respect opt-outs but they don’t seek opt-ins as a general rule.
The impression I have from the response Bay Point Trading had to my post and to the sympathetic criticism from its supporters is that I was expected to receive the call from its sales person, listen to her script and either be persuaded to accept the company’s services or offer up an acceptable reason why I shouldn’t. If I felt the call was unwelcome then I should have accepted that this is legally permissible (possibly) and that Bay Point Trading has a business to run and not have gone to far to express my displeasure. After all, it’s legal so they can do as they please, right?
There is a huge difference between a marketer who calls, is polite and offers a relevant service or product, mindful that he or she is taking up my time which I have other uses for and a marketer who calls or emails me with a sense of entitlement to my time and my attention (and my money). I accept that marketers will contact me (in a sense, I am a marketer, myself, although I have a strong preference for consent-based marketing for my businesses) and am even make mistakes at times (I have spammed people more than once and have been made aware of this rather pointedly when I have). On the other hand, I don’t see why we should be required or expected to accept obnoxious and pushy marketers’ tactics and then not have the audacity to express our displeasure.
More responsible marketers will take the time to set reasonable boundaries and establish sympathetic responses to consumers who they contact. They may use similar tools but they use them mindful that asking permission is generally better and make an effort to add value to consumers as much as they can. I make time for these marketers because they are not transparently treating me like an entry in a database but a potential relationship candidate.
As consumers we are targeted collectively as demographics and, at the same time, as relatively isolated individuals. We receive messages, calls and emails on our personal devices and typically have two options: accept the pitch and the associated product or service or opt-out using impersonal links or SMS short codes. When I have insisted on being removed from marketing databases over the phone, the call centre person appears to be decidedly unprepared to action that request meaningfully. On the other hand, more responsible marketers will immediately action an SMS or email opt-out using some pretty effective mechanisms. The obnoxious ones will just email you next month, and the next until you adjust your spam filters. Our responses are limited to passive, mechanical responses when we disagree. As angry as you may be, even adjusting your spam filters is, at best, passive aggressive. The marketer carries on and the problem is compounded as more marketers adopt more aggressive tactics to deal with more consumer apathy.
So my question is whether we, the consumers, are subservient to marketers’ needs? The answer sounds rhetorical but I have a feeling many marketers would answer “yes”. That, to me, is unacceptable. You may agree. That said, the passive responses we have available to us don’t really hold the problematic marketers accountable for their tactics. They give these marketers a get out of trouble free pass, again and again. They have no shame, we are just numbers and bits of data after all. Perhaps an appropriate response is to share our experiences and break out of our effective silos into the collective. Perhaps our response is to remind these marketers that we are people deserving of some respect and that their lazy tactics are not acceptable intrusions into our daily lives.
There is room for smart and useful marketing (I’m generally ok with targeted advertising because it means I see more relevant ads and not whatever happens to be slung at me based on overly broad demographics – male, has a pulse – assuming, of course, that no advertising isn’t an option) but not for shotgun marketing by trigger happy mass marketers. The social Web gives consumers a remarkable platform for sharing our experiences with dodgy marketers and facilitating collective and public responses to those marketers. How we should frame those responses is another debate and I don’t think I have nailed that one yet but a collective response may be the more effective way of pushing back against these practices.