Tracking The Trackers

Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day, another web site (well, portal in this case) comes out in favor of ignoring the express wishes of its user base.

AOL‘s new privacy policy states that it will not honor the do-not-track requests that users send through their browsers. I’ve written about this before and as someone who is very customer-focused, I can’t understand this decision.

Here is how one of the companies (the Network Advertising Initiative) administering a Do Not Track program explains it:

NAI members are committed to transparency and choice. The NAI opt-out tool was developed in conjunction with our members for the express purpose of allowing consumers to “opt out” of the Interest-Based Advertising delivered by our members…Following an opt out, (members)… cease collecting and using data from across web domains owned or operated by different entities for the purpose of delivering advertising based on preferences or interests known or inferred from the data collected (Interest Based Advertising or IBA).

Pretty clear.  The  browser you’re using right now probably offers do-not-track headers, which tell publishers and ad networks that you don’t want to be tracked. But the header doesn’t actually prevent tracking. Instead, ad networks and publishers are free to ignore the signals. Of course, when you combine users opting in to the do not track program with them setting their browser to tell sites that they do not wished to be tracked, you’d have to be pretty dumb not to get the message.  Yet of all the hundreds of sites out there, only 21 have committed to implement this program and only 2 (Twitter and Pinterest) are what I would consider major sites.

In AOL’s case, as is the case with Yahoo and damn near every other publisher, they get the message.  They’re just ignoring it.  They use excuses like “no one else is honoring them” or “the standards aren’t set yet for what can and can’t be tracked.” I read that as “our business interests supersede your desire not to receive targeted ads.”  This is short-sighted and will, I believe, result in more users doing as I do:  blocking analytics, ads, and everything else publishers use to make the content they offer better for the user.

As someone who works with clients to make money off of their digital efforts I know how vital data is.  I grew up in the ad business so I support free content paid for by your attention to ads.  But the value exchange needs to be transparent.  I think there is a huge potential for backlash as what and how users are being tracked, as well as what’s done with their data, reaches the mainstream.  What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Overdrawn

One of the best parts of managing a lot of people over the years has been watching them develop, even after our places of employment diverge. The bankI am still in contact with quite a few of the folks with whom I worked and from time to time they’ll reach out to say hi.

Once in a while, one of them will need career advice or maybe even help in getting a job. Sometimes I can provide nothing more than a shoulder to lean on, a sounding board and a few words to provide prospective. Other times I can be more active since they may be interviewing with someone I know.

Why I bring this up today is  exactly that happened recently. A kid I hired as an intern many years ago grew into a competent professional and through a series of circumstance he was out of work for a bit. He heard of a job working with another person whom I had also started in the business. I was happy to put them together since I think they’re both good at what they do and would enjoy a good working relationship. One thing led to another and the job was his.

Here is the thing.  Did I find that out from the guy I’d helped?  Nope.  I heard it from his new boss.  Have I heard from the guy I helped?  Nope, although he did post his new gig on social media, thanking all of the people who had put up with him while he was unemployed.  Am I angry?  Not a bit, perhaps other than at myself for not having done a better job of training him.  So let me use the opportunity to do so here since I believe he reads the screed once in a while.

One of the last things anyone wants to be is the person who only calls when they need something.  Even worse is the person who fails to express their appreciation for the effort you made on their behalf and who fails to keep you in the loop.  Each of those can be written off as bad manners but that’s way too simple.  Asking for help – which every one of us does from time to time – is a withdrawal from our karmic bank accounts.  Saying thanks is making a deposit back into the account and without them our accounts become overdrawn fairly quickly.

I hope the new gig works out for a number of reasons.  First, I endorsed the candidacy.  Second, I like both of the guys involved.  Third, if it doesn’t for whatever reason, I’m going to have to tell someone who may come back for more help that their account is overdrawn.  Maybe that’s harsh on my part.  So be it.

Thoughts?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Anything Worth Doing…

There was an expression my friends and I used to use when we were much younger and not quite as smart.

Times Square signs at night

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, we were dumb. The expression was that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Boy were we wrong. Unfortunately, while we seemed to learn the fallacy of the phrase, many people and brands haven’t.

What’s brought this rant on are a few things. First is the ALS ice bucket challenge, which is absolutely something worth doing. It’s raising awareness of, and a lot of money to do research on the causes of and cure for, a horrible disease. That said, I can’t look at any piece of media – social or otherwise – without someone dumping a bucket of ice water over their head. At some point I wonder if meaning of the challenge gets lost.

Think about how many clever “instant” ads followed on the heels of the famous Oreo tweet during the Super Bowl power outage. By the time of the World Cup last month, when Luis Suarez bit an opponent on the pitch, many companies fired off clever ads (let’s be real – they’re ads!) almost immediately. In fact, Snickers earned a total of 15 million impressions within seconds. While Snickers and a few others stood out, many of the brand messages fell into the abyss.  Overdoing? It felt like it in the aggregate.

There is a daily newsletter I find valuable.  I get the mailing and then 20 minutes later I get it again – same mailbox, same mailing – even though I’d already read it and moved on.  It’s less valuable when it’s just clutter and overdone.

Where I come out is this:  marketing (which is worth doing) is not worth overdoing.  It needs to be focused, it needs to add value, and it needs to drive your business objectives in the context of the consumer’s needs.  People are overwhelmed with messages – don’t waste their time with content that’s irrelevant to them.

Was that overdone?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

Dirty Hands

Foodie Friday and this week I want to talk about two of my favorite kitchen tools.  You already own them and you’re probably not using them as much as you should while cooking.  I’m talking about your hands.  I’m not talking about using them to hold a knife or any other kitchen implement.  I mean using them to touch and feel ingredients and dishes as you go.  Yes, it means getting them dirty and this is why I generally cook with a towel tucked into my waistband – I’m constantly washing them.  But let me explain why you should be getting your hands dirtier more often.

I’m thinking specifically about pasta dough.  Many people dump the flour, oil, salt and eggs into a mixer and once the ingredients are combined they’ll switch to a dough hook to knead the dough.  That’s less effective than using your hands.  The warmth of your hands helps to develop the gluten and unless you are checking the dough constantly there is no way to tell when it had reached the right consistency (it should feel like Playdoh, by the way).  You can’t feel if it’s too grainy or too dry without working it by hand for a bit.

There is no better tool for mixing ingredients together in a bowl than a hand.  You can feel for pockets of ingredients that haven’t combined evenly and it’s almost impossible to mix together a meatloaf or form meatballs without using your hands to do so.  It’s an important business point too.

You can’t manage a business without tools but you must get your hands dirty as well.  I have worked with managers who considered their staff to be a set of tools that would do the work efficiently and they were right for the most part.  However, they never got their hands dirty by getting deeply into the work and two things would happen.  The first was that their staff came to see them as detached and aloof.  The second was that they had no feel for things.  Like the pasta dough, the only way to assess how things are developing is to get your hands into the work.

Anyone who claims they’re a cook and has long fingernails isn’t getting their hands into the food often enough (or is making people sick!).  Any manager who sits behind a closed door and reads reports isn’t getting their hands dirty either (which might make the business sick).   How dirty are your hands?

 

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Cheerleaders

It’s getting to be the weekend again which means that many of you will be watching sports.

Cheerleader of the Aachen Steelers team at the...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s your local baseball team, maybe it’s one of your kids, or maybe it’s one of the many hours of televised sports that will be available.  The reason sports rights fees continue to rise so dramatically despite the continued fragmentation of audiences is because the market sees sports as one of the few pieces of content that really must be watched as it happens.  They’re sort of DVR-proof.

That’s part of the secret but the real truth is that sports make people care.  There is an emotional connection with the team or with a player.  If you ever played a sport I suspect there is a part of you that feels the excitement of competition again as well.  Fans are cheerleaders and maybe even more.  Some researchers have found that fans experience hormonal surges and other physiological changes while watching games.  The emotional connection is strong because, to a certain extent, whomever you root for represents you.  When they win, you do too.

That got me thinking.  How do we bring that deep connection outside of sports? How do we get them to see themselves not so much as buying products but rather belonging to a larger movement?  Apple certainly has done that.  Some mom and pop local businesses manage to do that as well.  The get their customers to root for them as they would a sports team.  Those teams are a central component to their daily lives.  How can we make our brands play that kind of role?

It certainly isn’t by selling.  When your team takes the field, they sweat and get hurt for you to win.  Are we making consumers feel that we’d do the same thing for them, or are we constantly asking them to do something for us?  How can we turn customers into cheerleaders? Something to think about.

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

Critics Vs. Trolls

Any of us who work in and around marketing understand that to a large extent consumers control our brands these days.

Troll in Trondheim

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ask any company that’s run into difficulty with its image due to a social media faux pas or to some bad consumer experience that’s gone viral and they’ll tell you.  I think that brands lay the groundwork – they shape the experience but ultimately consumers are the ones who refine that groundwork into the image the world at large has of a brand.

Given that, and given the need for brands to participate in the social world, they’re going to encounter people who have had either a less than optimal interaction with the brand or who just don’t like whatever it is that the brand is selling/doing.  Those people might use the social tools to let the world know about it since as we know it’s the less happy people who tend to lead brand discussions and not usually the staunch brand advocates (until they’re prompted somehow).  I think it’s important that the recipients of the criticism differentiate between the two main types of people who offer it up:  critics and trolls.  They need to be dealt with differently.

Critics tend to express their displeasure in a thought-out, rational way.  They usually have facts at their disposal and will listen both to other facts and promises to rectify whatever it is that irked them in the first place.  Think of a restaurant review – maybe they just didn’t like the food – that’s opinion.  Or maybe the food arrived cold and slowly – those are facts and problems which can be fixed.  Critics help brands make themselves better.

Trolls, on the other hand, tend to be deliberately inflammatory.  They are not trying to help fix anything – they just want people to respond, start flame wars, and get their jollies this way.  They usually lack facts, they usually direct personal attacks as part of their rants, and harassment and stupidity are the cesspools in which they live.

What does one do?  As we said the other day, you must respond to them both.  Don’t do so by attacking them.  Get your facts straight, point out opinions (which you respect) from facts, and accept that the critics might help you get better.  Trolls go away when no one takes their bait.  Good critics acknowledge improvement and it’s fair to reach out to them once you’ve fixed whatever was wrong.  Our constant focus on the customer means we need to allow them to help us get better even as we continue to shape the brand we want them to see.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Uncategorized

Five Minutes Off

I don’t know how any of you feel about Robin Williams.  I think he was a genius.  His mind had another gear that most of us lack.  Find the video of almost any interview he did and you can see it at work.

I don’t have any business insights to post today and I thought that instead I’d put up what I consider one of his funniest, most brilliant bits.  It also happens to be on a topic we do cover in this space from time to time: golf.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more of the usual drivel.  Today, take five minutes off and watch a genius at work.  We’re all a little worse off with his voice silenced.

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Filed under Uncategorized