Marketing has become Anti-Social

A different angle of view on
Big Data, Tracking, Re-Targeting, Social Graph and Predictive Marketing

More or less we have all heard about Stalkers already. People who chase their favourite Superstars, call their secret phone numbers or unexpectedly show up in their bedrooms in 5-star hotels or even in their own private mansions or apartments. And while people stalking Superstars can hope for global recognition of their behaviour thanks to the Yellow Press, millions of non-superstar-status victims of stalking go unnoticed worldwide — unless the victim gets burned or showered with an acid liquid which makes their attackers “newsworthy”.

I am not a medical doctor and not a therapist but I feel safe to say that by any means we can call this kind of behaviour mentally sick and people behaving like this usually get called insane in the every day language use of ordinary people.

Everybody reading this posting right now — most likely with the exception of those who have stalked someone or do stalk a person at this very moment — will agree that stalking is anti-social and that those who turn other people’s lives into some kind of living hell do deserve judicial punishment and even to be locked away for the safety of society as well as for their own, given the fact that their insane, anti-social behaviour might result in violent defence by the victim.

Professional Stalking:
A growing Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry

So lets get plain down to the point:

Targeted advertising is professional stalking!

In what some call “The Age of Social Business”, where a company’s social responsibility, its social clout, its recommendation by employees do matter more than ever, one of the fastest growing businesses is that of professionally stalking prospects, customers and former customers on the Internet, in the hope of closing a deal or renewing relevance.

In the name of quarterly Exec-Bonuses and the bonuses of their subordinates, which are tied to reaching the goals of socialist-style, centrally planned economic targets, Online Marketers assault on people wherever they can find them. And most of us these days are found on the Internet.

On Facebook companies can target people with their ads on the platform through email-addresses, phone-numbers, home addresses and a whole industry agrees that this is “cool”. All one has to do is hand such data to Facebook and the rest is as easy as One-Two-Three. And with Facebook having no idea if the data they are being handed is rightfully in the hands of that company and whether that one possesses each persons’ permission to use that data for advertising or not ,it becomes a no-brainer to use data obtained from third parties selling direct marketing data to target potential buyers. Admittingly this is less targeted (in the cookie-sense of the term) but still targeted if the data-selection was based on segmentation.

And yes, everybody is quick to point out that it is impossible for Facebook to check on this and that they can not be blamed for running a business process which does lack technical verification options to protect interests of users. In the end in fact users will be “happy” to see ads and “valuable” content from companies which match their interests and who are genuinely interested in establishing a business relation with them.

Bur think of all those many sites asking you for your Email address in order to get a White-Paper. While companies (or their ad agencies for that matter) using such a targeting service will say that their content and ads are relevant to the person, for he or she interacted with that company already, one can easily counter-argue that
a) if the company would have proven relevant for the person targeted he or she would have bought already from them or will do so in the future without the ads or additional content and
b) that this very person never knew or agreed to his or her contact-info being used for track-down on facebook (or other platforms).

Refusing the facts is totally human

Apart from the obvious issue of personal-data-safety and abuse, which does have a different level of meaning for people throughout the world, we do have a fascinating thing going on:

While we all agree that someone unexpectedly showing up in your bedroom in the middle of the night after having seen your picture in a magazine is mentally sick, then why does a whole industry (or at least the very vast majority of the 99 percent) consider it fine to show up on someone’s Facebook page while they chat with friends sitting on their bed in undies?

Is it because showing up as an ad is less personal than standing in that person’s room and cheering aloud for a product or service? Or is it because any banner would show up there but at least yours is more “relevant”? In any case, when reading a magazine in bed do not also ads appear to people in pyjamas? And are people not used to see ads everywhere? (or ignore them I would like to add)

What is it that video walls which can recognize the faces of the people passing by and display “relevant” ads according to age and gender do excite only slightly less than having huge digital walls flash out ads based on GPS data from devices and “interests” of those passing by in cars, buses, on bikes or by foot? Why can’t advertisers wait to “see” who is standing in front of the shop-window through facial recognition software and to lure them into shops by sending a coupon onto their their mobile device or of offer to buy right from the window with no walking in and home-delivery within a pre-selected time frame — of course free of charge?

Is there a natural desire to stalk strangers within the advertising community or generally people working in Marketing? Or have they been caught by a tech-virus which offers stalking and all the pleasures of success in rising KPIs while remaining anonymous?

Why is stalking not called stalking when it is stalking? Why is the sheer thought of Online Advertising having turned into stalking constantly met with denial? A rhetorical question of course. Truth is: As long as there is denial there is no need to even think about change.

Doing nothing wrong
does not mean you do right

Of course there is legally nothing wrong with most current forms of targeted advertising, re-targeting and adding data from third parties to gain more insight into customers is a daily routine. Heck, it was a daily routine to do so much before anybody had invented or heard of the term “Big Data”. And if doing so is prohibited in one jurisdiction then a tiny paragraph in an 18,000 character long “agreement on terms of services and conditions” will just state that personal data may be shifted into another jurisdiction where there is more of an “anything goes” mentality.

Customer data and databases have been used to conduct analysis from clustering to factors analysis or simple regression trials for decades. Trying to identify what a customer with a certain combination of financial service contracts may be likely to buy, too, is standard process in the financial services industry.

“Predictive Marketing” is just another “new” name and seemingly a step into the future where “the right” moment to advertise or communicate is found, because businesses now identify a need before the need itself surfaces in the customer’s mind (at least that’s what they think they do). But in reality it is nothing more than selling the feeling of false security to fearful Marketers whose nightmares circle about not being there in the “Moment of Truth” when a decision is being taken or a purchase is being made. But is stalking the way forward?

Look at how many people already do use Ad-Blockers and you can actually see how relevant their users consider ads of any kind — either banners, GoogleAds or Facebook ads. How many Video Ads on YouTube have you genuinely watched (for non-professional reasons) and not clicked on “skip ad”? Yes, less than half of the internet population use Ad-Blockers but not everybody does understand that these tools do exist and work.

Imagine yourself stuck in the age of Social Business
and everybody having an image of your company
as having the social competence
and the anti-social behaviour
of a stalker.

Imagine yourself stuck in the age of Social Communication without people daring to give you their contact information. Indeed people leave purchasing processes when being asked for certain data or to sign up for a “customer communication and care centre”! Loads of money are spent on re-targeting those lost almost-customers instead of wondering what was too much asked for during the “user journey”. And when thinking of that “user journey” it is again Big Data people look at, not basic common sense.

And no it is not because Big Data provides better insight and results. It seems that where people deny the stalking nature of their business they also lack the ability (aka social competence) to critically look at their processes and the behaviour they show (or conceal) throughout the user journey.

The denial goes as far as replacing the basic social competence of the Marketer with data-analysis. But the choice to abandon a cart is not an analytical one. Human decisions are 50 percent emotional and 20 percent free will (rough number across all global cultures). Analytics will not deliver the full answer for they do not embrace the whole question. When was the last time you won the heart AND mind of a woman or man you were in love with using Big Data and analytics?

Social Competence is a competitive USP

A company can write a dozen pages about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in its quarterly and annual reports. But that does not matter much in the Social Business world (especially when you still have animals dying from your last oil spill while conducting a green-energy tournament; then companies turn to PR and hope that the College Students will just behave within the PR norm and do not care about anything outside the tournament since they got hand-picked and want to get a job with you later on).

Companies get judged increasingly by whether they act like a socially responsible neighbour. Just as much as people judge their friends and relatives by their behaviour, by their attitudes, ethics, values and social behaviour and not their words, they will more and more judge companies, businesses and the people working for them by the company’s actions, social engagement, and the business conduct executed by that very company.

The times are over where people could hide behind the claim that it is the company and not them doing what the company does. They are the company and can choose to influence or not to influence what goes on around them. So a Marketer of a company engaged in stalking activities may show up at a social gathering only to find himself ignored largely by others because his company is a stalker. Or he or she may spend the Friday evening defending his company and himself against the bitter arguments raised by those wishing to create a fuzz, just because they feel like taking their negative energy out on someone. Do you really want to be that someone?

If you answer yes to this question, then I guess you would also want to be the one suddenly standing in the bedroom of your ex-girlfriend or any celebrity in the middle of the night asking them for a favour — like an autograph or their undies. But think of this:

In times where products are largely the same and design is more a question of patents and PR rather than usability what can really differentiate a business for the other one? Well of course it is social competence! Nothing is as complex as social interaction. Social conduct is among the most difficult things even in a world where everything is being called acceptable in the name of tolerance. Especially in such a world where common norms are missing, social competence is making a difference in conduct — where it is individuals or corporations. Indeed there are so many aspects to social behaviour that even in tight competitive markets the social competence of a company can remain so unique as to clearly differentiate it form others.

If you love somebody set them free

Sometimes I do wonder if Marketing people watch too few movies or not the “right” ones. Think of “Groundhog Day” for example, a movie where Bill Murray wakes up every moring and it is the same day as the day before. And while just a hand full of information gathered one day gets him a steamy date with a pretty blonde the very next same day not even a thousand attempts and all the Big Data he can gather about the character played by Andy McDowell gets him anywhere near to the beginning of a truthful and meaningful relationship.

And there is a key learning factor for Marketers in this: How relevant could you ever be for someone you do stalk and collect data and information about? Maybe for the moment you do have their attention or even a short-term moment of success. But in a social context spoken:

How much wanting for interaction do you create through stalking? How much of a positive influence are you in that other person’s life? How much desire do you create within the other person to establish contact or a meaningful relationship with you? How much desire do you create to form a lasting relationship with you?

If you tell me that all of this is irrelevant because it is about business then you are not ready for the social business world. Plus you miss the fact that your customer is a social being with a free will and — sorry folks — unpredictable emotions.

If your answer to the above questions is: “None”, then you are on the way of understanding Social Business. Social Business is rather more like a love-affair, like grooming for a mate not like a buy-and-sale, pay-as-you-go exchange of money for a product or service. And no, its not like a shoot-and-forget one-night-love-affair either!

Social Business means you need to create a positive atmosphere around yourself that you have to be authentic, honest and reliable. Anything you expect from your best friend is what will be expected from your company, from you, from every employee in the social business world. Once that world has fully evolved your business will be “indeed the friend in need” or be slowly driven out of the market.

And don’t you worry: Just like you get the phone-number of a pretty lady or a nice guy if you behave right you will also get the permission and the personal data of customers and prospects — if you behave correctly that is. You just get so much more from people when you let them express their free will rather than trying to create or force a choice by looking the best in the “moment of truth”.

The labour of love

Sounds like a lot of work and moreover like a lot of costs?

Well, if you are a controller you should understand that doing business always inherits costs. Business is not about saving money or not spending it. Business is about spending it rightly. And with the change of markets and consumer behaviour, companies have to change and to adapt to the new situation. And in all honesty: If being kind, nice, caring and purposeful is something hard for you, something you have to learn, then professional business where you encounter customers is not where you should actually be.

Lets put it like this: What we have ahead of us is the time of real true gentlemen and purposeful ladies. If you have no idea how ladies and gentlemen act in professional life, you may like to pay a visit to a Ritz-Carlton hotel, to experience the service by their ladies and gentlemen. They have a wonderful credo since their early days:”We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

While I am afraid their very own Online Marketing or Marketing in general may not fully meet these standards any longer because even they are subject to sales-people trying to sell them re-targeting and BigData, the company yet is far ahead in its readiness for socially competent customer interaction and Social Business. Because to be able to conduct Social Business and to create and keep meaningful customer relationships one needs what Bill Murray does display in “Groundhog Day” at the end: The ability to create something out of who you are yourself, not who others are.

If your company is not drilled to go for a triathlon every day to establish and nurture a respectful relationship, if you not have the stamina to make that journey to your customer and prospect without stalking them but by being yourself then you are Toast in tomorrow’s Social Business World because everybody is happy to get rid of a stalker. Pretty much anybody you get when trading in a stalker is better than a stalker. No one relates to or stays faithful to a stalker.

And maybe, just maybe customer loyalty keeps hitting all-time lows for decades now because people got fed up with stalkers and replace one stalker with another one just as they gone and go. For NOBODY likes to surround himself or herself with anti-social people.

NOBODY wants a stalker in their life — I bet not even people working in Marketing!

The Original Version of this Blog Post was published by me in 2012 at

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