At the Dachis Social Business Summit, one of the presenters, from Forrester, showed off their notion of the Always-Addressable Customer - combining geolocation and mobile to tailored marketing-messages.
The presenter was clearly excited about it, and the two examples she showed – use of near-field communication and RFID tags to trigger matched messages in mobile – were impressive both in terms of technology, and potential for user-experience and the like.
Yep, looks a lovely idea, in theory, and from a marketer-oriented perspective. And it clearly works, at the prototype level. In fact it can, would, and does, work well for small, precisely-targeted one-off marketing-stunts with willing participants who want to join in the fun.
But beyond that, it’s exactly how not to do social-business.
Why? (Or why not, rather?)
A whole stream of reasons, really – in fact my stomach churned and my temper rose the further we went through the presentation – but from an enterprise-architecture perspective I’d say the chief reasons are these.
First, bandwidth. From a technical perspective, this is the real ‘deal-killer’ for this idea right now. I don’t know why, but far too many people seem to forget that bandwidth is not ‘free’: there are all manner of huge hidden costs there – in many different senses of ‘cost’ – in data-centres, infrastructure, mast-construction, NIMBYism around mast-location and so on. And when we start throwing serious amounts of data around – as would certainly be the case in anything involving an ‘always-addressable customer’ – then those costs mount up alarmingly.
The next question is an obvious one: who carries those bandwidth-costs? On one side, it’s the cellphone service-providers. In case you’re wondering why your cellphone-provider suddenly changed your previously ‘unlimited’ data-plan to a definitely-limited one a year or so ago, the answer is bandwidth. It wasn’t that much of a problem for the providers when only the early-adopters were eating bandwidth, but it soon ceased to be manageable when everyone else started to join in: the current technologies simply can’t take the load. And the big bandwidth-eaters are video and geolocation – exactly the two items that any would-be marketer to the ‘always-addressable customer’ would most want to use. Sure, the technologies will probably improve over time: but right there, right now, it’s a definite deal-killer.
The cellphone-providers shunt their costs on to their subscribers – which means that your putative ‘always-addressable customer’ will be carrying the download-costs for your advertising. How popular do you reckon that’s going to be? It’s bearable when people want to be involved in your marketing-story, and overall it only happens rarely; but if every darn marketer wants to dive in, the costs will soon become unmanageable even for the most enthusiastic participant – and most people won’t and don’t want to engage anyway (a point we’ll come back to in a moment). If the only way that your ‘always-addressable customer’ can manage their bandwidth-costs is to turn off all geolocation-services and video-services, you’re not going to be popular… And neither are you going to be popular with the huge numbers of unwilling participants to whom your wonderfully-crafted advertising-message is just one more item of expensive unwanted spam that they are being forced to pay for: a really quick way to create vast numbers of anti-clients. Hmm… not such a good idea, perhaps?
Next, social-business is ‘pull’, not ‘push’. Classic marketing is ‘push‘, an ‘inside-out’ perspective: “I have this whatever-it-is to sell, who can I find to sell it to?” It’s often called a ‘numbers-game’: grab everyone’s attention, whether they want to or not, in the hope of getting a few sales from someone somewhere. It’s the basic business-model of spam-emails and the like, and the blunt reality is that everyone (other than perhaps a few self-deluded marketers?) absolutely hates it. Even the presenter admitted that the aim of the notion of the ‘always-addressable customer’ was as a means to reach the ‘advertising-averse’ market-segments – yet somehow fails to consider why they were ‘advertising-averse’…
As illustrated by those other presenters at Social Business Summit who did get it, social-business – and hence social-marketing – is the opposite way round: it’s based on ‘pull‘, an ‘outside-in’ perspective. It’s based on an awareness that business-relationships are multi-dimensional and multi-directional: there are no ‘consumers’, or ‘customers’, but instead everyone is a co-creator and partner in a broader shared-enterprise (described via an ‘outside-out’ perspective). The business-dynamics, power-dynamics and market-dynamics are all radically-different from those in ‘push’-marketing: for example, it’s not simply ‘opt-in’ versus ‘opt-out’, but active-engagement versus passive ‘consumption’ (or, more likely, passive-resistance).
The notion of the ‘always-addressable customer’ is essentially a ‘push’ model attempting to hijack people’s attention via channels that are, in effect, designed for ‘pull’ – and that’s a really good way to annoy a lot of people, very quickly indeed. In short, if you’re a marketer with anything resembling any awareness of anything other than the immediate moment, that’s exactly what you don’t want to do – for the simple reason that it kills your market, especially in the longer-term.
And to put it in the bluntest personal terms, do you want to be treated as someone else’s ‘always-addressable customer’? Very unlikely, is the honest answer. So just stop right there: don’t do it! Use social-media only for what they’re designed for: social interaction as personal choice.
If you’re going to ignore this, take a look at what the life of your ‘always-addressable customer’ would really look like, in a world of ‘push’-marketing gone mad [Vimeo: Flash video]:
Is this what you really want, for yourself, your family, for everyone else? If not, it’s time to recognise that notions such as ‘the always-addressable customer’ are exactly how not to do social-business. Time to think again, perhaps?