The consumer will see you now

Recently Forrester reported that 67 percent of all consumers think there’s way too much advertising. A staggering 95 percent of them say that most advertising fails to be “honest and authentic.” Not surprising when you consider the majority of advertising is pretty bad.

Yet at the same time nearly half of the 450 million users on Facebook and a similar percentage of those on Twitter willingly  “follow,” “fan” or “like” brands that engage on those social networks. Contradiction? Not necessarily. It simply means that our customers and prospects want brand interaction on their terms, not ours.

Of course even in these venues a buyer doesn’t actually get to determine the frequency or relevance of the messages that appear in their streams. Instead, they can only hope that enlightened brands figure out how to stay relevant through the kind of engagement, trial and error and analytics that lead to effective conversation strategy.

Introducing the consumer-generated RFI

But what if the consumer had all the control? What if she could essentially issue digital RFI’s or RFP’s and it became a brand’s responsibility to respond?

Well, we’re probably not too far away from that happening.

Last week I met with a young company called Sendza. If you’re a marketer, Sendza claims that it “pairs high value messaging services with a clear channel for delivering advertising through voice, SMS, email, and Facebook mediums.” Marketing speak.

But if you’re a consumer, Sendza lets you issue the equivalent of an RFI, allowing you to opt-in to a brand’s messages, contents or updates simply by texting to that brand’s Sendza ID.  A user can then choose what she wants to receive – text, audio, video — and when.

Desire only messages about sales and specials? That’s what you’ll get. Want notices about sales only when they’re for a specific category of products? No problem. Prefer updates for a specific category of products but limited to those times when you’re within 100 yards of the store? Supposedly, the service can do that, too. According to the company, a marketer can customize limitless ways for a consumer to self-select the kind of messages she wants to receive.

Consider what huge grocery chains, with thousands of repeat customers, could do. Today those retailers still depend on Sunday circulars. Instead, with a platform like this, it could allow any customers with a cell phone to tell the store what day of the week she wants circular content, what product categories she wants them for, and (thanks to a Foursquare-like check in feature) even request that the grocer sends her reminders when she’s in the store. That would be a win-win situation for both parties.  The shopper gets to limit and control the flow of content and advertising; the brand spends time and money only behind messages it knows will get heeded.

And the consumer-generated RFP

In the last week I also started doing business with a company called Springpad. (disclosure: Springpad is a Mullen social media client and I’ve recently interviewed to join the company’s board.) The company’s  iPhone app is emerging as great way to save and organize virtually anything (recipes, books, products, ideas), simply by scanning a barcode, entering a location, snapping a photo, or filing by category. From your computer it also lets you “clip” a URLs, so you can collect just about anything.

Right now, Springpad lets you filter content and capture stuff you’re interested in. (In an age of too much information, we all need better filtering systems.)  But its eventual potential could be revealed as it develops into a shopping app. Save something you’re interested in – flat screen TV, camera, exercise equipment – and Springpad will send you the best prices available anywhere, alert you to deals or discounts, and deliver relevant coupons to you electronically. It’s like having a personal shopper. Or, if Sendza is like issuing an RFI, Springpad is the RFP. You announce a product you’re interested in buying, then sit back and wait for the best offers to come in.

Yet another step toward ending the long reign of interruption based marketing.

What interests me about stuff like this isn’t so much the technologies or the platforms, but the fact that both of these services represent the continued transfer of media power from the brand to the consumer. Almost daily consumers gain more of say in every brand engagement they have. From shutting those engagements off all together, to deciding if, when and on what terms they’ll occur.

For marketers, of course, the ramifications are even more significant.  It means we have to continually experiment with these new technologies. Even more importantly it calls for us to re-frame our thinking and realize that anything we do has to offer value to a consumer according to that consumer’s definition of value. The message, the device, the interaction, and the utility built into them all end up making a statement about our brand, our respect and appreciation for our customers, and our willingness to play according to the new rules.

It remains to be seen how big either Sendza or Sringpad will become. But one thing is certain. The impact of consumer control continues to loom large.

Photo by: quinn.anya

12 comments
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Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Thanks for the great links Edward. I seem to learn about more new social companies and tools from you than everyone else combined :)

Interesting debate in the comments. In my mind the difference between success and failure for Sendza will be the quality and value of the communication that brands deliver through it. It's completely incumbent on those brands to figure out the right approach to, and mix of, content that people will actually enjoy and derive benefit from receiving. Companies are definitely getting smarter about this. The questions for Sendza are - is that happening fast enough, and can they give it a nudge in the right direction?

Good luck to both these startups.
Jeremy
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..Lipstick On The Pig: BP’s Teachable Moment =-.

Howie G
Howie G

The Ad Industry combined with Media fleece brands with a lot of fuzzy math. Stuff finance guys like me hate. (I am not blind thinking things that can not be measured with real metrics/roi don't have value). Estimates from sources outside the Ad-Media Industry state that 50% of Ad spend is wasted.

I agree with the study. But my counterpoint below is why we are stuck with so much wastage in advertising. The only way often to get through clutter is to add more. Its really unfortunate. I truly think if there was a way to insert screens inside our eye lids secretly they would. lol I mean the ad industry hijacks everything always.

Sendza. I don't think it will work. Over time when you subscribe to enough advertising (and you will) it all becomes clutter. I worked on this type of business model for 2-3 months for mobile and couldn't prove its long term value. Take your email. Initially you were excited to subscribe to email contact until you entered in 500 businesses that contact you (over time this happens).

Springpad is interesting. I signed up. Haven't played around. The volume of everything goes back to the Sendza problem. I use Read It Later add on for Firefox so I can save pages without bookmarking and now I have like 500 pages saved I can't sift through.

So I agree things are changing in the way you stated. I just don't know if it will succeed in the right ways. I don't want it to be this way. Problem is 1000's of brands want to sell to all of us (sendza). And there is too many sources of content and media of interest to all of us (springpad). Weeps.

edward boches
edward boches

That scenario already exists. It's called Red Laser. I have done exactly that.

Howie G
Howie G

Coming from the Sales/CFO side I am all on board for not wasting ad money on people who don't want the ads or will buy (or give a chance to one day buying). The problem is you know very well the efforts we have to go to to dodge stuff. And we like so many brands. I mean we really do like brands as a nation. Its just such a massive volume from national brands to mom&pops in your neighborhood.

Here is a scenario that is of interest and truly embodies your change in power premise. It's coming and minus collusion which is illegal I can't see it being stopped.

I go to Best Buy (or equal) to buy a 37" Flat Screen TV I see for $900. With my I Phone (or equal) I do a quick price comparison that brings in pricing for all national chains, online and off line and local retailers. I then tell the sales person I see the same TV (or equal) for $150 on Sale 6 miles away. Match it I buy now.

We could technically do that with almost everything. What does a manager say. Your right there ready to buy? Everything becomes a haggle?

edward boches
edward boches

Agree on the email thing. Can't escape the ones I've opted into. They drive me crazy. Look, I am in the business and I don't like ads, don't open direct mail, never click on a banner and can't stand the emails that I get. (Though I do seek out great ads or good content online, and I will read a print ad if it's beautiful and well crafted.) My content is filtered via Twitter, blogs, RSS, iTunes and On Demand. So, I would use this. If Wholefoods offered this to me and I could get my email just once a week, with specials and info that I requested, it would be useful. If I could save a new camera and Springpad would send me best prices or discount, that would be great. We shouldn't write these things off so quickly. It's a quid pro quo. I only want ads that I want. Brands only want to send me ads that I'll engage with. Somehow this should be the future.

James Sherrett
James Sherrett

I'm skeptical that these active controls for consumers will catch on.

Doc Searls (a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto) has been advocating an approach called Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) for years -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vendor_Relationship_Management

It's a compelling idea that seems to make sense. But it's still obscure and too high a barrier to adoption for 99% of the world.
.-= James Sherrett´s last blog ..Consumer Generated Advertising’s Trough of Disillusionment =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Seems as easy as Tivo, bookmarking, fanning a brand and reading your email. So we shall see. And smart brands are getting it already. Appears that Sendza has lots of clients. And Springpad is already featured as a button on Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library site. Easy way to capture and remember wines.

Nitjyot
Nitjyot

All this makes me think just one thing- why don't ad agencies have a genuine research and development department. Agencies are talking about digital revamp but letting outside forces control this process.They can create these platforms themselves, and if they can't they should structure themselves to.
I remember you talking about how we have always paid photographers etc more than creatives on an episode of beancast. There are genuine ideas out there about engagement,analytics etc within the advertising community.Why don't they own these ideas and create these platforms themselves?

sara livingston
sara livingston

It will definitely be interesting to see how that pans out. Traditional agencies rarely embraced the new digital shops when a holding company brought them into the mix.

Even now, with holding companies running their own DSPs (which are really just white-labeled versions of externally developed platforms) the majority of digital media shops within that holding company are extremely slow to embrace them and many times still insist on executing their buys through individual reps as opposed to their own holding company's DSP.
.-= sara livingston´s last blog ..saralivingston: Oh print...NYTimes readership fell 16.7% in last year while USA Today dropped 11.4%.Bright spot for WSJ which rose 6.5% via @mediaweekdotcom =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Bingo. You are exactly right. The holding companies will buy them up and then try to spread across their networks. Not a bad idea, but then again, different agencies have to embrace them.

sara livingston
sara livingston

It's sad how true this is. I think another problem is that these targeting or even analytics tools are products and as a result don't specifically fall into either the creative or media bucket. This makes agencies a lot less willing to take ownership of these products and the development of them. That's very true that the majority of agencies firmly believe they are in the service business and within that model the only real way for an agency to build out a product in-house is if a large client specifically demands it/is willing to fund it.

I have a feeling what will most likely happen is agencies/holding companies will simply buy up these tech startups once they're products are proven successful, profitable, and are essentially no longer startups. This is almost akin to what happened back at the start of digital (both on the creative and media front) whereby rather than launching digital dept that weren't profitable, larger agencies waiting and instead just snatched up smaller shops.

edward boches
edward boches

That is the million dollar question, isn't it. At some agencies, Crispin, Mullen, Anomaly, others, I believe people are trying to do this. However, there are disastrous stories like Fallon's Skimmer on which they spend hundreds of thousands and recouped nothing but snickers from those in the know. It's tough. Most agencies are publicly held and have margins to maintain. So big investments in product development is tough. Others don't have enough tech in house. And finally, I think that most agencies think of themselves in the service business rather than product dev business. Perhaps they'll wake up and see some of the opportunity.