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

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 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.

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 --

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 =-.


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?