TOC Brand new management Your Turn

August 31, 2010

Writing on how Google and Verizon propose to discard net neutrality to their mutual benefit (*), Noam Cohen offers this quote from law professor Eben Moglen. "As the network does more to adapt to what commerce needs, it becomes more and more about knowing what's inside the head of the user, about what the person is doing and buying".

One may respond to this trend by deploring the taking over of our ultimate Agora by merchants. Given what original agoras were for, wouldn't such a reaction be a bit illogical? In its stead these fillips offer a two step solution, first rededicate Internet as the ultimate pneumatic network, to "merely facilitate communication and connections", then add a platform to enable interactions and negotiations, whether commercial or not, on a level field.

As Eben Moglen stresses, the gang rape of our privacy currently tilts what field there is ever more against consumers. Claiming this is as unnecessary as it is unfortunate, I often take the perspective of the individual buyer. But what do expert voices tell us on behalf of the corporate seller?

Since a while ago, I have been receiving unsollicited messages from a company by the name of Holland-Mark. This in itself conveys a lesson.

Despite the best efforts of my Internet service provider, my mailbox is clogged by spam, especially from my many suppliers who think themselves entitled to my attention when they are simply flexing their pronaocratic muscle. By law, selling me something or coercing me into giving my consent may create a relation which allows the supplier to drive drivel my way but this relation is but hollow. Using it in spite of me is what true spam is.

Unsollicited on the other hand is not the same as unwanted. Holland-Mark, a Boston consulting company specialized in marketing and brand strategy, was implicitly recommended to me by having hired Michael Troiano, whom I met two years ago and who combines candor to savvy.

What I read on the website of Holland-Mark is fairly typical. "Feelings first, then facts. In our brand strategy work, we extend that construct one step: emotion, fact, emotion" declares Chris Colbert in "the irrational truth" (**). To which, in "all hail the empowered customer", Caroline Beaulieu adds "many brands [...] have found that delivering value is more interesting and more gratifying than simply offering a service or a product" (***).

As always a bit of translation can come in handy. Take the trio brand, value, emotion. Brand is a vehicle to convey identity, the way to trumpet self-recommendations, receive third party recommendations for one's proposals and take responsibility for one's actions. Value embraces what is on offer beyond its mere listed price, up to the personal preferences of the purchaser. Emotions reflect sources of truth other than scientific facts.

Commerce is an essential part of civilized life and its self sustaining web of relationships. How could it be controversial when marketing is assigned the goal of making a brand more valuable to a consumer by appealing to his or her emotions? Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske, quoted by Paul Tyrrell (****), wrote about selling consumers "demonstrably superior and pleasingly different" products. I do not need one myself but I can see the point of the "Perfect Pencil" by Faber-Castell, with its platinum-plated cap. Pen it down, satisfactory human relationships are built on giving pleasure.

They can also be deformed. In a paean to marketers (*****), Peter York admits some "had described marketing, and especially advertising, as manipulative and dishonest". Whether he had the Marlboro Man (1) or Fabulous Fab in mind is secondary. This fillip focuses on Internet.

Putting marketers' ethics aside, Peter York then sees the new marketing challenge in how to tackle "a [...] confusing world of fragmented, "long tail" markets and demanding, disloyal, "brand me" consumers". Echoing Caroline Baulieu's "empowered consumers", this implied attack on the other party is a Freudian slip. Marketers seem to feel the same insecurity faced by bachelors when arranged marriages cease to be the social norm.

Nursing insecurities is not the best way to develop long lasting relationships. More positively Mike Troiano promotes social marketing as an opportunity to keep the brand in touch with the consumer when not engaged in the act of buying. Internet makes it easier but not that easy. Companionable silence can be hard to maintain if you feel insecure. Consistent behavior, so essential to one's identity, constrains one's freedom.

The trap is to forget no relationship exists if not mutual. In its absence calling a consumer disloyal would be childish. This is where modern marketing misses the boat. Consumers are no better off than marketers. Why else does Tim Bradshaw describe "the user interface that will enable viewers to find what they want amid a theoretically limitless range of content" as "one of the thorniest problems" of Internet aware television (******)?

On a market where both brands and consumers are at a mutual loss, brands too eager to take a chance contact for a relationship risk spouting spam. In Chris Colbert's model, they let their own emotions run ahead of the facts. Even worse, in their desperation for new contacts, they fall for the self confident credos of universal recommenders and pay to access their promised land of perfect profiles and persistent stalking.

Relying on recommenders to trigger relationships, taking the initiative when targets are passive are age old practices of marriage markets. But one can see the paradox. While to know "what's inside the head" of someone with whom you share a relationship is a natural consequence, to learn it by stealth ahead of time in order to force yourself into a new relationship has always been viewed with suspicion, if not as downright repellent.

Seduction sells, you say. Faust got his Gretchen. But how can one manage a brand when its value has already been debased at the first purchase?

The only winner in this game is Mephistopheles. "Facebook is now worth as much as $33.7bn based on secondary market transactions" writes David Gelles (*******). As for Google, it will capture whatever value is left in a brand by selling its very name to parasites as a keyword.

Commerce does not bend the network to its needs. Network intermediaries enslave commerce in an endless chain of fake consumer relationships.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ............. Internet Proposal From Google and Verizon Raises Fears for Privacy, by Noam Cohen (New York Times) - August 16, 2010
  • (**) ........... The Irrational Truth, by Chris Colbert (Holland-Mark blog) - August 5, 2010
  • (***) ......... All hail the empowered customer, by Caroline Beaulieu (Holland-Mark blog) - August 23, 2010
  • (****) ....... Aristocratic family writes the next chapter in its history with 'perfect' pencils, by Paul Tyrrell (Financial Times) - August 27, 2010
  • (*****) ..... Total penetration, by Peter York (Financial Times) - August 28, 2010
  • (******) ... Britain's Project Canvas, by Tim Bradshaw (Financial Times) - August 25, 2010
  • (*******) . Facebook's 'value' soars as investors seek pre-IPO stake, by David Gelles (Financial Times) - August 25, 2010
  • (1) for more details, read about the Marlboro Man in the wikipedia
August 2010
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