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Church vs State and the emerging privacy battle June 16, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in B2B Media.

In print, the separation of editorial (Church) from advertising (State) has always been pretty clear. Online it can get more blurry and that raises heated debate between guardians of editorial integrity and the folks trying to keep the revenues from tanking. I am a business guy, but my instinct is that the editorial integrity guys are right.

However, the IntelliTXT ads are relatively innocuous compared to the temptations B2B Media will be facing soon related to privacy. As a reader you are not visible to the advertiser. This anonymity is reassuring. (You can ignore those IntelliTXT ads or even get an extension to block them if it really bugs you). Anonymity is great for readers, but is also why Sam Wanamaker famously said “50% of advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50%”. Because he knew something worked he, like every brand-builder, kept on spending. The trouble is, Google has now made this measurable. We can tell precisely what works and what does not work and tune our spend accordingly.

At least your click is still anonymous. Or is it? The technology is making it possible to deliver the “who with the click”. This is hitting us from all directions. Look at how Google got slammed recently for their privacy policies because people who think about this stuff get seriously spooked by the amount of data Google aggregates and what they could do with it. Look at how Behavioral Targeting companies such as Tacoda aggregate click data from thousands of sites who can then target with similar precision to Google (while paying a toll to Tacoda of course). Look at TechTarget which amazed everybody in the B2B Media industry by raising $100m for a technology media play in the depths of the technology nuclear winter and are now poised for an IPO. Their simple value proposition is lead generation, not anonymous.

Why is this happening? Firstly the technology now makes this possible. We are still at the early stages of what is possible (anybody who says “don’t worry its still anonymous” is not seeing the technical trends line). More importantly it is happening because the other marketing push tools are getting closed down. Can Spam, do Not Call, Do Not Mail make it very hard to get your product to market the old-fashioned ways. At the same time social networks let individuals connect directly without an intermediary collecting a toll.

So there is a tremendous hunger to make lead generation work online from both sides. B2B Media, hemmed between declining print revenues, the hard ROI of Google and the dis-intermediation offered by social networks, will be very tempted to offer their subscribers directly to their advertisers. The advertisers/vendors, hemmed in by Do Not Contact Me Regulation, will respond eagerly to any viable lead generation channel. When both sides want to make it happen, something usually happens.

The question is, what do your audience think about this? What do you think about this when you are the audience (as opposed to the publisher or the advertiser?As the old joke goes, B2B Media can see the light (online lead generation) at the end of the tunnel (of declining print revenue) but it may be another train coming (the privacy backlash).

There is a way for B2B Media to deliver the value of their audience in a highly targeted way without hitting the privacy backlash, but it will not be easy as it will involve bringing all of their channels together and that will take some serious silo busting. The deep audience data from the print magazine controlled circulation file needs to be available online, real time so that any action that implies interest or intent can trigger an invitation to connect via an Event, probably initially an online event.

The key word is “invitation”. The user controls when they want to connect. I believe that if vendors connect the potential buyer with the right level in their company, they will want to make the connection. If I am the CIO and I can connect with the CTO of a start-up where I have already researched the material, read the CTO’s blog and I believe that their technology could make a real difference to my business, then I will want to make the connection. That is a valuable connection for which the Media company can be well paid. Would that same CIO give his details to get a White Paper to then get called by a sales guy who may not know that much? On the other hand the CTO does not want to talk to a researcher from another vendor or a junior person or from a company that they are not targeting.

This is not simple to pull off. It is technically quite complex but more importantly it requires all the parts of a B2B Media company to pull in the same direction to hit a long term strategic goal and that is hard when the day to day pressures are intense.

However unless traditional media pulls in this direction, it is possible that a start-up using the principles of Attention Trust will fundamentally change the rules of the game. Today the Attention Trust players all look rather theoretical, but the principles are totally right and some day fairly soon somebody will launch a product that has a compelling end user proposition that embodies these principles.

Google Earth Street View brought home (literally) to a lot of people the spooky power of this data. The fact that such power could be used by terrorists got a lot of people’s attention. Other people worry about a government run by people who seem less than concerned with citizen’s privacy. I saw a friend today wearing a trendy T shirt that looked like the communist hammer and sickle and I said “watch out, in Dick Cheney’s America, some kid may be poised with his finger on a predator button asking for permission to fire” and he said he was not worried because the system probably ran on Windows and would miss.

However counting on bad software to safeguard our privacy is clutching at a pretty flimsy straw.



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