Monday, April 9, 2012

The Emperor Wants Clothes

We used to have an assumption that is the digital world we remained cloaked – almost anonymous – unless we choose to reveal ourselves, and even then we were able to invent a self of our choosing. Not anymore.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, everyone now knows that as we rummage around in the virtual world, our digital trail is soon followed: What we do, where we go, who we are, and what we think can all be discovered and refactored with unnerving ease. Our online selves are laid bare.

Us marketing types are very happy with this situation. We like naked consumers who cavort online as if well-dressed, because this unrequited intimacy allows us to target them very effectively. Knowledge is always powerful, and in marketing circles the manifold details we can gather online make us giddy with excitement about how we can tailor loving entreaties the better to woo prospects.

The whole thing is a parody of the old children’s story of the Emperor’s Clothes, expect that in this version the Emperor is starting to demand we give him his old wardrobe back.

Punters know they’re being digitally stripped searched and they’re not thrilled.  They want some protection, some dignity, some rights. Enter Do Not Track. As early as 2007 the US Federal Trade Commission was approached about creating a “do not track” list, similar to the “do not call” lists that exists to suppress telephone solicitations. Over time, a more practical, technical solution has become favored: The implementation of a HTML header field that automatically signals a user’s willingness to allow tracking. This is a small step in the inevitable direction of giving consumers more rights to privacy, but it may not be enough to placate regulatory bodies like the FTC or EU regulators.

So, what do we marketing types do when the Emperor has robes again? More permission-based marketing is one outcome. A reliance on cultivating trust and a relationship with prospects is another. Certainly, the crutch of unfettered access to consumer information may soon be gone.