Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Space Invasion -- in Reverse!

The problem with blazing new trails through uncharted territory is Space Invasion. I'm not talking about the online game, I'm referring to my space, the stuff I don't want certain people invading. I'm talking about the stuff that I should control -- not you!

The time as come. You've realized your dream. That property in the mountains that you bought years ago finally has a structure on it that you can spend most of your time calling home. You're able to enjoy the fruits of your labors and sleep in -- past 6 AM. If a neighbor (or, even better, your in-laws) wants to visit, they call first to make sure you are home.

And then you get your first piece of junk mail. No big deal, you think. Just something more for the recycling bin (or the fire-starter pile). You expected a few enterprising people would locate your home, but with no landline phone, cars registered to a P.O. Box, and this being such a remote location, you thought it would take a while.

More junk mail the next day. Even more the next. It's coming from businesses that you have never shopped at, some of them don't even have a presence within 100 miles of you. More for the pile, no big deal. At least they haven't figured out your email address and satellite phone number -- that's sacred ground.

And then the first telemarketer (sorry, the "we're conducting a survey" operator) -- on your satellite phone. That's it, you call the provider and once you get to a manager, you realize that the number for your recent purchase was previously owned by a playboy from South Florida who traveled . . . a lot. You cancel the satellite phone.

And then your first visitor knocks on the door. With a mix of disturb and excitement, you open the door. It's a guy with a vacuum cleaner. You tell him to go away. He asks if he can demo the Dirtfighter 8000 for you before he leaves. You explain to him that you have wood floors and a central vacuum system, and all your vehicles are trucks with plastic floor mats. He persists. Finally, you agree that it is possible for two handfuls of mud to end up on the curtains in the upstairs back guest room where your mother will stay when she comes for her twice yearly visits. You lock the door to the soundproof room behind him and go make some coffee.

Why has it come to this? You just can't seem to get far enough away from these people who have so much faith in their products and so little respect for your time. The vacuum guy seemed nice enough, but his style just caused you to flash back to the super-annoying times of previous decades when you got tired of fielding dozens of calls selling who-knows-what between 6 and 9 PM at least five days a week. Don't the marketers get it? We need our space!

Speaking of space. This same mistake can be seen in the early days of the social networking space. Whether on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Bebo, or any of the others, the marketing message smells the same in the virtual world as it does in real life. Emma Thelwell reports that Google and other search engines may lose advertising money to social networking sites as businesses shift their marketing focus to social networking. It's funny how the old ways find themselves being applied in the new space . . . Carrie Meathrell 's recent post even seemed a little excited about her discovery that she had been spammed -- on Facebook!

So how do we fix this? I'm thinking fighting fire with fire is the best way. Can you imagine the message that big business would get (or have the opportunity to "get") if thousands of their would-be customers sent them a message in a language they purport to understand? Is there a chance that their procedures would change if a group of folks started using their tactics to convey a very important, business dependent message? I'm thinking that's what it would take.

Jay Deragon notes that business models and structures have historically followed form with traditional media, with the few at the top controlled the conversational content and direction aimed at influencing the masses to behave according to the needs of their markets. He observes that the masses are the markets and the conversations can no longer be controlled, rather the conversations of the people will influence the business markets. So let's try it!

Lets show the business world what we are talking about when we say "let's have a conversation!" Let's communicate, in their language, the requirements that we have in order to form a relationship with them and consider buying their product(s). Here's my example.

Let's say tomorrow I get a direct (snail) mail piece from oh, I don't know, a new restaurant in town. With this approach, I would send them back a letter (I'd have to go buy a stamp -- wonder what they cost now :-) suggesting that they provide their website address so I can check them out. If I received an email -- even an opt-in email, say, from Borders, I would respond by suggesting they take a look at Amazon's strategy -- they make specific suggestions based on what I have purchased in the past, and they tell me how they made the decision to make those recommendations. I have a Borders card, why don't they use it? Or what if I saw a billboard for the political wannabe of your choice. On it, the name and tagline was visible in full color, as well as the people who paid for it, of course. How 'bout if I stuck a billboard up on the candidate's daily route and suggested a website that had a list of campaign promises, the rationale for those promises, and a block for checking completion and the difficulties faced in fulfilling those campaign promises. Yes, they could even put a "click here to donate" button on the site.

Doc Searls' recent post suggests
if PR wishes to remain relevant in an environment where networked markets get smarter faster than those that would spin them, the profession needs to define and satisfy a market for something other than spin. I think that means take the time to reshape the model based on what we, the people, take our time to tell you, big business, what we want.

What do you think?

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