Introduction to ‘Resurrecting Trust’ – Shel Israel’s New Book with Porter Gale
Originally published by Shel Israel on Forbes.
[NOTE: This is the draft introduction of a new book I am writing with Porter Gale, as a sequel to Age of Context. It’s for business decision makers. We are hoping you will give us ideas and feedback as we progress.
One aside: When there are two authors, it sometimes is difficult to determine the appropriate voice. As was the case in my previous book, we will sometimes refer to one of us in the third person. While it seems to work well in books, it sometimes feels like an indulgence in a blog. Please forgive us if you get that perception.
We are looking for companies and thinkers that we should research for this book as well as sponsors to help support this project. We will be posting excerpts and interview notes as we go along. You can email me, if you wish, at email@example.com.]
Introduction: Because No One Raised a Hand
The defining moment happened in Los Angeles, when no one in the room raised a hand.
Let’s go back a bit; we’ll give you some context.
Shel Israel was talking about Age of Context, his fifth—and most successful—book. He had been addressing audiences almost nonstop for five months. Usually, Robert Scoble, his more-famous coauthor, was by his side on the dais. But, occasionally, he was invited to present alone. This was one of those times.
Almost every invite to speak solo was coming in from marketing or PR organizations. This had a bittersweet irony to it; Israel had been a Silicon Valley PR practitioner for more than twenty years, seventeen of them operating his own agency, SIPR. He often joked to audiences that he was a “recovering publicist.” In recent times, he had written often and critically, about the excesses of digital marketing, charging that some practices corrupted the conversational powers of social media.
But he had struck a more hopeful note in his previous book, where he coined the term, Pinpoint Marketing. That term was based on his belief that contextual technologies such as mobile, social media, sensors, location and data could enable brands to shift from mass marketing strategies into something that was more personal and less intrusive on one hand, but more effective and profitable on the other.
In Los Angeles, he had scant data to prove his point, just an adherence to an old quote from author Guy Kawasaki: “Some things must be believed to be seen.”
Along with speaking, Israel was getting invited to dinners and coffee by people who wished to “pick his brain,” a term that made him wince. He often declined.
But then, Porter Gale reached out.
Israel had never met Gale, but he considered her one of the few a shining lights in traditional marketing. Back when social media was clawing its way into the global enterprise, back when employees were getting fired for blogging, Gale had been vice president of marketing Virgin America, a small airline with limited routes, low fares, and a shiny new fleet of planes.
Like many early social media enthusiasts, Israel learned about Virgin America on Twitter, where passengers were amazed that someone at the airline responded quickly to their comments, and in the context of what they had said. When one reported a celebrity while waiting for a flight, Virgin followed up in seconds with a tweet about the famous person waiting for the flight. The original poster looked around searching for someone on a mobile device wearing a company uniform.
This was an early example of what Israel and Scoble called “The Freaky Factor” in Age of Context. It gave people the disconcerting sense that wherever they were, someone from Virgin America must be watching them. While people would soon become accustomed to direct responses from large companies online, more freakiness was yet to come from technology innovators: much more.
But back in 2007, when Gale’s marketing team started talking with customers on online venues, interest and enthusiasm for the upstart airline soared. And customers were the pilots. Virgin was perceived by the digerati as a friendlier, more responsive airline that was sharing consumer enthusiasm for cool, new technology.
By contrast, over at United Airlines, social media was being used as a channel for passenger discontent. A Canadian garage band called Sons of Maxwell would generate 14 million YouTube views with their song, United Breaks Guitars, based on their unfortunate passenger experience and United’s apathetic response.
During that period, Israel was pretty much a full-time social media evangelist. In presentations, he spotlight only three enterprise players, Dell Computer, Comcast and Virgin America. There, social media was humanizing large brands. They were doing it through transparent public conversations with customers. They were using the language of everyday people on social media, rather than the polished, mundane and adjective-packed jargon-filled marketing talk that Israel had long-ago labeled as corpspeak.
Gale was a key player on the Virgin team, and she became the company’s outside representative, speaking at marketing and social media gatherings. She used very little corpspeak and a very approachable style. She spoke as a happy employee, rather than as a corporate voice. While Israel never met her, he did see her speak once and he was impressed.
After four years, Gale left Virgin America to strike out on her own. She now consults a bevy of clients ranging from struggling startups to deep-pocketed and well-established global brands. Gale was nearly ubiquitous on the speaking rosters at all of the most influential marketing and executive conferences. In the summer of 2013, she published her first book, Your Network Is Your Net Worth. It was selling well and getting great reader reviews.
While Israel remained a critic of marketing practices, Gale has become an ardent champion, pointing in her public appearances to many marketing practices that have elevated the profession, in her view. It wasn’t that she disagreed with Israel’s criticism, it was that she knew there were better ways and a growing number of marketers hungry to embrace them.
In January 2014, they met for a friendly breakfast at Toast Novato, one of Israel’s favorite haunts. Gale brought up Pinpoint Marketing and suggested they collaborate on a book expanding on it and targeting it to business decision makers.
Israel was tempted but he had two issues. First, he was already discussing a different book project with a friend. And second, he told her, “I just wrote everything I know about the subject in Age of Context. I have nothing new to add.”
It turned out that Gale was also working on a new book of her own, so the two amiably decided to go their separate ways.
It turned out that there was a great deal more happening related to Pinpoint Marketing than Israel realized on that day in January 2014, and it went far beyond what Age of Context had said.
Long-view thinkers who also held corporate reigns were pondering the significance of new disruptive technology on how to efficiently personalize customer relationships on a massive scale. Scrappy startups were developing new products, platforms and practices that promised to disrupt many parts of the status quo that Israel was criticizing. If some traditional marketers were clinging to established best practices, they were going to have to deal with new technologies producing better practices.
Gale was seeing and hearing this while Israel was not. He was primarily hanging out in the tech sector, while she remained immersed in the world of digital marketers. In the three years since she had departed Virgin, she watched as technology relentlessly reshaped the marketing profession; some of it elevating the field, some did not.
In the largest of organizations marketing was being treated with growing deference. This was new. Historically, marketing and communications suffered from “Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome”—it didn’t get no respect. They were generally regarded by financial folk as “soft practices,” where money was spent but results could not be measurably detected at the bottom line. Like IT and customer support, the budget balancers saw marketing as a cost-out category, when they greatly preferred revenue-in.
But then, online started happening and financial spreadsheets were overshadowed by gargantuan mountains of data. Marketers began to cull all sorts of statistics about who bought, when they bought, why they bought, their ages, the cost of the sale and so on. The science of measurement rapidly evolved, making marketing more quantifiable.
Marketers often also were quick to grasp the reach and efficiency of online. Some saw the implications of the social media that would change how businesses could talk with customers. Instead of being targets, customers could be collaborators. Instead of just talking, the smart marketers began to listen and learn.
That is not to say the relevance of social media and, eventually, online reviews were instantly and universally embraced. Adoption and approaches remain diverse in quality, but what is true today is that any company today, that does not see social media as a critical component of its go-forward strategy will probably not go forward at all.
While the question remains whether marketing departments should own social media or not, the fact is that increasingly that is what has happened at least for now. And because of marketing’s abilities to use online conversational platforms in ways quantifiable at the bottom line, marketers have earned more respect inside the enterprise. They are taking their rightful places in the executive suites. Instead of bringing storyboards and pretty pictures to top-level meetings they now use data and scientific measurement. When it comes to pragmatic adjustments that use contextual technologies, senior marketers are most often at the helm.
New titles reveal new corporate alignments. A decade ago, Chief Marketing Officer was a dazzling new position on the org chart. Now, we have such dazzling or mystifying titles as Chief Digital Officer, Director of Growth & Acquisition, Chief Data Scientist, Brand Journalist and Community Manager. In most cases the holders of these new titles have marketing as a core competency. Each reveals a convergence of marketing and digital technologies.
All this has helped break down the fabled enterprise silos: edifices of inefficiency, erected during the waning Broadcast Era. These silos leave most members of the ecosystem scratching their heads, wondering if anyone is speaking to anyone else.
It would be overstatement to say siloing is gone. But it is fair to say that the best companies are investing in the daunting tasks of demolishing them. Previously independent corporate disciplines such as marketing, engineering, IT, sales, customer service and product development are moving toward integration of information and practices.
—and in that integration, marketing and digital technology has become part of all departments, sometimes resulting in vast improvements to customer support, HR, and product development.
But before any marketers reading this book break arms patting themselves on the back, there is a problem. It is significant and it is the focus of this book: most people don’t like being marketed to and they don’t trust most marketing messages. They have crammed lives and any uninvited intrusions feel like rude crashers at a closed party.
Resurrecting Trust sees a better way, a way that puts buyers and sellers on the same side of the equation, a way that boosts credibility while lowering costs and raising profits.
But we will not get carried away in our claims. What we suggest will not make you taller or thinner. We have six ways to make you more powerful or attractive to whoever it is you wish to attract.
What we have done is talk to a lot of really smart people who have shared with us how mobile, social, sensors, location and data promise to make business relationships more up close and personal. They will allow you to understand the context of many potential customers so that you can reach those likely to buy what you are selling while leaving everyone else alone.
Let’s look at what we see as the problem that contextual technology solves.
Big Numbers, Teeny Returns
Most brands shoot messages out in big, big numbers. This may have been great back in the heydays of traditional broadcast and paper media. In fact, using mass marketing techniques in the digital world is still making a great many companies a good deal of money and elevating brand recognition. Costs are lower and marketers can reach out to almost every sentient human in the developing or developed worlds.
But it is a time bomb waiting to explode in your brand’s face. Why? Because most people don’t like the intrusion, and rightly so.
If you have at least one eye or one ear, you can be sure marketers will find you and present something for you to see or hear even when you don’t want to see it or hear it. If you state on social media that you want to buy an appliance or take a vacation you will get ads and messages related to appliances and places to go for the remainder of your natural life. They call it “retargeting.” We call it annoying.
Despite the fact that digital works best as a conversation, most marketers continue to talk rather than to listen. They persist in talking even when people make it clear they are not interested. Their messages pervade email, social networks, news pages, videos and any other space where a message can be inserted. It has gone so far that men’s rooms in many taverns now have display ads posted over the urinals and in some Las Vegas casinos; advertising posters are displayed on the backs of toilet stall doors.
Why bother? If marketing is intended to make people feel good about a brand, why spend so much time persistently annoying them? If the Internet is best addressed in dialogue why aggressively send out one-directional messages? Is it because marketers are so set in the old ways?
Nope. It’s because online marketing is so damned efficient.
Jackie Lohrey, of Demand Media, a content marketing digital agency, wrote in the Houston Chronicle produced useful report on it in April 2014. She noted that while a decade ago, snail mail advertising was considered efficient when a campaign generated a two percent response, a successful campaign now generates an average of 4.4 percent return, according to the 2013 Direct Mail Factbook.
This is a significantly higher rate of return than online direct email campaigns receive. Receive a mere 0.12 percent return on the average, she reported.
Yet, even with such a miniscule response, digital push campaigns generate a measurable return on investment. So it doesn’t appear broken and should not be fixed, the conventional wisdom would go.
But wait a minute, numbers aside, do you really want to piss off 98.8 percent of your potential customers?
With every company using these tactics, marketing makes a lot of unwanted, and we feel, unnecessary noise. But the efficiency is irresistible.
And, as a marketer you have had little choice. Your competitors are doing it and you need to respond before they start stealing your business.
Digital messaging’s low cost spreads over to social media, where systems can be gamed and results may be more dubious than they appear to be. Just what does it mean when someone “likes” your Facebook page or “favorites” your Twitter post? What is the demographic profile of those likers? Is the poster on a Mercedes page a potential buyer or some kid in middle school? Who do these people actually influence? There is mounting evidence that much of what brands assume about their social media campaigns is just not true and we’ll tell you more about that later.
The measure of your online successes become even more dubious when y uou consider the growing use of “bots”—off-the-shelf software that send out millions of posts in less than a minute for less than $100. Some are designed to game the results by posting likes and favorites on your social network sites. You can buy a bot that generates thousands of fictitious followers on Facebook or a blog. There are services that people pay to have new followers listed on their Twitter or Facebook accounts, so that they appear to be more influential than they actually are. Many marketing and PR consultants are said to be among the most ardent influence-padders.
The Other 98.8 Percent
The marketing Rodney Dangerfields may be getting booted out of the boardroom but how much respect are marketers getting in the marketplace? Do they deserve more?
Not if they make it a practice to offend and annoy nearly ninety-nine percent of the people they attempt to reach. What effect, over time, do you think that will have on how people feel about your brand?
Thanks to technology such as spam filters, fast forward and mute buttons, many people easily bypass your intrusive attempts—and they are happy never to see what you fire at them.
For a marketer, there is a painful irony here: some of your most successful strategies may very well be tainting your brand’s image.
You should also consider that in this new age, you do not control your brand nearly as much as your customer does. All the messages you dispatch through all the channels you use, impact people far less these days than what your customers say about you in social media and on review platforms such as Yelp, Trip Advisor or fan blogs.
We believe there is a solution. It is massive and significant and it is now just taking form. We have learned so much about it in such a very short time that we could write a book about it. In fact, that is precisely what we have done.
What Israel and Scoble were saying in Age of Context is that new contextual technologies will allow professional marketers, communicators and advertisers to reverse the practices of the last eighty years of mass marketing.
New contextual marketing techniques can allow you to address the needs of each potential buyer based on what that person is doing, where she or he is, and what their past buying patterns reveal.
As a next-generation marketer, you have the opportunity to reduce the noise of irrelevant messages while simultaneously lowering costs and significantly bolstering favorable response. And here’s the icing on the cake: contextual technologies can make your brand more credible and thus improve perceptions of your chosen profession.
Contextual technologies let you get close and personal with millions of people as they move about in their work and lives, all over the world. Like a successful merchant, you can anticipate when your customer wants your help and you can fade into the background when the shopper doesn’t. You can succeed by not working so hard at it.
This new Age of Context, now so rapidly coming into place will eclipse the dwindling Age of Broadcast that preceded it for eighty years. Instead of mass marketing, you now can start mass personalizing. It is a radically different concept.
To see if this is the correct path for you and your company, simply ask yourself: Which approach would work best on you? Which one would you prefer to see used on your children? After all, the future of marketing is very much about the world your children will experience.
The Trust Factor
In the late 1990s, when Israel still ran his PR agency, there was a joke he heard far more times than he wanted to:
Q: Why do lawyers like marketing people so much?
A: Because marketers elevate lawyers up one rung on the ethical ladder.
We think it is time to elevate the perceptions of marketers. To do this, we argue that if you want to represent a trusted brand, you must be trustworthy. We argue further that this is not a feel-good approach; it is a smart, hard-nosed business strategy that raises returns and lower investment.
One more thing–as the late Steve Jobs used to say when closing his news conferences—we almost forgot.
What was the question that Shel Israel asked in Los Angeles when no one raised a hand?
Actually, there were two questions. Nearly everyone raised there hands to the first one:
“How many of you use direct marketing techniques as part of your practice?”
The second question became Israel’s Moment of Revelation. It triggered the chain of events that led to this book:
He asked, “How many of you enjoy receiving marketing messages?”
Not one of them raised a hand. Not one. He tried it again a few weeks later to marketers in California Wine Country. Again: no hands.
He decided it was time to circle back to Porter Gale.
We hope you find our book useful and interesting. We hope it will get you thinking and that it will impact strategies and decisions you will make in your work.