During a recent visit to Hungary I got a brief glimpse of the future and it made me think. And it ought to make you think.
A few years ago, I remember a James Bond film in which our philandering hero had a BMW that he could control remotely from his phone. He was able to drive with the aid of cameras and steer as well. Naturally, he was able to fire the heat seeking missiles, but that goes without saying.
While in Budapest one of my fellow speakers was telling me how he could “talk to his BMW”, which was parked snugly, outside his house 8,000 miles away. He could tell were it was, what the tyre pressures were and a load of other information. He could also set the car so that it would not exceeded a speed limit and would not allow itself to be driven into certain areas.
It reminded me of a feature I had seen on US TV about a car thief that was caught by OnStar, the owner had let the police remotely stop his car. The system was touted as a major step forward in crime fighting.
Serendipitously for you, dear reader, I was also reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. (This saved you from a much more boring article I was writing). The book has a chapter talking about how our personalities are Jekyll and Hyde like. The suggestion he puts forward is that there is 200% uplift in accidents when teens drive with 2 other teens in the car. There are similar statistics for choice of music and other distractions.
His solution? Predict the behaviour and train the car to intervene. So when rap music is played above a certain level and speed exceeds 65mph on the motorway, have the station switch to Classical music and the speed limiter kick in.
It must have felt like rocket science when he wrote. Now it’s doable. So what’s stopping us?
Perhaps part of the answer comes from another part of Ariely’s book, where he talks about when Market norms and Social norms collide. The best way to describe this is, if I were lucky enough to be invited to your house for dinner and, at the end insisted that I paid, that would be uncomfortable. A Market norm (paying for dinner) and a social norm (having someone over for dinner) would have collided. Alternatively, if I brought a nice bottle of wine, well that would be sort of expected.
While contemplating this thesis, I was approached by someone who wanted me to invest in a Social Networking project were consumers were paid to promote things to their friends. In principle this is a really good idea, it gets the message out there fast, and uses all that’s good about social media.
But the problem is that it crosses a line. Let’s say I recommended to you that you buy a BMW in this article. I’m not, but let’s just say it. If, later, you found out that I was being paid by BMW to make that recommendation, you might feel that I had taken advantage of prestigious position on the penultimate page to flog you something.
Once a line is crossed from social norms to market norms, it’s almost impossible for the relationship to go back. You can read Ariely’s book yourself to discover the science behind my argument. The issue that this causes for us pariahs of the Market is that we want to find a way to use this social environment for our benefit.
Often, the most we can hope for is that social media will not treat us too badly; reputational damage limitation is a major job by itself. I have just allocated a member of our team to scour the Internet at least once per day to see what is being said about our key customers and us. At least that way we know.
Social media is the big thing at the moment, there is no question about that, whether at the US-DMA annual trade show or on-line. Every connected DM’er is trying to say they have it tapped.
The truth is they do not.
Social Media has the power to intrude in a way that the Market has never intruded. It can be a power for good and a power for bad. If you don’t do it right, it will turn and bite you so hard it might kill you. In Hungary they talked about the Internet user having turned from a subservient Dog into a freelancing Cat.
I’d say it’s more like a tiger, lovely to look at, great to stroke, but you would think long and hard before you let it come sleep on your bed at night. Taming the Internet Tiger has become a huge challenge; it must be done right or not at all.
For my money it’s the big marketing challenge of 2010.