“The lunatics have taken over the asylum!”

Reprinted from DMI-Online:

We have moved to a spangly new office building, which is wonderful news for us.  Made better by the fact that it’s costing us less than our old building, for more space. Yea for the recession!

The problem with this new building is that it doesn’t exist.

At least not in the opinion of the Post Office Postcode database. This does not seem to stop the post lady delivering the post every day, but it does stop me being able to place orders.

Over the last few weeks, I have not been able to do business with three companies because they can’t find our address on their system. And for the benefit of doubt, they did actually refuse to take my money because of that.

Why is that?

In my opinion it’s because the IT department has put its claws around the throat of the sales and service departments. Unless the PAF file or IT department say my building exists, it doesn’t.

The ‘red weed’ of IT is spreading further, with many companies finding that it is almost impossible to get things like websites built UNLESS they are done by IT. IT, by the way, needs a full spec, a six-month lead-time and a budget that is astronomical to do this.  And changes . . . well those are a three-month process. I know of one bank that needs three months just to make a one-word change to their website.

I know of another customer who has been forced to allow IT to run their PPC campaign. After all it does involve computers.

It’s time to say Enough! It’s time to stop the madness. Marketing is not a place with a two-drink minimum that is all about being ‘creative’. Marketing is the process of communicating with prospects and customers. By its very nature, that involves the use of IT.

The fight back has begun, I am pleased to see: I noticed in my newsagent (remember those?) the other day that there is a new magazine, all about blogging, Facebook and Twitter.

Yes, that’s right, a paper-based magazine about blogging, Facebook and Twitter!

It might not last five minutes, but it will irritate the technocrats. And while they are ranting, I suggest you run into the IT department and pull the plugs out! Perhaps then we can get back to real business.

The Tiger on your Telephone

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.