First published in Direct Marketing International, 29th Jan 2009 http://dmionline.net/blog/2010/01/29/into-the-future/
During a recent visit to Hungary, I got a brief glimpse of the future and it made me think. It ought to make you think, too.
I recall a James Bond film from a few years ago 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 also able to fire 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 where it was, what the tyre pressures were and a lot of other information. He could also set the car so that it would not exceed a speed limit or allow itself to be driven into certain areas.
It reminded me of a feature I had seen on US TV about a car thief who 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 has saved you from a much more boring article I was writing). The book has a chapter talking about how our personalities are like Jekyll and Hyde. The suggestion he puts forward is that there is 200 per cent uplift in accidents when teens drive with two 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 it. Now it’s do-able.
So what’s stopping us?
Where norms collide
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, 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 where 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 it crosses a line. Let’s say I recommended that you buy a BMW in this article. I’m not, but let’s just say that. If, later, you found out I was being paid by BMW to make that recommendation, you might feel I had taken advantage of my prestigious position on this penultimate page in DMI 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 a 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 online. Every connected DMer is trying to say they have it taped.
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 to 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.