Marketing Ethics: The fine line between marketing research and consumer privacy

Marketers are not bad people but are often about as welcome as the door-to-door salesperson of old.  As marketers we must strive to earn the trust of our publics.  This challenges us to be impeccable in our interactions, commit to customer service, show integrity by eliminating practices that could be viewed as deceptive, be socially responsible and protect our customers data.

But what about respecting our customers’ privacy?

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In terms of permission-based marketing, there are many safeguards in use to respect consumer privacy.  For example, we ask for permission from our mobile customers in order to communicate via SMS or push notifications.  Marketers require users to express permissions for companies to “submit communication to their digital identity by simply clicking a like, follow or plus button” on social media channels.  Additionally, marketers require consumers to opt-in by providing “explicit permission from consumers before delivering marketing collateral to them” via e-mail or newsletters; however, respecting customer privacy extends to marketing research as well.

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The way in which consumers have adopted technology has outpaced the understanding of its implications to privacy.  For example, installing a mobile app may require users to give permissions that incongruous with the intent of the app.  Then there is Geolocation which tracks where a smartphone owner is.  Even those innocent photos snapped while on vacation can tell others that you aren’t home and your travel habits.  It may seem innocent enough and result in some great travel bargains but isn’t it just a bit disconcerting to know that someone knows all the happenings in your life?

While some consumers are using caution in granting permissions to mobile apps and choosing to disable Geolocation, many may not “completely comprehend the repercussions of having their information captured somewhere“.

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It is not enough for marketers to inform consumers regarding what data they collect and what they do with it, they need to work together with government and consumer education non-profit agencies to help the consumer understand how to better protect themselves.  By showing consumers that marketers care about their data and have a sincere desire to keep them safe, a greater level of trust can be established.  When consumers feel that we have their best interest at heart, perhaps they will be more comfortable providing us with their data.

Learn more about the timeline and evolution of marketing from Vision Critical.

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A Great Example of Storytelling

I am a sports fan.  My favorite sport is ice hockey; however, I have many fond memories of Major League Baseball from my youth.  The excitement I had knowing I was able to travel to watch both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians play.  My youth was spent in Northeastern Ohio and I remember the excitement when Jacob’s field opened in Cleveland.  An an adult, that sense of wonder return as I drove by the new PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  But my love of baseball has waned over the years.

I live in Western North Carolina now and perhaps location is a factor; however, I do not see many individuals sporting baseball jerseys or t-shirts or caps.  I see a lot more NFL and to a lesser extent, NHL apparel.  What happened to baseball?

I had not realized, until I read Gordon Plutsky’s [from King Fish Media] blog today, that it has been years since I attended a game in person and about as long that I actually watched one on television.  As marketers, we are aware that digital storytelling is key to engagement, brand awareness and audience engagement.

For those in Sports Marketing or interested in Digital Storytelling, please take time to read Gordon’s Blog at:

How long has it been since you have watched baseball?  Do you know the story behind the stats?  Did you pick your team based on your location, family patterns or something else?

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Emerging Media and the Environment


Image source: Google

Can emerging media impact consumer behavioral change toward the environment?  I am not referring to reducing the number of trees used to make paper for books and magazines.  I am speaking about real change.  Emerging media has resulted in consumer’s love affair with digital media and technology.  Marketers can leverage this, if done in a sincere manner, to not only sell their products but also to effect change for the planet.

How is this done?  Companies must lead by example through “conscientious capitalism” which means that companies channel their inner purpose and R&D expertise to solve specific social challenges“.  Take Camelbak for example.  They want to reduce the number of plastic water bottles that are consumed and often discarded rather than recycled.  Thus they created their hydration products to be reusable, free of toxins [BPA] and, at end of product lifespan, be recycled.   While they produce a great water bottle, they also lead by example.  Camelbak’s headquarters is built in an area serviceable by foot, bicycle and public transportation and was “built to LEED-certification standards“.  Camelbak recycles paper, plastics and aluminum.  In addition, they create products that can go into the dishwasher to save water over hand washing.

Camelbak’s current Facebook campaign, Ditch Disposable, is aimed at educating the consumer about, “Responsible consumption” by purchasing reusable water bottles to and ditching disposable bottles.  Responsible consumption occurs when consumers are asked to “use only they we need“.  Consumers need hydration on the go but they do not need disposable bottles and by pledging to choose to stop consuming disposable bottles, consumers can have a positive impact to the environment.

Image source:

Image source:

The Ditch Disposable campaign is promoted on Facebook to Camelbak’s over 375,000 followers, on Twitter and on Camelbak’s website. The average American will save approximately $25 and 18 bottles from the landfill by taking the 30-day Pledge. Camelbak encourages individuals to take a 30-day pledge to eliminate plastic bottles and to share with a friend.  They also have a counter that helps people watch their impact by pledging.  The campaign appears to be succeeding in engaging the consumer to change their behavior as campaign-to-date over 1 million bottles have been saved from landfills.

As an added incentive, as consumers we always want an incentive don’t we? For those who signup to Ditch Disposable, there is a chance to win Camelbak prizes. Participants are encouraged to share their activities via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as complete an entry form on Facebook.  This is not only smart marketing to build an interested customer list but also raise awareness of the costs both financially and environmentally that are associated with plastic bottles.  Furthermore, the integration of social media channels will help spread the word and possibly bring new customers to Camelbak.

What could feel better than drinking fresh safe water while reducing your environmental impact?

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Have Smartphone Will Travel

Travelers are a social bunch.  It is part of a traveler’s nature to seek out experiences and then share them.  It is almost as if social media was created with the traveler in mind.  Despite economic challenges across the globe, international tourism has risen to record numbers.  In fact, the World Tourism Organization reports that, “International tourist arrivals grew by 5% in 2013, reaching a record 1,087 million arrivals“.  Furthermore, international travel is expected to increase between 4 and 4.5% in 2014.

As marketers, we must strive to understand the traveler and their needs.  We must also choose the proper channels in which to communicate our message.  Thanks to popular social travel sites, TripAdvisor and AFAR, travelers have built a community where locals and visitors alike interact with recommendations and reviews that far exceed ratings in guide books.

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The top social media recommendations for travel marketers for 2014 include the use of video and images rather than copious amounts of text.  That makes sense, if travelers wanted to read they’d stay home with their Kindle e-reader.  Travel is dynamic and experience driven.  As such, images are key to driving interest and engagement.

Travel marketers that invest in social listening activities will benefit in 2014.  While it is important to respond to compliments and even more important to complaints, social listening goes beyond your Facebook wall or Twitter Feed.  Social listening should encompass blogs, Tweets, posts and pins in order to understand industry trends, concerns as well as traveler interests.  While there are many free tools, GoogleAlerts is great for budget-constrained marketers.  Create alerts based on topics and Google will e-mail you when it finds matching content.

It is an exciting time to be part of the travel industry.  As more and more travelers turn to social media for trip planning, all travel related businesses have an equal chance at converting a potential visitor into customer and then into an advocate.

View of Belfry from Sint Niklaas B&B. Image courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Prior to a European vacation, we searched for a B&B in Brügge, Belgium.  Initial research led us to several interesting options.  However, we experienced a  bit of angst, “What if the hotel doesn’t look like it did on the travel booking site or worse, has bedbugs?”

More research was deemed necessary thus we consulted, posted a few questions and shortly thereafter received a number of recommendations.  It was then that we visited the Sint Niklaas B&B website and contacted the innkeeper directly with questions.  The trip was superb, the service impeccable, and the location perfect!

What is more impressive is that out of 207 B&B [and Inns] in Brügge, Sint Niklaas ranks nineteenth.  Not by any fancy organization or guidebook but by the votes cast on TripAdvisor by everyday travelers.  Social matters and it is time for all traveler marketers and travel related businesses to get social.

Encourage your patrons to write a review.  Instead of a comment card, hand them the link to AFAR or Trip Advisor or any social media outlet where you have a presence and encourage them to share their experiences.  Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool that you cannot control but you can influence by providing superior customer experience to the global adventurer.

Beer in Brügge

The Brug Beertje (the Bruge Bear) bar in Brügge, Belgium

It is possible that a traveler can find the perfect B&B, the best local watering hole for a draft beer or a step back in time by visiting a small off-the-beaten-path Folklore museum without social media? Possibly, but do you really want your potential customers to be influenced by a one-dimensional printed guidebook or would you rather them read reviews by your guests?

From a narrow cozy two-story restaurant that serves the best Flammenkuchen in Köln to the Brug Beertje, the best beer bar in Brügge, every business can leverage social media to promote their business and become part of a global community.

Are you using social media yet?  Your customers and potential customers are.  Consider that, “approximately one-fifth of leisure travelers worldwide turn to social media platforms for inspiration within different categories of their travel planning including hotels (23%), activities (22%), attractions (21%) and restaurants (17%).”

What are you waiting for?

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Streaming Media Players: Friend or Foe?

As the popularity of streaming content grows, so does the choices of streaming media players.  For as little as $35 USD [Google Chromecast] or as much as $99 USD [Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire], consumers can wean themselves off of high cable and satellite bills by paying for only what they need or want.  Amazon Fire TV offers exclusive features including “no line of site required remote operation”, “voice search”, “ Dolby surround sound” and over 100 built-in games.

The newest streaming media player on the market is Amazon’s Fire TV.  The Fire TV provides a quad core processor with 2 gigabyte of on-board memory.  Amazon Fire TV seamlessly integrates with Kindle Fire tablets to allow mirroring.  Amazon Prime Members are “able to enjoy unlimited, commercial-free streaming of tens of thousands of popular movies and TV shows as well as original productions.”

The more Americans who chose to make the switch from traditional programming delivery to streaming media, the more marketers are challenged to find engaging ways to get their message across.

A few avenues come to mind including product placement or targeted ads.  Consider the streaming of NFL games as one opportunity.  Marketers can pay to have overlays [digital] placed on the scoreboard or around the goal posts or along the sidelines.  These advertisements would only be viewable to those watching digitally.  This practice is already in place on broadcast television marketing techniques.  The main difference would be the costs to advertise during highly coveted and highly priced broadcast slots during NFL games.

Should marketers push to advertise during streaming media programming or would that alienate current and potential customers?  Would you be willing to watch short videos, such as those on YouTube, in order to watch free streamed content?

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Would You Put Aside Your Smartphone to Provide Clean Water to a Thirsty Child?

UNICEF hopes you will.

Walk into a restaurant, shopping center or even a park and what do you see?  People using their smartphones to check weather, post on Facebook, send a text, answer a call, snap a photo or record a video.  Even in our living rooms, we cannot get enough of our electronic devices.

Have we become so addicted to technology that we cannot simply walk away?  Will our palms get sweaty and will we shake as if going through drug withdrawal if we fail to check our e-mail?  What can motivate a technology-addicted population to step away from their phones?

Perhaps a thirsty child.

In 2014, the UNICEF Tap Project leveraged emerging media to provide drinking water to those in desperate need of safe, clean water and sanitation.  The use of a simple web-based application calculates the minutes when a smartphone is in one position.  For each 10-minute period that a phone is not in use [or motion], a sponsor provides funding to help deliver clean water to the 768 million people worldwide who lack it.

Learn more by taking a few moments to watch UNICEF’s campaign video.

In order to keep smartphone addicted individuals engaged, UNICEF’s web site provides statistics including how many selfies are not being snapped, how many cat photos are not being viewed, how many photos not posted to Facebook during the time the smartphone is  idle.

UNICEF’s campaign cleverly encourages individuals to use emerging media [mobile phones and web apps] to abstain from using emerging media in order to give back.  Fabulous!

The 2014 mobile campaign, sponsored by Giorgio Armani, was active for a single month, World Water Month 2014.  The 2014 campaign was incredibly successful.  UNICEF reported that, “together people have gone over 200 million minutes without their phones to help children in need of clean water“.

While the campaign has ended, the web app remains active.  The Tap Project’s web site is also active in order to accept donations for those who may have missed the mobile challenge.

Individuals in a marketing capacity are encouraged to spend some time reviewing the campaign.  It is simple, creative, leverages emerging media and engages its target audience all while working toward a goal of social responsibility.

What do you think about using emerging media for social causes?  Are there any other organizations that you are aware of that use emerging media in a socially responsible manner?  Do you believe that UNICEF should use the same approach for 2015?  Would you participate?  How long do you think you can leave your phone idle?  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

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In App Advertising: A Boon or Bust for Marketers?

Mobile is often a “brand’s first point of contact with the consumer.”  As such, mobile has tremendous power and it doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.  Modern mobile devices [including tablets and some e-readers] have video capability through mobile apps like FaceTime and Skype.  So it may be logical to have a mobile web site and a mobile search strategy but what about an app or in-app advertising?

Web apps must have a definite value add for the consumer.  The large number of apps available make it easy for a company’s app to be overlooked.  The competition for prime real estate on a consumer’s mobile device continues to grow.  Web apps are expensive to develop [and maintain].  Each update requires action by the consumer to download the app again.

How about advertising on another web app or web game?

Hmm..that is a tough question.  It all depends on what the marketing objectives are and the target audience segment.  Mobile gaming apps are popular but ask yourself this, if you are playing a game and see an advertisement appear at the top or bottom of your mobile screen will you stop playing and look at it? Will you click on it to follow the small banner? Do you remember the last banner ad that you saw within an app?

Of course, there are certainly a lot of app developers ready to take your precious marketing dollars.  In fact, Mobile advertising revenue increased nearly 1.5X in 2011, to top out at $1.6 billion for the year.  As of October 2013, Google offered 700,000 apps for their Android operating system while Microsoft offered approximately 120,000 apps.

Apps in Apple's iTunes Store

1 Billion Apps were in the iTunes store (October 2013)

Apple announced that they had more than 1 million apps are in the App Store with 60 billion apps downloaded since iTunes was launched 5 short years ago.

App developers tend to be more likely to make money from in-app advertising than marketers.  Consumers; however, have different experiences with in-app advertising.  According to an 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review, four of five report disliking the tiny banner ads.

The majority of activities on smartphones including calling, e-mailing and texting.  Smartphone users spend, on average, 82% of their mobile minutes with apps and just 18% with web browsers. However, out of the 40 apps to their phones only about 15 are used regularly.  What are the chances that your ad will appear in one of those apps?

Sunil Gupta of the Harvard Business Review asserts that People simply don’t like ads on their mobile devices.  If your company can develop a web app that provides value and incentives to customers to download and use is more profitable long-term than in-app advertising.  For those without funding or programming expertise, the monies that you are considering for in-app advertising may be better served allocated to developing a mobile web site and mobile web search placement.

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