Untangled web: The internet keeps changing marketing

I listen to people constantly lament about all the awful things that the Internet has wrought, from cyberbullying to identity theft to arcane new scams that only a rocket scientist could untangle. But I think those are actually small stories. To me, the big story is how much openness, transparency, and plain do-gooder activity is being rewarded online, in a place I call the Untangled Web. I believe that the Internet is a force for good behavior, and becomes more so with each passing year. And nowhere is that more apparent than in how it changes company behavior, especially in marketing.

Some businesses have existed only by fooling people. Enron fooled everybody:  customers, suppliers, investors, and even their own employees. Although it’s an extreme case, it shows that it’s possible, at least in the short term, to make lots of money by fooling everybody all of the time. The sad thing is that many of the employees of Enron were the biggest victims even while they were unwittingly victimizing others just by showing up and doing their jobs–they lost their jobs and many lost their life savings tied up in Enron stock.

But most businesses aren’t corrupt through and through like Enron. Do you work for a bank? Do you think that anyone knows how much they pay for the credit card you offer? Or understand how much trouble they can get into with bad debt? You know that a lot of your profits are in selling things that are bad for people, yet you don’t put your bank in the same category as a cigarette maker. But in your heart of hearts, you have to admit that some of your bank’s success comes from fooling people.

A lot of businesses run that way, at least in some areas. And, if you do work for a bank, I am not singling your bank out for shoddy practices–the real shame is that you are just doing what every other bank does. Most businesses, in fact, cover up some stuff that they prefer that their customers or their investors or their employees or the general public just not know.

Lots of people ask me about all the tricky things that go on in Internet marketing. There’s e-mail spam. There’s search spam. There’s privacy incursions. And enough other stuff that make us all feel like we need to take a bath once we punch out from work.

But why are we doing these things? I believe it’s a mistaken belief that it fattens the bottom line. I mean, none of us go home and brag to our kids about what we did in these areas. We don’t tell our spouses. We pop open another bottle of wine to deaden how we feel and we move on to the rest of our lives.

We don’t dwell on this stuff—after all, it’s just business.

But this kind of business is what gives business a bad name. It’s what causes many people to decide that business is not the career for them. And that’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m often asked, “How can we compete by being good guys when everyone else is engaging in such bad behavior? I mean, what’s a company to do when all of their competitors are cutting these corners?” My answer? Rejoice. Thank God or your favorite Higher Power that they are so clueless. Because even though what they are doing seems to be working in the short run, the Internet is changing everything—it won’t work much longer.

My advice is to forget about what everyone else is doing. All of these tricks and this chicanery cannot stand the light of day–the Internet is about to shine a 1000-watt bulb on everything.

I’ve had dubious people come up to me and tell me about the clever things they have gotten away with on the Internet. The clever ways they’ve assassinated their competitors’ character on message boards–anonymously, of course. The tricky ways that they’ve written bad reviews of someone else’s product. They assure me that they’ll keep doing this because they have done it before and they haven’t been caught.The reason they didn’t get caught in this bad behavior is because it didn’t work. I mean, what they did was small potatoes. It didn’t catch fire. It didn’t go viral. It didn’t really do a lot of damage.

Because if it had done a lot of damage, they wouldn’t have gotten away with it, pure and simple. Think about it. If they really did a great job of impugning the reputation of one of their competitors, how many people would have taken a close look at it? Wouldn’t their competitor have checked it out? And when they did, what would they have found? Resign yourself to the fact that the Web is the greatest investigative journalism outfit of all time. If someone can catch you, the Web will make it possible.

But maybe they were really clever, and no competitor could ever disprove what happened. It will still come to light at some point. Perhaps it will be a rogue employee that you fired at some point who spills the beans. Or maybe it’s someone in your company that never received that conscience-ectomy. Whatever the reason, someone will tell. And when they do, the bad publicity that comes your way will dwarf any effect you ever got from the original trick.

The Internet is replete with examples, such as the Walmart and Sony flogs or the CEO of Whole Foods anonymously bashing its competitor on a message board. They all get found out in the end, and the next company is less likely to try that again.

What do you do instead? Get back to your relationship with your customers. With your employees. With the public.
What do they want from you? They want honesty. They want help. They want you to look out for them. And if you do, you’ll be safe. You’ll be safe from your customers and your employees abandoning you. And you’ll be safe from the public attacking you.

So, if you’ve been weaving a tangled web in your marketing, let the other Web show you another way. You can either change now because it is what will work better, or you can wait for someone to call you on it. The Untangled Web is here. The only question is whether you respond to its carrot or its stick.Enhanced by Zemanta


Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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