Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning to Love Opt-In

As the story goes there has been a mad scramble in online advertising as of late to mitigate for pending changes in the advertising ecosystem. The "wild west" of behavioral metrics tracked in the cookie with limited regulation has raised the brow of the FCC. The IAB and other trade groups are stepping up efforts to thwart government intervention via stronger self-regulation efforts. The doomsday scenario being a government mandated, strict opt-in that has the potential to bring down big players in the ad network game, particularly those who have invested millions in behavioral targeting technology, as well as crush the bottom line of publishers.

In other news...Rupert Murdoch, faced with disastrous revenue projections from his online, newspaper and magazine media properties has decided to stop the bleeding and charge for online content. Other news and content providers who have seen their content shared and shared again as their product is propagated throughout the Internet providing monetization that doesn't seem to end up back in their pockets will no doubt quickly follow suit and the Internet will turn into a pay to play entity for the information consumer. Free content as we know it will all but disappear.


The Internet and the advertising ecosystem will evolve. Embrace it. Learn to love opt-in. Opt-in provides freedom, freedom brings opportunity and opportunity will shape your future (free prize to the first person who e-mails me what movie that line comes from.) Allow me to explain. For years online media companies have been upping the ante on collecting data on Internet users in a very opaque manner. While use and control of the information has been generally well shepherded by the companies involved, greed will always lead to an escalation that pushes to a tipping point somewhere and that tipping point happened with NebuAd, Phorm and others when they planned on and/or started looting ISP's for user information without user consent. Our trust as consumers has been breached and there is no going you what...tell me what's in it for me, maybe we can work some thing about I give you my personal data and purchasing intentions up to a level I'm comfortable with and you give me content and other goodies in return. Quid pro quo. What do you say?

As an agency, data provider, marketer, media buyer, ad network etc... I say yes! Hallelujah! We are about to witness the greatest cooperation between the buyer and the marketer in the history of advertising. "Free" content will soon turn into a quadrangulated transaction between the marketer, the consumer, the data enabler and the content provider.

Allow me to introduce some new terms:

Lightning - The connection between the cloud and the earth. The combined data set of online derived user purchasing behavior and brick and mortar and other offline derived user purchasing behavior. Lightning is powerful and a "tall" consumer will install a lightning rod via opt-in. Think coupons downloaded onto a smart phone and redeemed at the store followed by a thank you e-mail with additional purchase incentives in a virtuous cycle.

Opt-in Leveling - Systematic collection of increasingly higher grain and more verifiable user supplied behavioral information. Today, give or take how you define things, we can get up to 3 levels of behavioral information. Level 1 would be a minimally populated cookie jar. Level 2 would be a richly populated cookie jar containing your cookie and perhaps other cookies that can be linked to a 3rd party data provider. Level 3 would be Level 2 plus a purchase or registration with your site that you could possibly append to PII that could be used to enrich future conversations with the user. More on this in a few milliseconds...

User Driven Targeting & Optimization - User selected indications of segment, purchasing behavior, brand affiliations and other behavioral metrics. I envision the rise of opt-in leveling tools that feed targeting, re-targeting and optimization.

In today's environment we can get to a Level 3 but there it starts hitting the area where the consumers trust is being breached. With Opt-in we can get to Level 10 and beyond. Conversations with the consumer can be rich and rewarding for both the marketers and consumers and profitable for the intermediaries that help make the final transaction happen while supporting continued access to quality content. Look at the trends in social networking, particularly Facebook and MySpace. People are not inherently averse to sharing personal data, but there is a comfort zone that could possibly be negotiated. If I notify an intention to buy a home in an opt-in leveling tool then I shouldn't have to pay for content, that fee should be provided by the mortgage brokers. And if I'm giving up additional PII, I want a piece of that lead gen fee, not some vague promise of a free iPod. Quid pro quo, enabled by opt-in.

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