vrmcrm2010

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It’s been a week since VRM+CRM 2010, and there have been many conversations on private channels (emails, face-to-face, phone-to-phone, face-to-faces), all “processing,” as they say. Meanwhile we also have some very interesting postings to chew on. (Note: This is cross-posted here.)

First, Bill Wendell‘s RealEstateCafe wiki has a nice outline of sessions at the workshop. Better than our own, so far, I might add. Great notes behind his many links, and an excellent resource.

Next, there is Katherine Warman Kerns’s Making Sense of Things (which follows her HuffPo piece, Will VRMCRM2010 disrupt ambiguity?). Here Katherine puts on some hats we both shared as veterans of the advertising and media businesses, and does some great thinking out loud about better ways for marketing energy to be spent than CRM, online advertising and FSIs (I believe these are Free Standing Inserts). An excerpt:

What if that 3% in CRM, the 1% in FSI’s, and the less than 1% online are the same heavy TV watchers with nothing better to do?You’d think there would be a lot of investment in innovation to develop “something better”, but innovators are getting mixed signals from advertisers.  Most businesses still advertise  in order to convince retailers and/or Wall Street that they are supporting the brand.

Few outsiders understand that advertising has become a business to business marketing tactic more than a business to “consumer” tactic. Instead of paying attention to advertising spending trends -  dropping from 40.6 % of the total media/marketing industry in 1975 to 17.2% in 2009 . . . . . .  the Venture world pays attention to the proportional amount spent on different tactics: “what this chart (provided by GOOGLE’s Hal Varian) says is that over that past decade Internet has gone from nothing to 5% of all the ad spend in the US”.  As I point out in my comment on this post, “At 5% of 17.2% that puts internet advertising at less than 1% of total media/marketing revenues. “

Ignoring this fundamental change in the market, an amazing amount of money is wasted on investing in incremental change.  For example, the race is on (reportedly, over $40 Billion a year) to upgrade CRM technology to improve predictive accuracy so that 3% will go up.

I’m all for continuous improvement process . . .  but, when the starting point is single digit success and that success may not even be among the desirable demographic who leaves the house, doesn’t it make sense to spend some of that money developing Plan B?

Hey if everyone on the team is aiming for the same corner of the goal with a single digit success rate, doesn’t it make sense to develop the skill to go after the remaining 90%+ of the goal?Until something better comes along, a market leader, P&G is quietly investing in the “new media” segment, “custom digital publishing”, to reach their target with less waste and to identify “thought leaders” to engage in their leading edge open innovation process.  Two examples are beinggirl.com and the partnership with NBCU to produce lifegoesstrong.com.

A new technology movement is creating a possibility to offer something even better: making it possible to shift the paradigm from improving Business to Customer communications to improving Customer to Business communicationInstead of wasting money on better ways to interrupt customers with messages, the customers are enabled to tell business when and what they want information. Project Vendor Relationship Management is the thought leadership evangelizing this premise and encouraging technology development.  On August 26-27, a workshop calledVRMCRM2010 introduced many of these technologies to VRM fans and receptive CRM professionals.

Media has an opportunity to use this technology to give all participants “The Freedom to be Ourselves”.   Instead of self-censuring because of uncertainty over what, with whom, or when their participation will be available for exploitation in “cyberspace”, participants may manage the release of identity, content, and information “in context”.   AND this control can be mutual – for  the “formerly known as audience”, the “formerly known as creative content producers”**, and the “formerly known as advertisers”.

Mutual benefit has the potential to breakdown the siloes which are barriers to collaborate on innovation.  Indeed, VRMCRM- like technologies offer a blank canvas of possibilities for media and marketing innovation to  disrupt ambiguity.

Next, Dan Miller’s In Spite of Investment in “Social CRM”, Enterprises are Still not Paying Attention. Dan, who led the CRM panel at the workshop, sees CRM and social CRM as a train wreck in progress:

…current solutions that are based in CRM and social CRM capture and conduct analysis on a broad set of customer generated data and metadata. Companies think they are doing a better job of paying attention but, whether they admit it to themselves or not, they continue to use their resources to analyze activity, target messages and promotions and influence future activity. That’s not listening or engaging in a meaningful conversation.

VRM involves a totally different engagement model. “Users” (be they shoppers, searchers, mobile subscribers or “other”) initiate conversations with their selected vendors through a trusted resource or advocate. They can compare notes with other shoppers/customers and, while they may be loyal to a brand, they are more loyal to themselves and their peers. In the ideal, the power shifts to the shopper in ways that will disintermediate traditional channels (like the contact center) and influencers (meaning commercials and advertisements).

The train wreck is not the result of there being too many names for the social CRM phenomenon, it is that CRM and VRM are on a collision course whereby one side seeks to grant more power to buyers while the other seeks to retain nearly all the power by pretending to do a better job of listening.

On the other hand, Denis Pombriant sees social CRM as having some promise for VRM, and writes about that in VRM’s Missing Ingredient, also posted as VRM and CRM Meet. An excerpt:

The great thing about social CRM is that it lets the genie out of the bottle.  It introduces randomness and uncertainty to the puzzle and that’s largely a good thing.  You can’t program a customer relationship, there are too many permutations and customers do things you just can’t always predict.

My big takeaway from the conference is the wisdom of crowds, the idea that since you can’t predict, take a deep breath and stop trying.  Instead, just ask the customer and, if you do it right, you’ll get amazing insights.  It struck me that the wisdom of crowds is, perhaps, one thing that VRM could incorporate with great success.

Mitch Lieberman (@mjayliebs) put up a nice summary of #vrmcrm2010 tweets through September 1. Here’s the current Twitter search for the tag.

Even though the workshop was well-attended by CRM folks (and some of their customers), I was struck by how widely varied that business actually is. The distinction between CRM and sCRM is but one of very many.

In fact I had already been schooled on this by my old friend Larry Augustin, whom I got to know well back when he was a major force in the Linux community, and now runs SugarCRM. You can’t have a $15 billion (give or take… I still haven’t seen any numbers since 2008) business without a great deal of variation in what is sold to whom, and how it is used.

And, of course, relating to customers is not the sole province of CRM itself. I would bet that most customer-supporting corporate Twitter entities (e.g. @BigCoCares) began as individual efforts within their companies, completely outside those companies’ CRM systems, including call centers. These as a class now qualify as sCRM, I suppose. But in any case, it’s complicated.

So is VRM, of course. It starts from the individual, but can go in many directions after that. Here are a few of my own take-aways, all arguable, of course:

  1. You can’t get to VRM from CRM, or even sCRM, any more than you can get to personal from social. But VRM needs to engage both. And both need to engage VRM.
  2. You can’t get to VRM from advertising, either. Trying to make VRM from advertising is like trying to make green from red. The closest you’ll get is brown.
  3. We have code, and were able to show some off (or at least talk about it), and that was great. Adam Marcus’ talk on r-buttons, while delayed by equipment failings (not his — the classroom’s built-in projection system on Day One was flaky), showed how users and site owners could signal their intentions toward each other with symbols that actually worked. Renee Lloyd unpacked the (very friendly) legal side of that too. Iain Henderson gave a nice forecast of the Personal Data Store (PDS) trials that MyDex will be running in the UK shortly. Phil Windley vetted the work Kynetx is doing with the Kynetx Rules Language (KRL). It also amazed me that, even when the workshop was over, many people stayed late, on a Friday, to see Craig Burton give a quick demonstration of KRL at work. (See the photo series that starts here.) Joe Andrieu didn’t show his code at work, but gave a great talk on how search is more than queries. I could go on, but to sum up: this was a watershed moment for the VRM community.
  4. It’s still early. Maybe very early. At the end of the workshop I was asked the What’s Next question. My reply was that it’s great to see a fleet of planes airborne after watching them head down the runway for three years — and that they’re all heading in different directions. Also, they’re not the only planes. Beyond that the future is what we make it, and we’ve still got a lot of making to do.
  5. VRM+CRM is a live topic. There was much talk afterward of next steps with workshops, conferences and other kinds of gatherings, in addition to a list for people wanting to follow up with focused conversation. Stay tuned for more on all that.
  6. VRM is not just the counterpart of CRM. There are VRM efforts, such as The Mine! Project, that address one-to-one relating outside the scope both of identity systems (from which some VRM efforts originated) and of CRM. These also matter a great deal, and are very close to the heart of VRM’s mission.
  7. GRM has mojo going. Two years ago, Britt Blaser was the only GRM guy at that VRM workshop, and had trouble drawing a crowd. This time he brought his own crowd, and drew a bigger one. Very encouraging.
  8. I’m still not entirely sure what ProjectVRM should become as it spins out of the Berkman Center. I want it to be lightweight and useful. I’ll be involved, obviously; and we’ll always have a kinship connection with Berkman. Specifics beyond that are forthcoming, probably in the next three weeks.

I’ll think of others, but I’m out of time right now. Please add your own. And thanks again to everybody who participated. It was a great workshop.

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First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what calls , which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station , which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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