Category: VRM (page 1 of 21)

Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade


Those are the three market conversations happening in the digital publishing world. Let’s look into what they’re saying, and then what more they can say that’s not being said yet.

A: Publisher-Reader

Publishing has mostly been a push medium from the start. One has always been able to write back to The Editor, and in the digital world one can tweet and post in other places, including one’s own blog. But the flow and power asymmetry is still push-dominated, and the conversation remains mostly a one-way thing, centered on editorial content. (There is also far more blocking of ads than talk about them.)

An important distinction to make here is between subscription-based pubs and free ones. The business model of subscription-supported pubs is (or at least includes) B2C: business-to-customer. The business model of free pubs is B2B: business-to-business. In the free pub case, the consumer (who is not a customer, because she isn’t paying anything) is the product sold to the pub’s customer, the advertiser.

Publishers with paying subscribers have a greater stake — and therefore interest — in opening up conversation with customers. I believe they are also less interested in fighting with customers blocking ads than are the free pubs. (It would be interesting to see research on that.)

B. Publisher-Advertiser

In the offline world, this was an uncomplicated thing. Advertisers or their agencies placed ads in publications, and paid directly for it. In the online world, ads come to publishers through a tangle of intermediaries:


Thus publishers may have no idea at any given time what ads get placed in front of what readers, or for what reason. In service to this same complex system, they also serve up far more than the pages of editorial content that attracts readers to the site. Sight unseen, they plant tracking cookies and beacons in readers’ browsers, to follow those readers around and report their doings back to third parties that help advertisers aim ads back at those readers, either on the publisher’s site or elsewhere.

We could explore the four-dimensional shell game that comprises this system, but for our purposes here let’s just say it’s a B2B conversation. That it’s a big one now doesn’t mean it has to be the only one. Many others are possible.

C. Reader-Advertiser

In traditional offline advertising, there was little if any conversation between readers and advertisers, because the main purpose of advertising was to increase awareness. (Or, as Don Marti puts it, to send an economic signal.) If there was a call to action, it usually wasn’t to do something that involved the publisher.

A lot of online advertising is still that way. But much of it is direct response advertising. This kind of advertising (as I explain in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff) is descended not from Madison Avenue, but from direct mail (aka junk mail). And (as I explain in Debugging adtech’s assumptions) it’s hard to tell the difference.

Today readers are speaking to advertisers a number of ways:

  1. Responding to ads with a click or some other gesture. (This tens to happen at percentages to the right of the decimal point.)
  2. Talking back, one way or another, over social media or their own blogs.
  3. Blocking ads, and the tracking that aims them.

Lately the rate of ad and tracking blocking by readers has gone so high that publishers and advertisers have been freaking out. This is characterized as a “war” between ad-blocking readers and publishers. At the individual level it’s just prophylaxis. At the group level it’s a boycott. Both ways it sends a message to both publishers and advertisers that much of advertising and the methods used for aiming it are not welcome.

This does not mean, however, that making those ads or their methods more welcome is the job only of advertisers and publishers. Nor does it mean that the interactions between all three parties need to be confined to the ones we have now. We’re on the Internet here.

The Internet as we know it today is only twenty years old: dating from the end of the NSFnet (on 30 April 1995) and the opening of the whole Internet to commercial activity. There are sand dunes older than Facebook, Twitter — even Google — and more durable as well. There is no reason to confine the scope of our invention to incremental adaptations of what we have. So let’s get creative here, and start by looking at, then past, the immediate crisis.

People started blocking ads for two reasons: 1) too many got icky (see the Acceptable Ads Manifesto for a list of unwanted types); 2) unwelcome tracking. Both arise from the publisher-advertiser conversation, which to the reader (aka consumer) looks like this:


Thus the non-conversation between readers blocking ads and both publishers and advertisers (A and C) looks like this:


So far.

Readers also have an interest in the persistence of the publishers they read. And they have an interest in at least some advertisers’ goods and services, or the marketplace wouldn’t exist.

Thus A and C are conversational frontiers — while B is a mess in desperate need of cleaning up.

VRM is about A and C, and it can help with B. It also goes beyond conversation to include the two other activities that comprise markets: transaction and relationship. You might visualize it as this:


From Turning the customer journey into a virtuous cycle:

One of the reasons we started ProjectVRM is that actual customers are hard to find in the CRM business. We are “leads” for Sales, “cases” in Support, “leads” again in Marketing. At the Orders stage we are destinations to which products and invoices are delivered. That’s it.

Oracle CRM, however, has a nice twist on this (and thanks to @nitinbadjatia of Oracle for sharing it*):

Oracle Twist

Here we see the “customer journey” as a path that loops between buying and owning. The blue part — OWN, on the right — is literally the customer’s own-space. As the text on the OWN loop shows, the company’s job in that space is to support and serve. As we see here…

… the place where that happens is typically the call center.

Now let’s pause to consider the curb weight of “solutions” in the world of interactivity between company and customer today. In the BUY loop of the customer journey, we have:

  1. All of advertising, which Magna Global expects to pass $.5 trillion this year
  2. All of CRM, which Gartner pegs at $18b)
  3. All the rest of marketing, which has too many segments for me to bother looking up

In the OWN loop we have a $0trillion greenfield. This is where VRM started, with personal data lockers, stores, vaults, services and (just in the last few months) clouds.

Now look around your home. What you see is mostly stuff you own. Meaning you’ve bought it already. How about basing your relationships with companies on those things, rather than over on the BUY side of the loop, where you are forced to stand under a Niagara of advertising and sales-pitching, by companies and agencies trying to “target” and “acquire” you. From marketing’s traditional point of view (the headwaters of that Niagara), the OWN loop is where they can “manage” you, “control” you, “own” you and “lock” you in. To see one way this works, check your wallets, purses, glove compartments and kitchen junk drawers for “loyalty” cards that have little if anything to do with genuine loyalty.

But what if the OWN loop actually belonged to the customer, and not to the CRM system? What if you had VRM going there, working together with CRM, at any number of touch points, including the call center?

So here are two questions for the VRM community:

  1. What are we already doing in those areas that can help move forward in A and B?
  2. What can we do that isn’t being done now?

Among things we’re already doing are:

  • Maintaining personal clouds (aka vaults, lockers, personal information management systems, from which data we control can be shared on a permitted basis with publishers and companies that want to sell us stuff, or with which we already enjoy relationships.
  • Employing intelligent personal assistants of our own.
  • Intentcasting, in which we advertise our intentions to buy (or seek services of some kind).
  • Terms individuals can assert, to start basing interactions and relationships on equal power, rather than the defaulted one-way take-it-or-leave-it non-agreements we have today.

The main challenge for publishers and advertisers is to look outside the box in which their B2B conversation happens — and the threats to that box they see in ad blocking — and to start looking at new ways of interacting with readers. And look for leadership coming from tool and service providers representing those readers. (For example, Mozilla.)

The main challenge for VRM developers is to provide more of those tools and services.

Bonus links for starters (again, I’ll add more):

VRM Day: Let’s talk UMA and terms

VRM Day and IIW are coming up in October: VRM Day on the 26th, and IIW on the 27th-29th. As always, both are at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley. Also, as always, we would like to focus  VRM day on issues that will be discussed and pushed forward (by word and code) on the following days at IIW.

I see two.

The first isUMA-logo UMA, for User Managed Access. UMA is the brainchild of Eve Maler, one of the most creative minds in the Digital Identity field. (And possibly its best singer as well.) The site explains, “User-Managed Access (UMA) is an award-winning OAuth-based protocol designed to give a web user a unified control point for authorizing who and what can get access to their online personal data, content, and services, no matter where all those things live on the web. Read the spec, join the group, check out the implementations, follow us on Twitter, like us onFacebook, get involved!”

Which a number of us in the #VRM community already are — enough, in fact, to lead discussion on VRM Day.

In Regaining Control of Our Data with User-Managed Access, Phil Windley calls VRM “a perfect example of the kind of place where UMA could have a big impact. VRM is giving customers tools for managing their interactions with vendors. That sounds, in large part, like a permissioning task. And UMA could be a key piece of technology for unifying various VRM efforts.”

For example, “Most of us hate seeing ads getting in the way of what we’re trying to do online. The problem is that even with the best “targeting” technology, most of the ads you see are wasted. You don’t want to see them. UMA could be used to send much stronger signals to vendors by granting permission for them to access information would let them help me and, in the process, make more money.”

We call those signals “intentcasting.”

Yet, even though our wiki lists almost two dozen intentcasting developers, all of them roll their own code. As a result, all of them have limited success. This argues for looking at UMA as one way they can  substantiate the category together.

A large amount of activity is going into UMA and health care, which is perhaps the biggest VRM “vertical.” (Since it involves all of us, and what matters most to our being active on the planet.)

The second topic is terms. These can take two forms: ones individuals can assert (which on the wiki we call EmanciTerm); and truly user- and customer-friendly ones sites and services can assert. (Along with truly agreeable privacy policies on both sides.)

At last Fall’s VRM Day, we came up with one possible approach, which looked like this on the whiteboard:

UserTerms1This was posted on Customer Commons, which is designed to serve the same purpose for individual terms as Creative Commons does for individual artists’ copyright terms. We can do the same this time.

So be sure to register soon. Space is limited.

Bonus links/tweets: here and here.



Loyalty means nothing if customers don’t have their own ways of expressing it


@jobsworth and I were just pointed by @aainslie to a @ronmiller piece in @TechCrunch titled In The Age of Disruption, Customer Love Is More Important Than Ever.

The headline says it all, and it’s true. But, as with all pieces like this, it’s about what companies can (or should) do, rather than what customers can do.

Think about it. What if customers had their own systematic methods of expressing loyalty? Not silo-provided gimmicks like Facebook’s “like” buttons, but standard tools or systems that every customer could use, as easily as they use their own wallets or phones.

Think about how much better it would be for the whole marketplace if we built loyalty tools and systems where loyalty actually resides: on the customer’s side. What customers express through these tools and systems would be far more genuine and meaningful than any of today’s silo’d and coercive “loyalty programs,” which inconvenience everybody and yield rewards worth less than the time wasted by everybody dealing with them.

If loyalty systems are left entirely up to the sellers of the world, we’ll have as many different systems as we have sellers. Which, of course, is what we already have, and it’s a royal mess.

As it happens, loyalty is one VRM development area where there is nothing going on, so far — or at least nothing that fits the description I just made.

So maybe it’s about time to get started. Looks like a greenfield to me.

Speaking of which, I’ll betcha there is stuff that already exists within CRM systems that could be ported over to the customer side, and then match up with seller-side CRM stuff. Be interesting to hear from CRM folks about that. Here’s the key thing, though: customer VRM loyalty tools need to work with all CRM systems. (Just like, say, browsers, email and other standard customer-side tools also do.)

The coming collapse of surveillance marketing

A few minutes ago, on a mailing list, somebody asked me if Google hadn’t shown people don’t mind having personal data harvested as long as they get value in exchange for it. Here’s what I answered:

It’s not about Google — or Google alone. It’s about the wanton and widespread harvesting of personal data without permission, by pretty much the entire digital marketing field, or what it has become while in maximum thrall of Big Data.

That this is normative in the extreme does not make it right, or even sustainable. The market — customers like you and me — doesn’t like it. Technologists, sooner or later, will provide customers with means of control they still lack today.

The plain fact is that most people don’t like surveillance-based marketing. Study after study (by TRUSTe, Pew, Customer Commons and others) have shown that 90+% of people have problems with the way their data and their privacy are abused online.

The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation” by Annenberg (at the U. of Pa) says,

a majority of Americans are resigned to giving up their data—and that is why many appear to be engaging in tradeoffs. Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it. Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. The study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened.

More from Penn News:

Survey respondents were asked whether they would accept “tradeoffs,” such as discounts, in exchange for allowing their supermarkets to collect information about their grocery purchases.  Among the key findings:

    • 91 percent disagree (77 percent of them strongly) that “if companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing.”
    • 71 percent disagree (53 percent of them strongly) that “it’s fair for an online or physical store to monitor what I’m doing online when I’m there, in exchange for letting me use the store’s wireless Internet, or Wi-Fi, without charge.”
    • 55 percent disagree (38 percent of them strongly) that “it’s okay if a store where I shop uses information it has about me to create a picture of me that improves the services they provide for me.”
Only about 4 percent agree or agree strongly with all three propositions.

But 58 percent agreed with both of the following two statements that together indicate resignation:  “I want to have control over what marketers know about me online” and “I’ve come to accept that I have little control over what marketers can learn about me online.”

The Net we know today was born only twenty years ago, when it opened to commercial activity. We are still naked there, lacking in clothing and shelter (to name two familiar privacy technologies in the physical world). Eventually we’ll have clothing and shelter in many forms, good means for preventing and permitting the ways others deal with us, and full agency in our dealings with business and government.

In the meantime we’ll have a status quo to which we remain resigned.

I suspect that even Google knows this will change.

Bonus Link.

Think about an irony here. Most brick-and-mortar merchants would be appalled at the thought of placing tracking beacons on visiting customers, to spy on them after they leave the store, just so they can be “delivered” a better “advertising experience.” And obviously, customers would hate it too. Yet many of the same merchants hardly think twice about doing the same online.

This will change because there is clear market sentiment against it. We see this through pressure toward regulation (especially in Europe), and through ad and tracking blocking rates that steadily increase.

But both regulation and blockers are stone tools. Eventually we’ll get real clothing and shelter.

That’s what we’ve been working on here with ProjectVRM. It’s taking longer than we expected at first, but it will happen, and not just because there is already a lot of VRM development going on.

It will happen because we have the Net, and the Net is not just Google and Facebook and other modern industrial giants. The Net is where all of those companies live, in the company of customers, to whom, — sooner or later, they become accountable.

Right now marketing is not taking the massive negative externalities of surveillance into account, mostly because marketing is a B2B rather than a B2C business, and there persists a blindered mania around Big Data. But they will take those externalities into account eventually, because the Cs of the world will gain the power to protect themselves against unwanted surveillance, and will provide far more useful economic signaling to the businesses of the world than marketing can ever guess at.

Once that happens, the surveillance marketing business, and what feeds it, will collapse.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Lincoln said. That was in 1858, and in respect to slavery. In 2015 the language of marketing — in which customers are “targets” to be “acquired,” “controlled,” “managed” and “locked in” — is not much different than the language of slave owners in Lincoln’s time.

This will change for the simple reason that we are not slaves. We are the ones with the money, the choice about patronage, and the network. Companies that give us full respect will be the winners in the long run. Companies that continue to treat us as less than human will suffer the consequences.

If your voice comes from a company, you don’t have one

Got this in my email today:

Oracle pitch

I’m sure Oracle Service Cloud is good at what it does. Such as:

  • Deliver an integrated customer experience while equipping employees with the right tools
  • Drive and meet consumer expectations in the new omni-channel world
  • Adapt their service to customer needs by researching and considering their demographics

The problem is that this assumes customers have no voices of their own, and need to be given one. And, since every company has its own way to give customers voices, the customer turns into a Tower of Babble, speaking with many different voices to many different companies.

For example, today at a medical center I had to give exactly the same personal information to two different systems operating in the same office — and this was information already known to countless other systems with which I’ve had dealings over the years. Why? “Because we’re using two different CRM systems.”

You can look at the problem here as one of scale. Systems such as Oracle’s give companies scale: one way to deal with many different customers. Likewise, customers need one way to deal with many different companies, regardless of what CRM systems they run. This is a fundamental VRM challenge. And it’s one that should be good for CRM too. Win-Win.

You can see how it would work if you imagine being able to  change your phone number or email address, for every company you deal with, in one move. Lots of VRM developers are working on that, but we aren’t there yet.

It helps that we already have the Internet, which bridges many networks (why it’s called internet), along with email, phones and other things that give us one way to deal with many different entities.

But we don’t yet have voices of our own (meaning scale), or we wouldn’t see headlines like the one above.

Giving our voices scale isn’t a CRM job. It’s a VRM job. It also has to be done in a way that speaks directly to the Oracle Service Clouds of the world, engaging what they already have in place.

I know people at Oracle and its competitors who are ready and eager to see VRM developments that speak — literally and figuratively — to their corporate systems. They know VRM is going to make their jobs a lot easier and cause a lot more business to happen and improve.

Conversations are happening, and that’s good. But we also need more development in the direction of convergence. Expect to see reports on that in coming months.

Privacy isn’t about secrecy and freedom isn’t about license. Both are about agency.

Agency is the power to act with effect in the world. We have agency when we type on a keyboard, hammer a nail, ride a horse or drive a car.  Here’s a dictionary definition:

a·gen·cy (ā′jən-sē)

  1. The condition of being in action; operation.
  2. The means or mode of acting; instrumentality.

It is derived from agere: Latin for to do.

We are built to do a lot: with our brains, our opposable thumbs, our lack of fur, our capacity to sweat and to learn — and our strange ability to walk or run on two feet instead of four (almost ceaselessly, at least when we are young and fit) — we can do an amazing variety of things with our bodies.

For what we can’t do, we invent tools and machines. These extend our agency outward through technology. A hammer becomes another length of arm. With one in our hand, we have the power to drive nails with a metal fist. A car gives us an engine and wheels, so we can zoom down roads at dozens of miles (or kilometers) per hour. A plane gives us engines and wings, so we can fly far and high.  Each expands our agency to distant horizons of effect and experience in the world.

Infrastructure and services expand what each and all of us can do as well. But at the base of human capacity is the individual’s ability to do stuff in the world. Or, in a word, agency.

Which brings me to the second world we built alongside the physical one we all share. That second world is the Internet: a Giant Zero shaped by an oddly simple protocol: TCP/IP. Never mind how it works. Just note what it does: reduce to zero the functional distance between everything and everybody on it. Also the cost.

As a way to expand human agency, the Internet has no rivals. It gives all our voices, all our ideas, all our actions, worldwide scale. Any of us can speak, write, publish and much more, across any distance, at levels of inconvenience and cost that veer toward zero.

And we’ve been doing that, routinely, ever since the Internet assumed its current form. (That happened in April 1995, when the NSFnet‘s backbone — one network within the Internet — was decommissioned and commercial activity, which the NSFnet forbade, could begin to flourish across the whole Net.)

The Net has an end-to-end architecture. Every body and every thing is an end point, and the Net’s protocol does its best to move data between any and all of those. This is what Paul Baran, one of the Net’s fathers, described as a distributed design, rather than a centralized or decentralized one. Here is how he illustrated the difference, way back in 1962:

Paul Baran, On Distributed Communications Networks, 1962

And that became the Net’s basic design. Or at least its ideal.

Yet, for the sake of convenience — especially in the early days of the Net, when most of us were still on dial-up — we defaulted to a client-server architecture for deploying servers and services. With client-server, each server is a central point, which makes the Net, in a practical sense, a decentralized thing, rather than a distributed one.

And yet the distributed nature of the Net persists, grounding our agency in the world it defines.

Conflicts between centralized, decentralized and distributed capacities on the Net — and uneven development of tools and services enlarging our agency — are behind many of our crises on the Net today.

Take privacy for example. It’s a huge issue. Survey after survey (e.g. from Pew, TRUSTe and Customer Commons) say that 90% and more of us are concerned about personal privacy on the Net, don’t trust many service providers, or lie and hide to obscure personal identity. Advertising and tracking blockers are the most popular browser extensions, and with good reason: we are still naked on the Net.

That’s because the Net, like nature in the physical world, doesn’t come with privacy installed. We have to make it for ourselves. In the physical world we did it by inventing clothing and shelter. In the virtual world we still don’t have either. Tracking blockers are fig leaves at best. They also all work differently. We are still in early times.

Since we have no privacy yet (other than by staying off the Net, or by isolating ourselves on it by declining to accept cookies and staying away from services such as Google’s and Facebook’s), we tend to think about privacy in terms of secrets: things we don’t want others to know about us. But think instead about what we do to create privacy in the physical world, with clothing and shelter. Both do more than cover our bodies and and our lives. We express both. We also express with them. Our clothing and shelter send signals about ourselves. They speak of our tastes, our gender, our status, our memberships. Most of these speakings are subtle, but many are not. What matters is that they all valve our exposure to others. Buttons and zippers on our clothes speak of what can, can’t and shouldn’t be opened by others, without permission. Doors, shades and shutters on our homes do the same.

All of those things facilitate our agency. We need the same in the networked world.

The main difference is that we’ve had thousands of years to work them out in the physical world, and just twenty in the networked one. In the history of civilization, and even of business, this is close to nothing. We’re barely started.

There will, inevitably, emerge a symbiosis between centralized, decentralized and distributed capacities. Brian Behlendorf uses the term “minimum viable centralization” to label what we’re looking for here. Meanwhile we have maximum viable centralization on a network that is also distributed by design. Just like the humans on it.

We are seeing today a collapse of intermediary institutions. Publishing (e.g. blogs) Hospitality (e.g. Airbnb), dispatch (e.g. Uber), broadcast (e.g. Meerkat and Periscope) and payments (e.g.  Bitcoin) come quickly to mind, and many more are coming along. Yet through all of those there must remain some degree of trust in the graces that institutions — governments and companies — alone can provide. How can their minimum viable agencies help us enlarge our own? That’s the main challenge for the coming years.

The question we need to ask, as we address that challenge through VRM, is this: What is best done by the individual, and what is best done by the institution — and how an the two work together?

To answer that, agency must be key. Without it we’ll only get more centralized BS to distrust.




Declaration of Customer Independence

I published one of these five years ago, way ahead of its time, which I believe has now come. (Evidence:  @BenGrubb‘s victory over Telstra.*)

So here we go again:


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all customers are born free, that they are endowed by their creator with innate abilities to relate, to converse and and to transact — on their own terms, and in their own ways. When sellers have labored long and hard to restrict those freedoms, and to ignore and insult the capacities enjoyed naturally by customers — by speaking, for example, of “targeting,” “capturing,” “acquiring,” “retaining,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers as if they were slaves  — and when sellers work to inconvenience customers to the exclusive benefit of sellers themselves, for example through “loyalty programs” that require customers to carry around cards that thicken’ wallets and slow checkout in stores, it is the right of customers to obsolete the coercive systems to which both sellers and customers have become accustomed. We do this by providing ourselves with new tools for leveraging our native human powers, for the good of ourselves and sellers alike.

We therefore resolve to construct relationships in which we, the customers, control our own data, hold rights to metadata about ourselves, express loyalty at our own grace, deal in common and standard ways with all sellers and other second and third parties, protect our private persons and spaces, assert fair terms and means of engagement that work in mutually constructive ways for both ourselves and the other parties we engage, for the good of all.

We make this Declaration as free and independent persons, each with full agency, ready to form agreements, make choices, assert commitments, transact business, and otherwise function in the free and open environment we call The Marketplace.

To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our precious time and attention.

Comments and improvements welcome.

*Read the whole thing. It matters. Hugely.

By the way, I’ll be in New Zealand and Australia the week after next, keynoting Identity 2015 in Wellington and Customer Tech X in Melbourne, where I will also be on a number of panels. I’ll also be in Sydney for one day before heading back. Hope I can also hook up with some  of the growing number of VRM companies there. There are many on the VRM Developers List. (More on a separate post later.)

Of vaults and honey pots

Personal Blackbox ( is a new #VRM company — or so I gather, based on what they say they offer to users: “CONTROL YOUR DATA & UNLOCK ITS VALUE.”

So you’ll find them listed now on our developers list.

Here is the rest of the text on their index page:


PBB is a technology platform that gives you control of the data you produce every day.

PBB lets you gain insights into your own behaviors, and make money when you choose to give companies access to your data. The result? A new and meaningful relationship between you and your brands.

At PBB, we believe people have a right to own their data and unlock its benefits without loss of privacy, control and value. That’s why we created the Personal Data Independence Trust. Take a look and learn more about how you can own your data and its benefits.

In the meantime we are hard at work to provide you a service and a company that will make a difference. Join us to participate and we will keep you posted when we are ready to launch.

That graphic, and what seems to be said between the lines, tells me Personal Blackbox’s customers are marketers, not users.  And, as we so often hear, “If the service is free, you’re the product being sold.”

But, between the last paragraph and this one, I ran into Patrick Deegan, the Chief Technology Officer of Personal Blackbox, at the PDNYC meetup. When I asked him if the company’s customers are marketers, he said no — and that PBB (as it’s known) is doing something much different that’s not fully explained by the graphic and text above, and is tied with the Personal Data Independence Trust, about which not much is said at the link to it. (At least not yet. Keep checking back.) So I’ll withhold judgement about it until I know more, and instead pivot to the subject of VRM business models, which that graphic brings up for me.

I see two broad ones, which I’ll call vault and honey pot.

The vault model gives the individual full control over their personal data and what’s done with it, which could be anything, for any purpose. That data primarily has use value rather than sale value.

The honey pot model also gives the individual control over their personal data, but mostly toward providing a way to derive sale value for that data (or something similar, such as bargains and offers from marketers).

The context for the vault model is the individual’s whole life, and selective sharing of data with others.

The context for the honey pot model is the marketplace for qualified leads.

The vault model goes after the whole world of individuals. Being customers, or consumers, is just one of the many roles we play in that world. Who we are and what we do — embodied in our data — is infinitely larger that what’s valuable to marketers. But there’s not much money in that yet.

But there is in the honey pot model, at least for now. Simply put, the path to market success is a lot faster in the short run if you find new ways to help sellers sell.  $zillions are being spent on that, all the time. (Just look at the advertising coming along with that last link, to a search).

FWIW, I think the heart of VRM is in the vault model. But we have a big tent here, and many paths to explore. (And many metaphors to mix.)

Toward VRooMy privacy policies

Canofworms1In The nightmare of easy and simple, T.Rob unpacks the can of worms that is:

  1. one company’s privacy policy,
  2. provided by another company’s automatic privacy policy generating system, which is
  3. hosted at that other company, and binds you to their privacy policy, which binds you to
  4. three other companies’ privacy policies, none of which assure you of any privacy, really. Then,
  5. the last of these is Google’s, which “is basically summed up as ‘we own your ass'” — and worse.

The company was GeniCan — a “smart garbage can” in the midst of being crowdfunded. GeniCan, like so many other connected devices, lives in the Internet of Things, or IoT. After exploring some of the many ways that IoT is already FUBAR in the privacy realm, T.Rob offers some constructive help:

The VRM Version
There is a possible version of this device that I’d actually use.  It would be the one with the VRM-ypersonal cloud architecture.  How does that work?  Same architecture I described in San Francisco:

  • The device emits signed data over pub/sub so that secondary and tertiary recipients of data can trust it.

  • By default, the device talks to the vendor’s service so users don’t need any other service or device to make it work.

  • The device can be configured to talk to a service of the user’s choosing instead of, or in addition to that of the manufacturer.

  • The device API is open.

Since privacy policy writing for IoT is pretty much a wide-open greenfield, that provides a helpful starting point. It will be good to see who picks up on it, and how.

How Staples can make things easy for real

Staples likes to make things easy. s0105150_sc7Or so their button says.

But rebates in general are hard — on both the store and the customer. And at that Staples is no exception.

For example, yesterday at a Staples store I bought a couple reams of Staples paper for our printer. I probably would have bought the Staples brand anyway, simply because it’s cheaper. But I also couldn’t ignore the after-rebate price: $1.50 less for each ream, or $3.00 total. So I asked at the cash register if what I paid included the rebate. No, I was told. The rebate is in the electronic receipt I’d get by email. I could send in for the rebate online after getting the email.

When I got home the receipt was waiting in my email inbox. Among many other promotions in the email, it said this about my rebate:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.18.33 AM

When I clicked on the link I got to this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.19.34 AM

When I clicked on “SELECT FORM” I got this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.22.06 AM

For $3, fulling out something like that, and mailing it in, is worse than a waste. So I clicked on the “right here” link, which led me here:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.24.13 AM

So I clicked on the center one. That got me here:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.26.49 AM

So: what was the Easy Rebate ID? All I saw, so far, was a “Rebate offer number,” on the email and back at the page that the email link brought up. So I entered it in the form and hit “NEXT.” That got me this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.29.23 AM

After going “Hmmm… ” I scrolled down and saw this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.31.45 AM

Sure enough, at the bottom of the very long email with the rebate jive on it, was this:

Mail Attachment

I entered that number, and it worked.  Hitting “NEXT” then took me here:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.37.02 AM

When I clicked on NEXT again, I got to a page where I could register for a rebate account (by filling out a form that mined way too much personal information) or sign in. I have a Staples loyalty account; so, hoping that this might also be the rebate account, I hit “Sign in.”

I would show you the page this went to, if I could have copied it. But I couldn’t. The page had the same “Staples Easy Rebates” header, and under it just two words: “Error occurred.” When I paged down to see if there was more, the page disappeared and I was delivered back to Square Zero: the “Welcome to the Staples Rebate Center” page.

Since everything I already entered was lost, and I had no faith that entering it again would yield a different result, I gave up.

In retail parlance, this is called “breakage.” Within rebate systems, some level of breakage is a virtue. You (the retailer) don’t want everybody getting a rebate. You want as few people as possible asking for the rebate, and as few as possible succeeding at navigating an intentionally complicated series of required steps for getting the rebate. Most customers know this, of course, but every once in awhile some of us want to see if we get lucky.

This is not a good “customer experience.”In what marketers love to call “the customer journey,” it’s a wasteful and annoying side trip to an outer circle of retail hell.

So here’s a message from one customer to every retailer running a rebate program:

Any system that rationalizes breakage as a virtue is broken itself, for the simple reason that it pisses off customers. And if you want to piss off any percentage of customers — even good ones — some of the time, your whole store is broken.

So here’s a bottom line I invite Staples to consider:

Rebates save money if your time has no value. This principle applies equally to customers and companies offering rebates.

As a loyal customer of Staples — a company I’ve always liked (partly because of the “easy” promise, which they’ve been making for many years — my advice is to calculate all the overhead involved in all the promotional gimmickry used to drive sales and “loyalty” that isn’t. Include time wasted at the cash register every time the employee has to ask for a loyalty card  or a phone number to recover the customer’s account, and to explain how a rebate works, plus other extraneous bullshit that has that takes time and incurs labor costs for purposes that have nothing to do with why the customer is standing at the checkout counter, just wanting to pay for goods and  get the hell out of the store. Also include the inconvenience to the customer of having to carry around a card, and the corresponding administrative overhead required to manage all this complicated work, and the computing and network technology required to sustain it (and how that gets broken too). Multiply those by all the employees and customers inconvenienced by it. Then add all of it up. Be real about what percentage of your total overhead it accounts for. Remember to include the real costs to customer loyalty of pissing some of them off on purpose.

Then kill the whole thing and subtract the savings from the prices of the goods in the store. Publicize it. Hey, hold a public execution of all the added-up costs to company and customers. Talk about it as real savings, which it is. Publish papers and place editorials explaining why you’re done with the game of kidding yourselves and your customers. I know plenty of good PR firms that would be glad to help you out with this — and maybe even cut you a deal, because they’re tired of bullshitting too.

In Silicon Valley they call this “disruption.” It’s a great way to stand out, and to reposition both Staples and all of retailing.

And your customers will love it.

Don’t trust me on this. Trust  Trader Joe’s. They don’t have a loyalty program, rebates or any other gimmicks. They never have discount prices. They don’t keep any data on any customers, because they don’t want the overhead, or to complicate anybody’s life. Their marketing research — no kidding — consists of this: talking to customers. That’s it. And what’s the result? Customers love them.*

Now you might say, “Yes, but Trader Joe’s is a special case. So are companies like Apple — another company customers seem to love. They only sell their own private label goods. They don’t operate in the world of co-op advertising, dealer premiums, display allowances, buyback allowances, push money, spiffs, forward buying, variable trade spending and trade deals, manufacturer coupons and all the other variables that retailers like Staples, which carry goods from hundreds of different suppliers, need to deal with constantly. And what about customers constantly hunting bargains, and comparison shopping? They want deals, and we have to compete for them.”

Sure. But why make it more complicated than it has to be?

If you really want to make things easy, for yourself and your customers, kill the bullshit. Be the no-bullshit company. Nothing would make you stand out more.

Nothing is easier, for everybody in retailing, than no bullshit at all. Or more rewarding, because customers appreciate absent bullshit at least as much as they appreciate present bargains. Especially bargains that come with labor costs — for them.

Source: The Intention Economy, pp. 223-228.

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