Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are "Free Content" Consumers Our Lab Rats?

In my Internet wanderings I came across a blog written by an anonymous guy who calls himself MrHeretic. Considering the stuff he’s posting, it’s no wonder he’s afraid to be identified. In a poignant post titled “You Killed Market Research,” MrHeretic condemns a series of practices that he thinks have written the obituary for market research.

I’m wondering how much of this heretical finger-pointing should be applied to marketing generally and, more specifically, to so-called “content marketing” within the direct marketing industry. Here’s what I mean.

Direct marketers are now buried in the Malthusian multiplication of online “content.” Increasingly, the “information” we’re fed may not be “information” at all, but rather a poorly disguised grab for our information. That might be okay, except much of what we get in return is awful offal.

You already know how the shill works. Whether it’s a whitepaper, webinar, webcast, video, podcast or simply access to an article, you must register to see it. Some would argue that’s a fair exchange. Amid the demand for open, transparent communication I, personally, would disagree, but willing trade or not, many of MrHeretic’s principles seem to apply to the development, dissemination, and data gathering tactics driving this “content” giveaway.

Obviously, service providers who openly share industry information deserve our thanks. Direct marketing has become increasingly complicated by integrated and multi-channel efforts and we all want to know what is working for others. What do “best practices” look like? What have we tried that didn’t work? How can we adapt to so much change? What does the future hold? Who can help us? The search for answers to these questions has made participation on LinkedIn’s direct marketing-related groups explode. We need each other and, if you know “something about something,” I will love your blog, appreciate your knowledge, and maybe even decide to work with you.

Meanwhile, a different response to our thirst for guidance has launched an avalanche of “bastardized information,” the primary purpose of which is to both beguile us and get our data. Are your in-boxes stuffed with this junk info, too? Here’s one example.

A respected industry resource uses its reader email list to push out content that vendors have paid them to distribute to us. So what’s wrong with that? Some might say it’s no different than receiving a piece of direct mail from an insurance company simply because we subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. What can I say? It feels different. Wait, darn it! It is different.

What comes to my inbox from a respected information resource suggests to me that any information they deliver has been vetted for value, right? Not so when money alone will get that information delivered to me. Not so, when the distributor isn’t telling me the “information” is “advertorial” or “product placement.”

Bottomline: I trusted you and you sold me out. Or, to edit MrHeretic a wee bit, “You killed [the value of your content] when you treated respondents like lab rats.”

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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