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Thoughts about Surveillance Capitalism and Human Futures Marketing

Monday, 11 January 2021

Seems just about all of our activity is being followed and our data collected, put into a predictive model, and sold. Indeed, our personal data – our searches and clicks, our emotions and micro expressions, our intimate conversations – is being collected from friends and family, Alexa, Siri, Google, and even our watches, and then sold to those seeking to profit from it.

Yes, Surveillance Capitalism now owns the internet and puts our every move up for sale.

There is no communication we have, even in our bedrooms, that isn’t potentially captured by some form of technology, ending up in the hands of the Human Futures Market that then sells it to marketers who push content out to us the moment they think we ‘need’ it. George Orwell lives.

With so much knowledge available and for sale about each of us, many, many new companies have emerged to grab our information, ultimately to influence our thoughts or actions in politics, healthcare, entertainment, etc. The list goes on.

We have each become targets, ‘marks’ to be invaded. It’s creepy. Really, really creepy. And I believe it’s unethical.

DOES IT WORK?

I have a practical question. Is this surveillance, invasion and extreme push technology even successful? With all the information collected, are more sales per person being closed? I’m sure on aggregate there are more purchases, just by sheer numbers. But per person, even for those who had been considering a purchase, I’m not so sure it works. After all, having this data doesn’t guarantee the person is seeking to buy THIS or buy it NOW or in the form suggested.

The predictive/push technology is merely a shot in the dark with a hope of hitting pay-dirt often enough to pay for itself. Are any of us truly swayed to buy when we get an email sent by SEE BETTER OPTICALS ten minutes after telling a friend on the phone that we need new glasses? This isn’t conjecture, btw. It just happened to my sister. ‘How did they know I was just talking about buying glasses?’ she asked. Her Apple watch was listening in.

I find these practices to be counter to any ethical sales approach for at least two reasons:

  1. Assumed readiness: when Siri knows you’re in a bad mood, or your watch ‘notices’ you’re having a bad day, (Send her the ad for that new sweater she’s been eyeing!) does that mean you’ll buy NOW? Or that you’re eager to receive a text message? Certainly some percentage will buy given the vast numbers of people being targeted. That doesn’t make it ethical.
  2. Ethics: is it really ethical for strangers to surreptitiously steal our personal data so companies can get their needs met, so they can bother us, inundate us with ads and texts and emails and and and? The assumption is that we’ve ‘given our permission’ to share our data. But have we? My God, these creepy capabilities even know how fast we walk (and assume if we slow down we’re noticing something that can be sold to us). Does this match a company’s brand values? Are they selling their souls? Well, yes. And that’s their business model.

The new business model seems to be to sell at all costs. And by ‘sell’ they mean shove an ad in front of you at your most vulnerable moment. But is that selling? I contend it’s not.

I suppose it can be said that advertisers sold their souls long ago. But we understood ads on sites or TV to be pitches for products that we could watch/listen to or ignore and flip past, there when we needed that particular item. Now they collect ALL of our data and send us personalized ads, not by market research but by, well, stealing.

THE SELLER AS GRIFTER

Until now, market research has been a fair model to collect prospective buyer data and interest. It’s always been assumed that with a good solution, a great presentation or well-placed content, a prospective buyer would notice and consider buying. That’s fair.

But I contend that the overarching goal of selling everything to everyone any time some sort of trigger is set off – according to the sales needs of the group that purchased your data – is not only creepy but out of integrity.

People don’t consider themselves buyers until they’ve already determined they can’t fix something themselves and understand the ‘cost’ of doing something different. Until then they are merely seeking the most effective, efficient route to fixing a problem themselves.

AN EXAMPLE OF GOOD MARKETING

I pulled my last book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? from the publisher when they wanted me to make changes I wasn’t willing to make. I was quite happy with that decision, but I then had to find readers. Since my natural audience was in sales and change management, I didn’t have a natural audience of folks seeking to learn how to listen without bias. What to do? I had to find an audience.

Knowing people don’t have interest in information unless they are specifically seeking to add something new to their knowledge base, I figured folks wouldn’t naturally have interest in the book because everyone (wrongly) believes they know how to ‘listen’. So I thought about who my natural reading audience might be: business folks seeking ethical approaches.

To this end, I wrote an article called Meetings: the purpose, the pain, the possibility that merely offered great tips on how to run very efficient meetings (no mention at all about listening), with links in the footer to the new book. I got emails from companies around the world thanking me for the article and saying they were passing it on to all their employees. The article had a 54% conversion rate – straight to my book! No need to capture eyeballs or pitch how terrific my book was. I just needed to offer helpful information they found useful.

In my opinion, this new Surveillance Marketing model is making grifters of sellers. Is this really what we are now – predators who seek any chance, any opening, to make a sale, regardless of the ethics? Regardless of how our intrusions are affecting people? Is this the only way we can close or find new business? Is this our new competitive advantage?

Really? Has it come to this? Is this the only way we can make money or sell our solutions? If it is, shame on us.

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Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.