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MarTech Conference: Doc Searls previews ‘customer tech’
The marketing writer/researcher has helped set up a ‘Customer Commons’ to provide some of the automated ‘contracts’ between customers and brands.
Get ready for “customer tech.”
That’s the essence of what writer/researcher Doc Searls forecast in his keynote Thursday morning at Third Door Media’s MarTech Conference in San Francisco.
He is using that term to describe a new kind of contractual relationship between the customer and the marketer, one which might evolve beyond the current tracking environment.
Instead, he predicted, the customer can become the first party of a “contract” where the marketer is the second.
“A contract is a law we make for ourselves,” Searls said, quoting lawyer acquaintances.
That kind of private “law” between customers and brands will emerge, Searls predicted, in the wake of ad-blocking software and in anticipation of GDPR.
GDPR, which stands for General Data Protection Regulation, is a sweeping set of European Union (EU) privacy regulations that goes into effect a year from now. Essentially, Searls noted, it says that brands “can’t follow anybody [or] collect their personal data without their expressed consent.”
It sets penalties for companies that violate the GDPR for any citizen of an EU country, regardless of where that citizen resides.
‘An extinction event’
Searls described the coming enforcement of GDPR as “an extinction event for ad tech in Europe.” But, if its penalties are enforced, it could also affect virtually every company of any significant size in any country, since such brands’ marketing and advertising will almost certainly include some EU citizens.
The other major driver toward a new status quo in advertising and marketing is ad blocking, Searls said. Ad-blocking software can directly or indirectly interfere with the tracking, segmenting and targeting of online users that now takes place — mostly without their knowledge or consent — across the web, across devices and, increasingly, in the real world.
Searls pointed out that cookies, one of the main tracking methods, originally were developed to help users maintain their status, so that, for instance, a website would “remember” them.
Instead of consumers being tracked involuntarily and targeted by data about their purchases, behavior, demographics, devices or other factors, Searls envisions an emerging era when “the customer is leading the dance.”
As some others are predicting, Searls sees the evolving advertising environment as moving away from involuntary targeting and toward what he calls “intent-casting.”
He briefly described an emerging entity called Customer Commons, which he has helped organize as a spin-off of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Searls has been a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center.
Among the Customer Commons’ projects are automated messages in HTTP headers that inform advertisers of an online user’s expressed consent regarding their personal data. Although users can navigate experiences outside of a browser — such as in an app, or through a voice agent — the main idea is that a user automatically broadcasts their specific consent — or lack thereof — for use of their personal data.
Searls suggested that, in this emerging environment, advertisers might provide more content-focused sponsorships, instead of always targeting ads. And the visitor might visit a site with permissions set to something like: “I’m looking to buy a stroller for twins in the next two hours.”
This self-proclamation that you are a qualified lead could replace — or at least supplement — the current system where marketers employ clues about your actions and status to determine if you’re in market for their product.
“This brings customers to you of their own accord,” Searls said, while avoiding GDPR consequences and negating the reason for ad blocking.