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Bartering, Branding, and Barriers: Marketing and Media in the Data Economy

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Along with the vast amount of data being collected, there are also new ways to present and communicate that raw data as information.

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One of the things that is becoming apparent in the data economy is that along with the vast amount of data being collected, the new formats that data is taking, and the new ways that data can and will be used, there are also new ways to present and communicate that raw data as information. I use the word information loosely because it's not just about statistics and ratios anymore. It's found in marketing collateral, in op-ed pieces, book and travel reviews, as well as just plain product reviews for stuff around your house. There will also be new voices and new faces tied to that presentation and communication as well.

Starwood's (HOT) new promotion with Foursquare will promote a person as the Mayor of SPG (i.e. the mayor of their Starwood Preferred Guest program) and another developer, LoSo, is looking to combine the best features of Foursquare, OpenTable (OPEN) and Yelp all in one application; the users will get rewards. There are other companies like RadiumOne, Klout and PeerIndex that are in the business of sifting through the mountains of data being created around social media and the Web to try and figure out who those new faces and voices are. Is it the wild, wild West out there? Well, yeah it sort of is.

But there is actually a niche of the Web that has been around a few years that may give us a glimpse into who and how these new faces and voices will be found: they're called "Mom bloggers." Because as mothers have the majority of responsibility with many household management items like managing finances, researching and buying products and services, they are the ones who you would naturally expect to be gaining influence with others who are doing the same functions elsewhere. Plus, think about the show Mad Men: Don Draper's best move was letting Peggy Olson write copy and work on campaigns; not developing some zinger for Lucky cigarettes or a catchy phrase for Hilton hotels. Because with many of the products their agency was trying to develop campaigns for, they needed a woman's perspective. And voice.

Amy Bradley-Hole is one such woman who also does branding and works with companies to expose them to new strategies and ideas on how to promote their own businesses in the social media space. She is also a very busy mother and works out of her home. I talked with her and there are several things that she said about influence and consumption that really resonated.

First, women -- and mothers more specifically -- lead very hectic lives and they don't have time to experiment with products and develop things, but they do have time to figure how out to implement those products in a way that best suits their lives. It's what she calls mastery of "real world tech." Because while men dominate the areas related to product development and engineering, someone has to actually use those contraptions after the guys are done mashing things together and possibly losing an eye or a finger (figuratively speaking, of course). Women are great at figuring out how to use things and if it's overly complicated, they will let you know about it. So why not give them the benefits of being a vocal customer? Especially since many of these women aren't shy about blogging about their experiences with a product and sharing that blog with the world.

Which leads to the second message that stuck: There's a line between a blog that critically analyzes a product and one that promotes it. Unvarnished opinion is something that has always been treasured, but in the age of the interwebz it's even more sacrosanct. If a blog comes off looking and sounding more like ad copy than a product review, people will notice. But the issue here is that the only way you can tell who offers true opinion and who writes to sell stuff is to read their blog. That takes time. But hopefully, with rules coming into play which require bloggers to disclose material relationships, respect intellectual property (i.e. no plagiarism), etc. that task should get easier. But the blogosphere has definitely seen its share of wild, wild West style behavior, just as you would expect with any disruptive force. And make no mistake, this is a disruptive force.

Finally, there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing in the data economy. There are different strategies for different niches of the Web and finding people who are effective at using those strategies pertinent to each niche is something that companies don't know how to value yet, but will soon have to. The old days of marketing involved buying ad space in newspapers, TV time or billboards, then hoping and praying that the eyeballs or radio listeners translated into sales. The Web now allows for a more direct form of word-of-mouth marketing -- where companies can reach customers in the way that customers want to be reached and preferably reached by people that customers can see and touch; not celebrity spokespeople that are untouchable and distant. But the point is valid: you can't market to Facebook users the same way you market to folks who hang out on YouTube (GOOG), and those users aren't like users who spend time on Twitter.

Is this the new model? Where average Joes and plain Janes anywhere can become celebrities and trusted advisors that, in essence, supplant traditional media outlets for advertising and marketing? Where anyone who is willing to share their experiences in an authentic manner can become a new voice for a new age? It's very possible, and I'd argue that the infrastructure is in place. And people are clamoring for someone to tell them what their experiences are. To share their stories. Because if socionomics teaches us anything, it's that people are constantly looking for information to help form opinions. To help them shape their moods. To help guide their actions.

Those voices and faces are out there. And right now we're in the process of discovering who and what they are.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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