Metadata – the New Language of Marketing


Monday I talked about the social networking bubble. Marketers are getting sucked into the social-networking vortex and can’t find their way out. The problem is that most companies are trying small tactical improvements, hoping to improve sales a bit and trying tactical savings programs, hoping to improve margins a bit. Yet there’s a whole new curve of efficiency waiting in the world of pull. It’s time to start talking about saving trillions, not millions. Companies should think in terms of big, strategic, double-digit improvements, new markets, and new ways to cooperate. Here is a road map:

Business information is just getting started. Read my book and you’ll realize that in most areas of business we are guessing and making assumptions, rather than knowing what’s really going on. Social marketing is more of the same. But we’re about to enter a new era of business intelligence, where transactions drive data through entire industries and increase transparency a thousand times. Pay attention to the information shift – it’s going to affect every job at every company.

Metadata is the new lingua-franca of business. Listen. Two large banks recently merged, and the IT integration effort is estimated at $200 million. How would it be if instead it took a small team a few weeks? Would the executives look at acquisitions differently? Would the savings be passed on to customers? Would the industry become 20% more efficient as a result? Probably all of the above. Structured data is a thousand times more important than social marketing, both for back-office and front-office functions. We are entering an era of change from unstructured to structured data. Structured data deletes all the PDF documents, spreadsheets, and proprietary formats and replaces them with industry standards allowing interoperability, disambiguity, and findability. These are big-ticket items. Don’t execute your marketing plan without them.

Accurate metadata is the new currency of marketing. As Scott Brinker argues so eloquently, you must have a chief marketing technology officer, and that person is soon going to be responsible for the strategy that saves your company. Stop guessing. Start knowing. The era of transparency is about to begin – the old marketing tricks will die quickly.

Markets are conversations. They can take place between friends, between colleagues, between customer and vendor, and even between two programs if they can speak the same language. More and more, disambiguating those conversations will give both parties more power. Making things more comparable, interoperable, and findable will change the nature of our conversations.

Personal data will shift the power balance in the conversations. Personal data, and the control of personal data, will transform today’s customer from a passive consumer to an active market participant with more power than even the largest multinational brands. At the moment, the marketers have all the data. But that is about to change. Once you are in control of your own behavior, purchase, viewing, and other data, you’ll be able to trade it for offers, discounts, and even cash rebates on various products and services. When you stop searching and start putting out queries, you’ll stop going to web sites and start seeing relevant offers coming in. It’s sort of like putting out an RFP, but for pretty much anything you’re looking to buy. Identity is the new computing, shopping, socializing, and data-management platform. Whoever has the data has the power. At the moment, it’s the big marketing-data companies, but that will change steadily over this decade.

Example: media. Photographs are data. As we consumers got control of our own data, the entire industry was forced to change around our new-found abilities. We needed a lot fewer professionals and were able to help each other start taking professional-level photographs. Much the same is happening with podcasting and voice communications. The same is starting to happen in film. When we start to add semantics and the personal data locker, these media will change again even more. As I’ve noted, television is about to change radically into something we would barely recognize today.

Example: authentication and authorization. Every time we go to a new doctor’s office, we fill out yet another paper form that someone transcribes, usually without making too many mistakes, and the electronic paper chase continues inside hundreds of computers. In the not too distant future, you’ll check into your doctor’s office using your phone, and all the information that you want your doctor to see will be available to her on her device. She’ll write you a prescription using her device, and it will go onto yours and automatically to your favorite pharmacy. As these everyday processes streamline, from getting on a bus to buying a new pair of shoes, the marketer’s message and the role of brands will change completely.

Interruption advertising will have to change. Again, as we get control of our information, we won’t tolerate being interrupted by ads for incontinence diapers or sleep aids if we’re not in the market for them. Imagine watching your favorite show and actually seeing ads by companies with products and services you are looking for. The economics work, even at the scale of the Super Bowl, because the value of these ads starts to take them out of the interruption category into the opt-in category, where you look forward to and learn from the ads because they are exactly the kind of thing you’re researching at the moment. If you’re planning a trip, every ad you see will pertain to aspects of your trip you haven’t decided on yet. Eventually, interruption advertising will go the way of the Dodo bird as people realize the power they have to launch queries into the marketplace and engage in the conversations they want to have.

Brands will never recover. The half life of your brand is about to shrink drastically. As I talk about in my book, brands will start to stand more for short-term utility rather than long-term emotional attachment. Your brand will have to become helpful. If it isn’t helpful, it will have less and less effect on customers. In contrast, more helpful brands will rise.

Account portability will be the price of entry into conversations with the new consumer. If you make it hard for people to cancel or delete their accounts today, that’s a warning sign of push cancer. More and more companies will embrace the principles of data portability, and widespread data portability will eventually lead to widespread account portability. Soon, customers will demand it as the price of entry into a conversation with them. The Roach Motel approach to marketing will be dead by 2020, even if Steve Jobs doesn’t think so.

The Open Web will overtake today’s silo-based social web, giving people the ability to manage relationships and data from anywhere, any time, using any device, without relying on a single company or web site.

Your industry needs your help, and you can’t afford to ignore it any longer. Look at what Science Commons is doing for research. Look at how XBRL is changing markets by making transparency easy and interoperable. Look at what OAGI, the Open Applications Group, is doing for big software systems. Learn how Respect Code is changing the clothing industry. Change is afoot. I’ve been waiving my arms about this for two years, and it’s time the marketing people started getting interested. Your industry is about to start cooperating, and your position in it will change as a result. There are many examples in my book.

SEO will still be valuable, and it will keep evolving. As Jay Myers has learned at Best Buy, search engines are starting to recognize and value metadata in semantic formats like RDF, and new frameworks for describing offers like GoodRelations are starting to pay for themselves. SEO won’t just be about keywords. It will be about concepts, queries, offers, and responses. Learn this new language before you get left behind.

What I’m describing are the arms, legs, trunk, and ears of the pull elephant. No one can embrace the principles of pull all at once, but little by little this decade will decide who dies, who survives, and who thrives. Ignore it at your peril. If you want to see the big picture, buy my book and carve out some time from your busy social networking schedule to read it.