The Information Age Is A Dangerous Myth

Tom Dougherty

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Your Customers Beg To Differ

The promise of the information age has fallen on deaf ears. Futurists have been touting our epoch as the age of information but your customers have other ideas and these ideas have spawned an entire new set of tools specifically designed to ignore you.

Let's use the metaphor of email to make this point. On average, you probably receive upwards of 100 emails or more a day — more if you are a member of an email centric company like Stealing Share®. There was a time when email was a powerful way to communicate because it was almost immediate and took place right on the desktop. It required the use of a technology that was already integrated into the workflow of most white-collar employees. It was intrusive and left a fine paper trail. It was a perfect microcosm of “the information age”. It is All SPAM

Today, with the constant bombardment of emails, just to make the technology useful we need to install SPAM filters whose sole job it is to remove at best, or highlight, at worse unsolicited emails. If these filters “believe” that the email is “junk” it either deletes it immediately or places it into a junk mail folder.

As an email end-user, at the end of everyday we need to sort through the emails chocked full of *** ography, Viagra ads, penile dysfunction/enhancement and the latest stock tips to make sure that nothing of REAL importance was inadvertently deleted.

A close look at these SPAM filters is worthwhile because they work very much like that natural filters that your most coveted target audience uses everyday to make heads or tails out of the din of marketing noise around them. The average consumer today receives over 1,800 marketing messages each and every day and this does not include all of the messages they are subjected to on the web. It is easily twice that number of messages if you include all the banner ads, pop-ups and solicitations that come our way at every site we visit. This is not “information, ” it is noise. Your potential customer is spending the vast majority of its day, not digesting all the information they receive but in filtering out all of the noise that comes to it unbidden. We are more aptly in the age of knowledge — a filtered subset of the age of information.

Customers Develop Filters

Back to our email SPAM filter illustration. The filter on our computers looks for certain pre-defined attributes that might indicate SPAM. These can be a specific type of layout, image or domain. It can be set to search for particular words or phrases and content and exclude and and all of those. Living in the consumer-oriented society that surrounds us all requires the same set of filters. You customer scans for content that “is not for them” and subconsciously ignores those messages… pushing them into their very own junk mail filter.

Sometimes, these “rules” don’t work well and need updating. For those of us who have ever bought a home we have seen this filtering first hand. Suddenly, while in the house hunting mode, we “notice” every FOR SALE sign within view as we move about. Then, once we have purchased a house …”PUFF” all the FOR SALE signs suddenly disappear. This is an example of selective attention. Automotive brands rely heavily on this form of marketing. They realize that consumers will filter out the ads when they are not in the market and will focus in when they are. It is a terribly inefficient model that requires great reach and frequency (read CASH) because no one can pinpoint where and when the motivated buyers will appear.

Getting Around The Filters

There is a way around these filters. At Stealing Share we call it a Brandface - an active definition of the customer when they use the brand. It is a powerful tool of self-description that defines your brand by the self-definition of the target audience and therefore exceeds the category definition of product of service. It is as if, in the SPAM filter of life, they have added your domain to their address book because your messages are addressed directly to them.

The idea is simple enough but the execution is the art. It requires collaboration with a marketing department that realizes that brand promise is every bit as important as product promise and that understanding the emotional self-description of your target market is even more important than the full understanding of your product, service or category benefits.

Research Won't Help You

These emotional tenets will not be found in your market research, although they may very well be christened in it. To identify these tenets, we employ a preceptive behavioral model that provides us with the insights that we then test in the research. Ask your potential customer why they drink the brand of beer they drink and they will tell you that they like the taste (as if anyone drinks a brand of beer that they hate). Ask them why they shop where they do and they will tell you price, selection and convenience. You don’t need market research to tell you this, any eight year old could do the same. The value of your market research is found in the research and modeling you do BEFORE you ever go into the field. Focus groups won’t help you and one-on-one interviews will only hint at it. To find the self-description that propels your message past all of the filters and directly into the hearts of your most coveted consumer, you need the tools of customer anthropology.

Tom Dougherty
CEO, Senior Strategist at Stealing Share, Inc.

Tom began his strategic marketing and branding career in Saudi Arabia working for the internationally acclaimed Saatchi & Saatchi. His brand manager at the time referred to Tom as a “marketing genius, ” and Tom demonstrated his talents to clients such as Ariel detergent, Pampers and many other brands throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. After his time overseas, Tom returned to the US where he worked for brand agencies in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. He continued to prove himself as a unique and strategic brand builder for global companies. Tom has led efforts for brands such as Procter & Gamble, Kimberly Clark, Fairmont Hotels, Coldwell Banker, Homewood Suites (of Hilton), Tetley Tea, Lexus, Sovereign Bank, and McCormick to name a few. Contact Tom at


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