Marketing legal IT solutions has more in common with marketing a political party than one might think – the product in both cases is something which the target audience would like to be able to do without, and all the products look the same from the perspective of the uncommitted would-be buyer. In both cases, the “suppliers” all suffer from the adverse impression left by the others, and in both cases, overall impression matters more than the detail. The advertisers need to give more thought to the arrival of the message as well as the delivery – what does it sound like to the would-be buyer?
My recent article Using marketing to make people hate you brought me concerned messages from two companies who thought that I was aiming at them. Both of them, as it happens, are people who produce marketing material which is the more useful for being restrained and to the point and, as I assured one of them, if I had strong views about the marketing material of anybody known to me, I would tell them, not the world.
Meanwhile, my primary target in that post, the US translations company which is crowding out the limited attention span of the e-Discovery market, continues to pour its dross into our inboxes. The record is four Google alerts about them in a single message, each as badly written as the last. I hope they get a contract soon, as in someone taking out a contract on them.
My other target in that post was a British utilities company known to me as “British Ga…” because that was as far as their Spotify ad went before I could turn it off. I asked of it “who decided on behalf of British Gas that pissing off the audience several times an hour was the way to encourage us to move from one profiteering energy supplier to another?”. The advertisement disappeared the next day, at least from my hearing, although I claim no credit for this. Having our boys, home for Easter, choosing the music on my wife’s Spotify setup, makes me realise how precisely targeted Spotifiy’s advertising is. It apparently takes account of one’s choice of music as well as age, gender and other information which one either gives when signing up or which can be concluded from, for example, geographical location. The boys, my wife and I get completely different advertisements, and it will be interesting to see how my wife’s advertisements change as a result of the period when her installation has had users from a different demographic.
I came across this targeting point in a different context this morning. Searching in The Times Online for the name of Margaret Cole, the Director of Enforcement and Financial Crime at the FSA, for a proposed article about regulatory investigations, I was surprised to find that I could save up to 42% with “great bargains on Margaret Cole” from one of the grapeshot price-aggregating sites. We certainly need one Margaret Cole, but I’m not sure that we need to shop around for a discounted one. Unsurprisingly, the site had none on offer, though purporting to come up with 693 matches.
There is, of course, nothing new about this unutterably stupid use by advertisers of web search technology. My favourite was a search I once did for Capel Celyn, a Welsh village which disappeared beneath a reservoir in 1960. I came across (it has gone now) a sponsored link for an estate agent offering properties for sale in Capel Celyn, notwithstanding that the entire village had disappeared decades before. The root of the problem is that this grapeshot use of technology to splatter a product’s name everywhere is cheap – it costs less than an intelligent targeting of those who might actually buy the product or services. We know that you can apply a more intelligent approach to search than by merely picking up every noun used in a search and offering to sell you one – looking for “Negro slaves”, for example, no longer brings you the opportunity to buy some online as you once could, so even this crass marketing form is capable of fine-tuning where the result would otherwise be offensive, anachronistic or both. Why not make better use of this ability?
In broad Internet terms, this does not concern the author of the marketing material. Within a narrow market like the e-disclosure / eDiscovery one, however, the random use of indiscriminate marketing is positively damaging. Any message that you have serious solutions which are aimed precisely at solving real problems gets lost in a hail of marketing material, much of which is as unfocused in its content as it is in its reach to its intended audience. The potential market closes its ears and eyes.
My own personal campaign, as I have said before, is to persuade people to remove the vapid meaningless words like “revolutionary” and “unique” and thus force themselves to find replacement words which actually mean something. I have been known to send press releases back to their authors saying that, whilst I am sure that there is a decent story in there somewhere, I cannot see it and doubt that the lawyers will either. What does this application actually do which is relevant to the lawyers? How will it help them? How are the existing users of whom you boast actually using your application or services to make money, save money, win cases or attract clients? Or is “revolutionary” really all you have to say about it?
Having got this far, I might as well roll the Margaret Cole story into this one since my purpose in following it up was precisely to do with the awareness of circumstances for which the software applications and litigation services are required. The Times article is called FSA regulator Margaret Cole rides through the city with guns blazing. The opening paragraphs link the “fears that the appointment of a hard-nosed litigation lawyer might presage a more aggressive, adversarial approach by the city regulator” with a reference to the FSA’s recent raid on homes and businesses in their enquiries into alleged insider trading. This will be new territory to many of the lawyers who receive early morning calls from clients with FSA heavies waiting in the office reception or trampling on the children’s toys as they make for the home computer. As the lawyer, how do you react to that call? What advice do you give to the frightened spouse who has opened the door? Who will you turn to for advice on the forensics aspects which are about to raise their head?
This is a marketing line infinitely more useful than pages of prettily decorated verbiage spattered with words like “revolutionary” and “unique”. As we have seen, an Internet search will not necessarily bring you the answer you want. What can you say about your services which makes you stand out, and in a good way?
I had written this much when another fine example of unthinking marketing burst upon us. Forget the politics for the moment, and just focus on the message in this new Labour party poster.
For those of you unfamiliar with British politics and British television, the original picture is of Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt, the politically-incorrect antihero of Ashes to Ashes, the series whose lead character was transported back to the 1980s when policemen beat people up and generally acted as if the law did not apply to them. The superimposed head is of David Cameron, leader of the Conservative opposition in the now-imminent election. The message “Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980s” is meant to make us think of the harshness of Margaret Thatcher’s economic and social policies.
How many levels does this fail on? The 1980s was indeed hard for the many whose jobs fell victim to changed times – coal-miners, ship-builders and any number of others whose jobs produced things which were either no longer needed or which cost far less elsewhere. It was, however, a time of rising prosperity for many others, as London became the centre of the financial world, local authorities were made to sell council houses to their tenants, and new types of business and jobs were created. The only people to whom the poster’s message will appeal are core Labour voters anyway. Those who created this were so impressed with the cleverness of the “back to” message, and so confident of its appeal to the faithful, that they forgot that the target audience is the uncommitted majority. The “back to the 1980s” has very different messages for them.
The second level at which the poster fails is that Philip Glenister’s policeman became an unlikely cult figure, even amongst those who deplored his language, character and habit of kicking evidence out of people. As the Conservatives have hastened to point out, we did at least have policing in those days – there was some chance of criminals being caught, and space to house them in prison. The incessant nannying, and the choking restrictions on what one can do and say in these health-and-safety, equalities-and-discrimination, state-directed times, has made many people almost nostalgic for the 1980s. Gene Hunt was cool, notwithstanding the crocodile-skin boots, and Cameron can only benefit from the association, particularly given the personal defects of his rival, Gordon Brown.
There is a third level which has more sinister implications, to do with whether policing is any better now than it was then. The 1980s manner of policing was unacceptable was it? So much better now, is it, since the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984? Last week, a large policeman was acquitted of assault after striking a small woman across the face and then drawing his baton and hitting her across the legs when she appeared to threaten him with a fruit juice carton. If the prosecution cannot make that case stick, then the fact that there are no policemen on the streets these days suddenly seems a plus. Sunday’s paper brings a report that the police are photographing 1.4 million cars a day with no legislative entitlement to do so. The piece includes a story of an 80-year old man threatened with arrest because his car had once been photographed near the scene of a protest; it is just as well the old boy wasn’t drinking fruit juice. At least DCI Hunt only went for people if he thought they had committed a crime, not just because their car had once been seen near a democratic protest.
The Labour poster is a good example of bad advertising. If it appeals to anyone, it is only to those who will vote Labour anyway, it bestows cool and glamour on its target, and it reminds us of how policing has declined under Labour. You don’t need to be anti-Labour to find this a disaster. The legal IT equivalent would involve spending a fortune on reaching everyone with an advertisement actually directed only at existing users, one which plays up your rival’s product, and draws attention to one of the main defects of yours. No-one sat down and thought about what it looked like to those whose support must be won.