Dear Google, I really want to like you...

With consumer confidence waning and pressure from stakeholders mounting over privacy concerns, Google has established privacy policies which are easily found on its Web site.  However, they go a step further.  In January 2010 they launched a vulnerability rewards program as a way to engage consumers in a very customer-centric, very proactive way. (Security, n.d.). It encourages consumers to look for weaknesses in the security in a variety of Google applications including any of the following: .google, .blogger, .youtube, or .orkut.  These categories of bugs are definitively excluded:

• attacks against Google’s corporate infrastructure
• social engineering and physical attacks
• denial of service bugs
• non-web application vulnerabilities, including vulnerabilities in client applications
• SEO blackhat techniques
• vulnerabilities in Google-branded websites hosted by third parties
• bugs in technologies recently acquired by Google

The tester or researcher is only permitted to test their own page or a test page.  If they find any areas to be vulnerable or susceptible to potential security breaches or privacy issues, they report their findings to Google.  Google then pays the individual $500.  If the rewards panel finds a particular bug to be severe or unusually clever, rewards of up to $3,133.7 may be issued. Recognizing that some researchers are not interested the monetary gain, Google gives (the researcher) the option of donating the money to charity.  If the researcher chooses this option, Google will match the donation.  The vulnerability rewards program is a unique public relations solution to the very challenging issue of privacy.

While this is an awesome program, I believe it is not enough.  Google is relatively quiet when it comes to PR and promoting general goodwill efforts, especially when it comes to privacy issues.  Google came under fire in 2010 for having "private discussions" with Verizon over net neutrality, which is is a leading issues debate about consumer and corporate access to electronic data traffic networks, and to what degree network providers can play traffic cop legally in this arena. (Praecere.com, 2010). According to an article that appeared in The New York Times, it has been the center of a debate over whether those companies can give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission, or to their own content..." (NYTimes.com, 2010).  What this means for Verizon is that Google, whose Android operating system powers many Verizon wireless phones, would agree not to challenge Verizon’s ability to manage its broadband Internet network as it pleased. (Wyatt, 2010). 

Google should be more open about these issues and speak openly to the public and its shareholders when they are considering making such changes or embarking on the very controversial issue of net neutrality.  So, does the vulnerability rewards program negate this debate or are they two separate issues?  To me, both issues should be handled with care and with a well-crafted proactive public relations campaign. 


*Note: I try to cite sources whenever possible.  


Beyond Mass Mailing - Direct & Interactive Marketing Today

With products like iPhone, Facebook, and Youtube, it should be clear by now that what people want is more than a mere purchase. Consumers want an experience. According to Martin Baier, direct/interactive marketing is "a philosophy and a process of marketing that has at its heart the needs, the desires, and the expectations of customers.”(WVU, 2011). In an interactive and digital age, what could be truer about the way human beings communicate with each other on a daily basis? Our hearts and desires and expectations have everything to do with our own interpersonal communications. 

Generation Jones and younger (i.e., everyone under the age of 50) increasingly prefer, and in some cases demand, personal interactions with brands.  This is one major reason for the rapid growth of direct/interactive marketing; how, when, and why we communicate with our consumers is utterly intriguing to me for many reasons.  First of all, it is the basis of an IMC approach.  Secondly, it allows us to get beyond a product design or brand management or big fancy PR campaign and enables us to get into the human psyche and build relationships with people. “…direct marketing quickly is becoming a way to develop a more personal relationship with target customers through customer relationship management. (Hammond, 2008). 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been described as, “there are better coders out there, but Mark understands how people think.” (Time, 2010).  Think about that for a moment.  An interactive medium has changed the way we live and interact with each other as humans.  Not as Americans or politicians or college students – but as humans.  And it’s not just Facebook.  With the evolution of things like Google TV, QR Codes, and RFI television ads, direct/interactive marketing will most certainly continue its growth. Moreover, it will continue to progressively change not only the way marketers reach targets but how human beings reach each other.

Building mutually beneficial relationships is something that direct marketers should take very seriously.  I spoke a lot here about social media and television, but relationship building should be fundamentally important to anyone implementing a direct/interactive strategy as well.  In both B2B and B2C environments, my philosophy is that we should be engaging with our audience – literally – whenever possible.  For example, in my city (Wheeling, WV), there is a weekly after-hours at a local sports bar.  I have been told by everyone from advertising executives to bank presidents that they close more deals and do more business at that after hours than anywhere else.  Why? Because they are not merely selling something - they are building long-term relationships.

For direct/interactive marketing to be sustainable, we must understand all of the different facets that are contained in its make-up and then learn how and when to effectively apply each.  Social media, television, direct mail pieces, and yes, even happy hour, provide us with opportunities to engage our customers and win them for life.