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Who Owns the Customer? Marketing or Digital? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 226)

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Who Owns the Customer? Marketing or Digital? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 226)

Who Owns the Customer? Marketing or Digital? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 226) – Headlines and Show Notes

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Who Owns the Customer? Marketing or Digital? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 226) – Transcript

Well, hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. Today is Friday, August 10th and this is Episode 226 of the big show.

As I mentioned last week, we have a new sponsor for thinks out loud and that sponsor is SoloSegment. I'd like to thank them very much for their support. SoloSegment is all about site search analytics and on AI-driven content discovery and improving search results in customer satisfaction. You can check out and once again I thank them for their support. I think we've got a really, really cool show for you. There's a lot going on this week. It started out when I shared a post on Linkedin by Christopher S. Penn and what Christopher was talking about is how the end of digital marketing is near.

Basically, his point is that digital is so integral to our lives now that it's not separate from marketing, it's just, you know, it's just out there. It's just regular marketing in and of itself. Now, this obviously resonated with me very well. I've been talking for a long, long time about how it's all e-commerce— and I'll get back to that point in a minute — but clearly this has resonated with folks. The piece itself has more than 227 shares and just my brief mention of it on LinkedIn has almost 1700 views and a bunch of comments in just a few days. Now, many of the comments really resonated with me. Steve Cummins had a great point where he said, "This is true. Naturally we start off by segmenting things that are new and then they come back to the center. Over time it helps them to get traction and helps people to focus where to hone their skills," which I think is exactly right. I think that's very smart.

And there were two other comments that really jumped out at me as well. Max Starkov, who I've known for years, Max is from a company called HeBS, said "The days of distinction between traditional and digital marketing are long gone, exclamation point in hospitality. It has been digital first for at least 15 years and digital only for at least eight years now." Barry Cunningham was even more since succinct. He said, "That's over a year old. Not sure it's still relevant. It's like a lifetime in internet time."

So I replied to Barry. I said, "Unfortunately it's all too relevant for many businesses and industries who don't see that as reality yet. You'd be amazed the number of product-focused or sales-led organizations who still tell me, yeah, but my customers don't really use the Internet to buy my products.

They talked to our sales people, reps, etc. instead." Barry's response: "That's nuts. Dinosaurs!" Exclamation point.

Now this is amazing to me. Obviously just last week I asked whether you should abandon digital the way it looks like GE is, and as I noted in my reply to Barry, at least three times this week I spoke with groups of executives, marketing executives, among them who basically talked about digital as being somehow separate from marketing. That these are two distinct disciplines with nothing to do with one another, no relationship at all, which blows my mind that this is still a conversation that we're having. You know, this isn't new. In 2013, I wrote a piece for the Biznology blog that asked is paid search part of marketing. Even further back in 2009, I wrote a piece as part of a point/counterpoint debate that asked is digital marketing a core skill for today's marketers?

By the way, I'm going to link to all of these in the show notes. The question I would have is, how is it possible 10 years later, we're still having this debate? How are we still having this debate, especially when some folks like Max and Barry think the debate is long since settled? Now, as I mentioned a moment ago, I'm pretty in line with Max and Barry. I wouldn't go so far as to call people who hold the opposite view dinosaurs, but it's definitely not something that there's this core distinction between digital and marketing any longer. Just the other day I wrote another piece that asked why are marketers still afraid of data and at least as far back as 2011, I've been talking about how it's all e-commerce — and I know for sure that I was using the phrase long before I wrote piece. So how are we still having this debate?

Well, I think there's a reason for it and I think digital marketers specifically and marketers more generally are to blame and the reason is because too often when we talk about what we do, we get really excited about the tech and not the people. To me that's no wonder that "traditional marketers" — and I'm very much using air quotes for traditional marketers — but that's no wonder that traditional marketers don't get us, that they don't think we're part of their tribe.

The bigger problem though is the traditional marketers are just as guilty. As I pointed out in my Biznology piece the other day, they're using data too. And as Max and Barry and I believe, there's plenty of leakage between the various marketing disciplines already. It's not black and white, but we get hung up on the data and we get hung up on targeting and we get hung up on devices and we get so hung up on all the tools and the techniques that we get trapped into thinking about what we can do instead of thinking about the customer, instead of thinking about the person. You know, I'm always reminded of that scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Ian Malcolm is taking the owner of the park to task. You know, he says "We're so busy wondering if we could, we haven't always stopped to think if we should." Think about all the times that we've said, you know, mobile first. Well, as I've asked a couple of times, it's not mobile first, why isn't it customer first? Is it the device that matters or is it the person that's using the device that matters?

And by doing this we've sort of decoupled people's humanity here. We've decoupled the people from the situation and we're only now starting to see implications of this. In a way, GDPR has come about because many marketers, many digital marketers, many traditional marketers, et cetera, grabbed all the data they could — all the data available — without thinking about the human implications. I've mentioned many times before here that digital is like gravity, you know. It becomes this thing that can be a real problem because, yes, it can absolutely be a useful tool, It can absolutely be beneficial to you, but also you can fall off a cliff if you do it wrong. You know, as the phrase I've used before a goes, when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck

And I think it's only going to get worse if we don't get our hands around it. Now you know, we're about to start incorporating AI into what we do and we have to think about the implicit biases we're introducing into those AI's as we look to understand our customers more deeply, as we look to pull apart our customer segments more. You know, there was a fascinating book by Cathy O'Neil a couple of years ago called "Weapons of Math Destruction" and no, I did not slur or list it is math, M-A-T-H destruction, but O'Neil, you know, outlines the many ways we can hurt customers, we can hurt citizens, by deploying algorithms and AI without thinking through the biases inherent in those programs. Now, I read the book for the first time a couple of years ago and I dismissed O'Neil's wildest fears as a slippery slope argument, unlikely to occur regularly in the real world. Fast forward a couple years now. I'm not so sure.

Think about all the things we've seen over the past year or so with data problems on Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica things and all of these, you know, mini-scandals and mini-crises and some not-so-mini-scandals and not-so-mini-crises that have come about because of how we're using data about customers. There was a really fascinating and thought-provoking piece for Quartz a week ago that explained quote, "everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason" unquote. And it's really about how they've not looked at the human being. They've not looked at the person. Now, I don't know that I completely agree with, uh, Sonnad's piece. But I do think it's worth thinking about in detail as we go forward.

When we talk about marketing, when we talk about digital, we often talk about who owns the customer. And that's starting to concern me the more I think about it because nobody owns the customer, the customer owns themselves. I think a more important question that we need to start taking a look at is who looks out for the customer? Whose job is it to look after your customer? Whose job is it to think through the implications of what we do in digital and with data? That's true whether you're a quote-unquote digital marketer, whether you're a quote-unquote tradItional marketer or whether, you know, you're just a marketer because really they're the same thing. We need to start thinking about how are we looking out for our customer? How are we taking care of our customer?

I want to be clear. I don't claim to have all the answers here. I think this is a big, huge question that we need to start getting our arms around and I do know that I'm through having a debate about quote-unquote digital versus marketing.

Instead, I think it's time that we start asking the core questions about who serves our customers, who helps them, who looks out for them. That's what's really important. Because ultimately, if we don't take care of our customers, it won't matter if we're in traditional marketing or digital marketing or anything. Because ultimately if we don't take care of our customers, we won't have any customers.

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you, you can find the show notes for today's episode as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to Again, that's, and while you're there, simply click on the links you find to subscribe to us in iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Google Podcasts, or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. You can also find us on Spotify. And while you're there, please feel free to provide us a rating that tells all your friends and family and fans and followers how much you enjoy Thinks Out Loud every single week. You can also find us on facebook at on twitter using the twitter handle @tcpeter or on email using the email address Again, that's Once again, I'd like to thank our sponsors SoloSegment, that's SoloSegment, who provides site search analytics and AI-driven content discovery to unlock revenue. You can find them

And with that I want to thank you, especially, for tuning in. I hope you have a really wonderful weekend, an amazing week ahead and I will look forward to speaking with you again here on Thinks Out Loud next week. Until then, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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