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Strands of Change

20 April 2018

Five years on with the General Data Protection Regulation about to come into force in Europe, David Carroll of the Parsons School of Design in New York is quoted elsewhere as saying:

Consumers have been abused. Marketers have succeeded in making people feel powerless and resigned to getting the short end of the bargain. GDPR gives consumers the chance to renegotiate that very unfair deal.

They should do so in retail outlets as well as online.

Buying something as innocuous as a portable video player in a shop can result in all sorts of deviousness to get information that would fall under GDPR out of the customer because the product offers the potential of cross-selling. This extends to trying to refuse legal tender in favour of electronic money because that comes with at least a name.

It is enough to put people off shopping retail.

You would have thought with the decline of retail, driving customers to prefer shopping online and downloading films would not have been in the sellers' interests.

Customers should make clear that one reason they are shopping retail is that data is not being collected every time they buy an item that they want or a present so that retail becomes a nuisance-free environment.

Or the shops can go to the wall because nobody bothered to tell them till it was too late.

29 March 2019

I have been responsible, in the pre-internet days, for published construction standards that sell in their hundreds of thousand, in other words millions in revenue, so I am very well aware of the hard and necessary work that goes into selling things.

What is unappealing is contractual entrapment and this has tended to fall under the banners of marketing, or once it is rooted out, mis-selling, rather than old-fashioned salesmanship.

Reaching people directly through the internet, creating contracts that are harder to enforce, may have reduced some of the bad practice.



It is possibly true that the Blair years might have had a quarter of negative GDP growth but for money pumped into the economy by 'free shares' from building society demutualisation.

There is some truth in the observation that the billions of pounds that UK banks are now paying in compensation for Payment Protection Insurance mis-selling has helped kickstart a recovery.

Whilst the pushing of endowment mortgages in previous decades might correctly be termed mis-selling, with PPI the correct term should be mis-marketing.

The Left has its line-up of demons - the rich, marketisation, advertising - but it omits totally the real agent of the modern equivalent of the clearances amongst the poor and middle-class of today: marketing.

It is as if an industrial dispute blows up and the workforce comes out on strike. After a few weeks struggle, provided the strikers have not been sacked, everyone goes back with a little having been given on both sides. No real damage has been inflicted by the employer on the collective of strikers.

However, over the weeks of the strike many of the strikers (who frequently are a minority) and the rest of the workforce fall prey to the marketing techniques of money lenders, locked into contracts hard to escape from, picked off individually.

The right of centre may come to the rescue of the rich, marketisation and finance in its ideological arguments but it is not going to trouble itself about marketing.

Marketing is holding up the efficient operation of capitalism that market liberalism seeks.

Marketing is the fissure line in global business that may fracture it into something different if global recovery takes hold.

Advertising is not the same as marketing.

Advertising usually gives product information.

It may portray an unattainable lifestyle or create excessive wants or desires and make people buy too much but it can also be taken with a pinch of salt.

The advertising element of marketing is usually not a problem.

Selling is not marketing.

The occupation of a salesman could be an honourable one. If someone came into a shop asking for a cardigan you could still sell a winter coat instead if you had no cardigan after finding out that what was needed was something to keep the person warm outside because this was matching a need to what there was to sell.

So much of marketing is not nearly so innocent.

A core technique in marketing is to lure the customer into a contract which can then take him in so many directions that the marketeer, not the customer, chooses.

The customer's needs become subordinated.

What philosophers would term deception is used.

Because a certain power over the customer is acquired those tasked with doing the marketing may be given a false sense of superiority. They may be told the system is near infallible and that they must exert relentless pressure on the customers to bring them into line.

However, one must wonder whether those who send the marketing front line out to do these tasks really regard it as somewhat dispensable and just there to follow orders.

Employ an organisation heavily oriented towards a marketing front end and you may find the work later executed by someone inflexibly following a system with little time, discretion or even inclination to accommodate your needs.

Marketing is the new Faustian pact. Whatever could be wrong with it? Yet treat with it, buy from it, sell through it and you may yet live to regret your contract.

Marketing is the antithesis of professionalism.

Attending foremost to your client's interests, professional training, being consulted for your knowledge and judgement, orders other than from your client ceding to ethical considerations, all take a flight with the geese to who knows where.

So it was that England's 2004 NHS GPs' contract was a bad deal for a noble profession: sacrificing professional autonomy for very much better pay and hours and following orders from above.

So it was, too, that marketing techniques came to the surgery to foist statins and other undisclosed agendas on patients.

It is time to move on from this contract and perhaps blame Nye Bevan for unwisely saying of doctors that he had "stuffed their mouths with gold" in exchange for getting his way for starting it all.

We are on the cusp of change.

The digital revolution has almost done away with travel agents but not travel.

Many of the types of the purest middleman - shops - are going. Locate yourself in the middle of an English urban area and you may find it impossible to buy a broom or a bag of cement within a mile radius.

Switching to a marketing based model does not tend to save the medium sized players from extinction, only the big boys.

Increasingly if we want to sell or buy services, goods or assets we may want to target very specific geographical locations, almost in a peer-to-peer manner, where we can appear in person, bypassing through digital means middlemen like employment agents, wholesalers, realtors and other gatekeepers.

A benign oligarchy of internet service providers (there used to be dozens in Britain and now four handle 90% of traffic) and international social media companies hold this change up, though not intentionally.

A vast amount of true competition will be unleashed by this and geographical specificity will mean that personal exchange and being known will once again form part of the trading environment.

In local digital communities, such as networks hosted by universities without outside assistance, the predominant ethos is mutual knowledge not marketing.

After all, the digital generation is trading knowledge more than physical artifacts.

Information is not knowledge, as many a managerial hoarder of information has had cause to realize. Knowledge does not need marketing to be traded though it quite often needs professionalism.

If one looks at global mobile phone sales in 2013, open source Android phones (Android phones without Google services) now sell more by volume than any others and are predominantly sold in China.

It is unlikely that complex marketing contracts get sold with these phones. It is also unlikely that they get sold with phones in Brazil, India and Russia because it is difficult to hold someone to a complex contract if they disappear into the remote, rural back of beyond.

The preferred model of dealing for low cost producers is probably high volume and fair dealing not marketing supported dealing.

Products that can sell themselves by rarity may not need too much marketing either, just access to markets.

As Western consumers claw their way out of recessionary economic environments their purchasing power allows them more choice.

Their patience may wear thin with marketing and as competition emerges perhaps they will switch to low cost, marketing-lite sources.

Much better would be if their own economies could produce competitors not burdened by the marketing overhead.