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There is an uncanny similarity between Osama and some Marketers when it comes to digital technology

Am I clutching at straws? Well, you be the judge after reading this article.

Despite all the conflicting statements from the US government surrounding circumstances relating to US special forces’ raid of Osama bin Laden‘s compound in Abbottabad and his eventual killing, the love-hate relationship this number 1 enemy of the West had with digital technology was laid bare. According to CNN and other news feeds, Osama’s hideout did not have many of the digital trappings associated with its market value. Apparently he did not have a telephone line or the Internet, and relied solely on his trusted courier (who was himself a computer boffin, how ironic) for communication with the outside world, all in a bid to hide his tracks. As fate would have it, the same trusted courier inadvertently led the US intelligence to the hideout, dramatically ending the chase after 10 years of Osama’s evasion.

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On the flipside, it is clear that training of the 911 hijack team and the execution of that ghastly event was enabled by digital technology. In addition, digital technology was used for video recording and wide distribution, including on the Internet, of Osama’s jihad messages to his global followers for many years. Lastly, terrorists are actively using the Internet to share information such as the making of bombs, and more.

My key take-out is that the deceased father of modern-day terrorism appreciated the value of digital technology in the globalisation of his movement and achievement of other terrorist objectives, but he disliked using digital communications personally as he knew – and this is the operative word – the danger this presented as a detection mechanism for his hunters.

Let me draw the parallels between Osama and some Marketers.

I have no doubt that Marketers love their purchased or company-sponsored digital gadgets such as Blackberries and iPads, which are making their and colleagues’ lives easy due to the always on, instantly accessible enabling devices that keep them (Marketers) constantly in touch for business and social networking reasons. I am also certain that Marketers love using digital media for their brand campaigns as they can, for the first time, quote accurate stats to illustrate successful executions – with statements such as “there have been 1 000 hits to the microsite on the first day of the XYZ campaign” or “498 000 SMS’s were received during the duration of the ABC brand promotion” becoming a standard feature of campaign reports.

However, Digital technologies have turned the saying information-is-power on its head, where information about almost anything imaginable has now been democratized by the Internet. For the first time, it is no more about the few who hoard the information to strengthen their positions. It is now about the many people who can easily search, generate and share information online.

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Information democratisation has presented a major headache for Marketers in the following direct ways:

  1. Barriers to access of increasingly abundant information (that is not always accurate, unfortunately) about brands have been completely destroyed.
  2. There are vocal and influential online communities and bloggers developing and sharing content with their online “friends” on an ongoing basis about everyday topics that typically include (dis)trusted brands that form part of their lives.

It has been an age-old practice by Marketers to push brand information to consumers using typically unresponsive media, and this gave them (Marketers) the power to select what they communicated. As one can expect, pushed information suited Marketers’ objectives and it was not always in consumers’ best interest. There are well-documented examples of nutritional over- or under-claims and downright deceptive advertising to prove this. These unethical practices are still being perpetuated by Marketers who do not accept the shift in the power of information.

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The Internet has made brand information pull a reality, where consumers are more keen to search for information of favorite and considered brands. What’s more,  they have become more critical, if not cynical, of the many marketing messages that continue to be churned out. Now and despite the growing cynicism, pressure has been brought to bear on Marketers to “tell all” about their brands first hand, or run the risk of consumers finding out themselves anyway.

The love-hate relationship continues on a different front for Marketers.

See the uncanny similarity I am talking about?

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