Entrepreneur Alistair Croll wraps MarTech East 2018 by imploring marketers to be ‘just evil enough’

 Alistair Croll speaking at Martech Conference East 2018.

Alistair Croll speaking at Martech Conference East 2018.

The 2018 MarTech East conference in Boston ended Wednesday with a keynote presentation imploring marketers to be “a little evil.”

Well, not “evil” in the sense of throwing a kitten out an open window. More like “subversion,” as in finding unused opportunities in platforms and thus gaining a competitive advantage.

“Evil” was used in his presentation title of “How to be just evil enough” instead of “subversion,” entrepreneur Alistair Croll told the gathering, because it would better attract attention.

The “Attention Economy.” And attention is the main goal of his vision, built around the “Attention Economy” idea first espoused in 1971 by economist Herbert Simon.

“Spend half your time subverting a platform to capture attention you can turn into profitable demand,” Croll said. “You need to make the system act in a way it wasn’t intended to.”

In addition to getting a platform to work in an unintended way, his tactics include focusing “maniacally” on the desired result, positioning your company uniquely in ways that matter, surprising customers with a different thing than they thought they were buying and making the future happen sooner by offering something brand new.

In one example Croll offered of a platform hacking, travel site TripAdvisor tells new reviewers that they’re in the top 25 percent of reviewers so as to encourage them to write more reviews. But it doesn’t tell them it shows reviews by new reviewers more often than those by more veteran reviewers.

In an example of literal positioning, he pointed to a news story about a Girl Scout who sold 117 boxes of cookies in two hours outside a pot dispensary in Bay Area.

As for selling a different thing via brand positioning, he noted that Salesforce originally pitched its web-based customer relationship management (CRM) system as a way that salespeople could avoid IT, rather than competing with installed systems on feature richness.

Competing against too much info. Croll’s approach covers a wide range of opportunity diving, clever marketing and brand positioning, but they all revolve around the central idea of capturing attention.

“The problem with traditional marketing,” he said, “is that it creates information — which is competing with an abundance of information.”

Marketers need to generate attention and not more information, Croll argues, in part because mass advertising in an interactive age of so much free content has failed.

‘Attention Economy,’ meet the Age of Personalization and the Era of Mistrust. But the phrase “Attention Economy” phrase was coined nearly 50 years ago by Simon, a time when there was no Net and mass media like TV and print publications ruled.

Today, the mantra of modern digital marketing is personalized, finely-targeted marketing to an individual or to audience segments. Marketers don’t necessarily need to jump-up-and-down in order to stand out from all that information and useless advertising if they offer this one person or this group of people exactly what they are looking to buy.

After all, is the world where Audi has to drive the wrong way on a racetrack to get attention the same world where the Audi marketer directs an ad or email right to me because it knows I’m in the market for a new car?

There’s also the issue of brand trust, a subject touched upon by Gartner VP/analyst Andrew Frank in another presentation at the conference. With so much fakery and deception out there, brands — along with institutions of all kinds — are experiencing a steep decline in trust.

The traditional Attention Economy idea doesn’t really address how some stunt or less-than-honest but ingenious marketing tactic can undermine consumer trust in a brand.

In other words, the marketer who dons a clown suit and parachutes into Times Square wearing a Bank of America banner may cause more trouble than just a traffic jam.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today. For more on marketing technology, click here.


About The Author

Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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