“The marketing model is broken. The throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks ethos still takes the lion’s share of spend, but is running out of steam. This is because people are much smarter and more connected through the Internet.”
For a former marketing chief at Capital One that could be seen as an amazing epiphany but, for Justin Basini, aged 36, rewriting the marketing rulebook has become something of a personal crusade.
Having joined the US credit card giant at the height of its “mail them to death” phase, Basini persuaded the company to take a different approach. He says: “I’m really proud of the journey we went on at Capital One. The consumer stopped buying credit cards through direct mail and we responded by moving from a direct mail heavy marketing mix to a digital marketing mix. We wanted to make some bold statements about the direction of the brand, for example, by being the first major company to move all our materials to 100 per cent recycled paper.
“Capital One is a highly analytical, rational and empowering place to work; as long as you can explain the fundamental drives and analysis behind your ideas and strategies then persuading people to change is not hard, although the questioning is tough.”
And now his powers of persuasion are likely to be tested once more as, along with business partner Howard Huntley, he has committed his reputation and savings to create Allow; a company which aims to give consumers control of their personal marketing data, and provide an income for both the consumer and Allow.
Not a new Preference Service
As far back as early 2001, The Preference Service – a joint venture between Royal Mail and Royal Dutch Post – launched a similar service to Allow, which never really took off. But Basini is adamant the two schemes are incomparable.
He explains: “What we are doing is creating the first transparent exchange in permissioned consumer data. One of the ways that this exchange of data works now is to make the highly inefficient marketing process more efficient, for both marketer and consumer. What supports this move and gives us a greater chance of success is that in 2001 there wasn’t a £1bn lead generation market that was aggressively growing. But Allow isn’t a way for marketers to target direct mail based on preference.
“Every company is collecting and dealing with increasing amounts of consumer data. There is more and more analysis and sharing of this information yet what is often missing is explicit permission from the consumer about how this data is used and shared. We believe consumer data can deliver a lot of benefit for both consumers and companies but what is essential to enable this is easy to use ways of applying permission and value to these datasets. This is what we provide.”
With some in the data industry already trying to discredit Allow, by questioning the company’s motivation, does Basini think established players feel threatened by the new venture?
“The marketing model is changing. There will be those who get that and embrace new models and ways of doing things; there will be those who protect the status quo. That’s the way in any market that is rapidly changing. We aren’t destroying the market, consumers are changing their behaviour, increasingly they hate poorly targeted marketing, and are buying in new ways. We believe we are establishing a virtuous circle; the more people are in control, the more benefits will be delivered.”
Benefits for the man on the street
And despite recent reports that the scheme will only really profit those people who are earning over £45k a year and in the market for high-end consumer goods or holidays, Basini is adamant this is not the case.
He claims: “Allow will work for everyone. The average man on the street using the scheme, getting in control of their data and seeing value from it could see anywhere from £50 to many hundreds of pounds.
“But the important thing to understand is that we are driving a significant change in the market. The data market at the moment is hugely commoditised. As the market moves to value based pricing – which effectively is the Allow model, where the consumer is in control and an active part of the process – then prices will rise and volumes will go down.”
With many of the commercial databases available on the market, both off and online, literally mailed to death, how will he ensure people signed up to Allow are not over-targeted?
He asserts: “Allow is not a way for marketers to target and abuse members. We only release data from members with their explicit permission and on a limited basis, either by time and/or usage, dependent on what a member’s permission set is. Over time, people will use the service to get as much or as little marketing as they wish.”
Climate for change
Basini also believes there is a climate for change in many marketing departments. “I am constantly amazed at how open marketing teams are to new ideas, especially in the UK. That’s one of the reasons why the UK digital marketing aspect is the most mature in the world. There are also huge external pressures on marketing data and permission – from the EU Privacy Directive and ‘do not track initiatives’, to calls for the right to be forgotten – the landscape of consumer data is changing rapidly. We can help brands navigate this changing landscape by providing cutting edge and practical solutions about how to put the consumer in control and get greater efficiency. As long as we can prove the value of our model to marketers they will give us a try.”
And having worked at Procter & Gamble, which “taught me the way a marketer must deeply understand customer needs” and Deutsche Bank, which “toughened me up and taught me about the world of finance”, Basini has the inside track on how marketing departments work.
Within five years, he says he wants to be “running the leading global business in helping people control and get value from their personal information”, and few would bet against Basini’s powers of persuasion. After all, this is the man who convinced Capital One to rethink a marketing strategy that was virtually set in stone. All he’s got to do now is win over the rest of the market.