Dear Marketers: Don’t Put Advertising in Filters. It Will Get Filtered Out.

On Tuesday evening I was in Washington DC having dinner at Jaleo, a Tapas place near the Verizon Center. Since I’m on a Foursquare kick right now, I checked in, and poked around.

I checked out the profiles of a few of the other people who had checked in at the restaurant that evening, and I looked at their Twitter streams.

I found some very interesting people, and thanks to the mayor of the restaurant, Ben T (a Gov 2.0 guy who’s @xeus on Twitter), I learned that U2 is streaming a concert at the Rose Bowl live and for free on YouTube this Sunday.

I thought that was pretty cool. Foursquare is suddenly a valuable filter, turning up interesting information for me.

Foursquare obviously isn’t my only filter. I have tons. Google Reader and Twitter are my most important. I also use Facebook, LinkedIn and lots of other sites like the HubSpot blog, Inbound Marketing.com and on and on.

I love all these filters. They give me higher quality information with better context. A lot of the material I end up reading is still from traditional media — but it’s from a broader range of traditional media outlets, and tends to be better produced, more thoughtful and more relevant to my life.

There’s broad acceptance that these filters are helping people spend their attention more efficiently. John Borthwick explains it clearly in this video [ugh! video was removed for copyright violations!] Bijan Sabet posted this week.

But here’s what surprises me about filters today: Many marketing and media types are trying to use them to “target” consumers via advertising. Steven Johnson explains this effort in the video above.

I don’t think targeting via filters is going to work.

I use filters to improve the quality of my information flow. If businesses try to force information that I don’t find interesting into my filter, I’ll just improve the filter. To reach me, businesses have to get through the filter organically — they have to get a recommendation from somebody I trust or show up when I’m looking for a solution to a problem they can help me solve.

How do businesses do that? By building trust and creating useful, valuable content. Not by advertising.

Advertising in Web Apps Is So Last Century

First_Horsecar_Run_in_Manchester,_NH

If you look at pictures of public transit systems in the late 1800s, you'll see a lot of horse-drawn streetcars.

Today,
these pictures seem like weird snapshots taken in the middle of an
evolutionary leap — a fleeting intermediary step between the eras of
horse-drawn carriages and self-powered streetcars.

Ads in today's web apps are similarly weird. Web apps are our modern street cars. They're the beginning of something big that will be with us for a while. But just like those horse-drawn street cars, web apps with advertising are flawed with an anachronistic power source. Most advertising on web apps is an inefficient means of matching a buyer and a seller. It's an interruption that's expensive for the advertiser and annoying for the user.

This incongruity struck me as I read Ken Auletta's profile of Google in last week's New Yorker. Google — the company that's done more than any other to launch the era of low-cost web apps — seems set on monetizing its software with advertising, pulling these new streets cars with horses.

Of course, the horses won't last. Google's tools like Reader, Blogger, Gmail and Analytics are part of a foundation of new tools that give businesses an alternative to advertising. Instead of going out and interrupting potential customers, businesses now create content and communities that attract customers. The more businesses use Google's free tools for marketing — the more they attract people via Google Reader and analytics — the less they'll want to pay Google to interrupt people via AdSense.

If you look at young, growing companies you'll see a new approach to revenue evolving. Twitter is adding premium features. Visible Measures charges for access to video analytics. At HubSpot we charge for access to tools that simplify the process of attracting customers.

We're evolving towards a world where companies don't pay for the right to interrupt people, but for the tools they need to attract them.

Evolution happens slowly. There are a lot of people who own horses, a lot people who like horses, and a lot of people who will resist the idea of putting engines in our streetcars.  But it will happen.

Photo: Wikipedia