December 31, 2010

All Your Words Are Belong To Us

Your phone-to-phone text messages are secured against being read by hackers using a decades-old technology that is full of holes and regularly being hacked. As is your location, any time you have your phone turned on. And it's not just the phone companies, not just law enforcement using $50,000 network sniffing devices. It's hackers using $15 cell phones and a laptop. In a demonstration at the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) Congress a few days ago, a couple of seasoned pros gave the assembled hackers a step-by-step tutorial.

Sprint iPhone?But wait, you say, how come hackers aren't cracking the phone companies' SIM card codes so I can do stuff like, say, run an iPhone on my Sprint account? Well, that's because the phone companies are using much tougher encryption to lock in their revenues than to secure your private information. “There is one key used for communication between the operators and the SIM card that is very well protected, because that protects their monetary interest,” says Security Research Labs researcher Karsten Nohl. “The other key is less well protected, because it only protects your private data.”

The problem stems from laziness. The companies could almost effortlessly make two or three changes to tighten up security, firstly, to follow their own industry standards that have been in place for many years. Rather than sending random data in the constant "Are you there?" messages sent to your phone, they use plain text, making it easy to find you and connect a phone with specific data traffic. There is no reason whatsoever for this negligence, but the second step might require a bit more programming, namely, to stop the practice of reusing security keys over and over, making it easy for a hacker to run through a few keys and quickly tap into your session. The fix would probably take a programmer a couple days and cost your phone company a whopping few hundred bucks. Multiplied by several phone companies, the astronomical price of securing hundreds of millions of phones - yours, mine and everybody else's - would run in excess of a few thousand dollars.

Okay, maybe that's a low-ball. Check out the article at ars technica.

December 17, 2010

Marketing: Top 5 Web Trends for 2011

Even in this economy, price competition isn't the answer. It can eviscerate the bottom line, and associates our brand with bottom feeders.  Instead, in 2011 marketers will be learning to give something else to our prospects and customers.  Social media, content push, convergence, social objects and service -- these five emerging trends are covered in an article on, and I hope you'll read it. But here's the gist:
  1. Social Media. No, it's not Socialism. Yet. But the communities aggregated by Facebook are the 2011 equivalent of proletariat power. No longer are our gripes and kudos heard by only a few co-workers in the lunchroom, but by hundreds or thousands of our closest friends. And their closest friends. And their closest friends. B2B and B2C marketers are both learning the power of chatter. While waiting for the curtain to rise at a recent entertainment event, audience members all seemed to sort-of know one another. In clusters around the room, it became clear that almost all 150 or so attendees had responded to a Facebook invitation.
  2. Content Still Rules, but... We've all learned that developing rich online content is key to getting traffic and building credibility with our market. But much of that content just sits there. We've done the Email Newsletter thing, to push content out to our community. Tweets are the next step, using brief and much more frequent touches to keep our customers and prospects close. And tweets don't get your email domain blacklisted.
  3. Converge and Hybridize. There's the web site. And then there's the Facebook page. It's time to pull them together in a seamless environment that makes interaction integral to the web experience of all your visitors. And it's more than just putting an F button on your home page. (What? You still don't have an F button on your home page?)
  4. Widgets and Web Tools and Mascots - Oh, My! They're called social objects -- little bundles of clever or cute or useful that get picked up and sent around and pinned to other people's pages. Maybe it's a relevant cartoon or really funky-looking lolcat, or a widget that lets your visitors grab a chunk of your content for their own site or Facebook page. The point is to get other people giving your stuff away for you, just like the sample lady at the grocery store. Only for free; once you've covered development costs, that is.
  5. Serving is the New Selling. I can remember the exact day that I decided to start giving extreme customer service. It was just after I'd had a great customer service experience myself, with a vendor that made such an impression on me that I've stuck with them ever since -- three years now. It costs me absolutely nothing to make every customer feel smart, attractive, rich, famous and wanted. The actual content of a service event does use up a little more time, and sometimes I even make a follow-up call (which really blows their minds). But the first result is that I love doing it, and service events have become a true joy, and the ultimate result is that the bottom line proves that it works for the customers, too. Now, instead of spending time calling on leads, I spend my time with customers -- including the ones who are just downloading the freebies or have questions. I still have to get the word out, of course, but I can put more resources into direct mail and web advertising designed just to start a conversation. We're entering an age of smarter selling that's all about creating relevance and utility for our prospects and customers, and we're leaving the age of selling "lifestyles." Now, when we get that first contact, we have to listen for the person's existing patterns, to learn how we can help them get more value from the way they are already doing business, or living their lives. It's not about generating warm fuzzies, but about delivering real value -- the stuff that our price-competing competitors don't have any of.
Do these five ideas all seem to run together? Naturally. Social media has helped to evolve our understanding of content and service. We're learning to be there for our markets, in every sense of that expression, rather than driving the markets to us.