The Holy Grail of Advertising

The Holy Grail of Advertising

This post is part of the extended series The MarketToMe Idea
  1. The Holy Grail of Advertising

Online advertising is a multi-billion dollar business. But it is all predicated on guessing what the consumer is interested in. The better you are at guessing – well, the more successful you will be. But what if there was a better way?

First, there was display advertising. Yahoo built its empire creating compelling content, attracting a certain demographic, and then bombarding that demographic with advertising they hoped was relevant. Then, Google took over by bringing search engine advertising to the masses. Based on what you search for, Google guesses your intent and shows you ads it thinks are related. More recently, retargeting has become the darling of online marketers. Instead of predicting your interests based on search intent, they predict your interests based on sites you have already visited.

At the end of the day, all three types of online advertising – display, intent, and retargeting – are still just guesses. Here’s a crazy thought – what if you could get consumers to just tell you what ads they want to receive, and how often?


Mommy – where do ideas come from?

The idea for MarketToMe came when I moved into my first home. I went to the mailbox for the first time, and there waiting for me was a thick envelope from the post office. The envelope was filled with information and coupons for stores such as The Home Depot and Lowes, as well as ads for maid services, lawn mowing, window washing, and more. Usually when I receive large envelopes of random coupons in the mail – which I often do – they go straight to the recycling bin. But this time, because of my situation, I was receptive to the advertising and actually grateful for it.

A few days later, I decided I wanted to see ads for other home-related products. I had lots of projects to do around the house, and found the ads interesting. I briefly considered signing up for Home Depot’s email list, but I hesitated. Even though I was open to receiving marketing from Home Depot and other vendors, I was worried that once I subscribed, I would never be able to unsubscribe. Sure – I could hit the unsubscribe button – but more often than not, vendors launching new services or holding once-in-a-lifetime sales feel compelled to notify their entire user base about the news, even those who unsubscribed. Ultimately, I did not sign up for any mailing lists, and legitimate vendors lost the opportunity to advertise to a receptive consumer.

It was at this point – wanting to see advertisements, but lacking trust in the process – that a thought came to me. What if I could sign up for advertising I was interested in, but stay in control of the relationship and my privacy?

What if Craigslist and online advertising had a baby?

The idea is simple – MarketToMe lets you anonymously sign up for targeted email marketing based on what’s going on in your life right now (I dub it “situational advertising”). When you want the emails to stop – they stop.

How does it work? It’s a simple 3-step process:

  1. Visit and tell us what’s going on in your life. Moving into a new home? Just had a new baby? Running your first marathon?
  2. MarketToMe then creates an anonymous email for each life event and sends those email addresses to relevant marketers. Marketers send emails to the anonymous email addresses, and MarketToMe forwards their messages to your real email address. An analogy here is the anonymous email system Craigslist built to connect buyers and sellers without revealing true identities.
  3. When things change in your life, tell us and we’ll delete the anonymous email addresses. Is your marathon over? Once you tell us, you stop getting email. It’s that simple.

Here are some mockups of how this all might look.

Extending the Concept

Although the basic concept of MarketToMe is straightforward yet powerful, there are even more ways to supercharge such a service.

  • Increase the accuracy & richness of user profiles:
    • Suggest new life events intelligently based on time and relevancy. For example, if a user has said they are having a baby – suggest the “My children are in preschool” life event after a few years. Another example – if the user has said they are getting married, immediately suggest related events such as going on a honeymoon, buying a house, etc.
    • As users gain trust in the service & their anonymity, they may be willing to share richer demographic data (e.g. income, age, etc.). The more information a user provides, the more targeted his or her marketing emails will be (and the more MarketToMe can charge marketers for access to that consumer!)
  • Give users even more control:
    • Allow consumers to block advertisers & vote on the relevancy of marketing emails they receive.
    • This gives consumers more control – and thus trust – in the entire process. And as a side benefit – this creates a rich (monetizable!) source of analytics to help marketers hone their marketing messages.
  • Tackle additional advertising mediums:
    • Direct mail is a favorite tool for marketers – and often a big frustration for consumers on the receiving end. Perhaps allow MarketToMe users to sign up for direct mail campaigns – and charge vendors a fee to print & mail physical ads to a targeted list of eager consumers.
    • The same applies to telemarketing. Allow MarketToMe users to opt into receiving sales calls, and charge vendors a fee to connect them to a targeted list of eager consumers via the MarketToMe phone exchange.

Why Consumers Win

Here’s how consumers benefit from the MarketToMe service:

  • The right advertising, at the right time – consumers can opt into relevant advertising on their terms. Contrary to popular belief, most consumers are open to advertising if it is relevant and not intrusive.
  • Better deals – vendors may offer stronger incentives when marketing to a highly targeted, receptive audience.

Why Marketers Win

Think about it. If you had an opportunity to market to a group of consumers eager for your specific products and services – and the only catch was you were forced to stop right before you began to annoy them – wouldn’t you do it?

Digging a little further, here are 3 reasons why marketers would want to participate:

  • Higher conversion rate – marketing to a highly targeted, receptive audience will likely result in more conversions.
  • Fewer unsubscribes – the cost of sending irrelevant marketing emails is high. Once a consumer unsubscribes due to perceived spam, they are unlikely to resubscribe in the future.
  • Marketing feedback – marketers can track the performance of specific marketing messages to specific audiences in order to optimize their marketing across all their channels.

Why MarketToMe Wins

As Kevin O’Leary would say on Shark Tank – “I’m here to make money!” So how would MarketToMe monetize its service?

  • Access to consumers – charge vendors to gain access to email lists of highly targeted, receptive consumers. Perhaps charge a higher price for more granular life events (e.g. “Remodeling my kitchen” vs. “Remodeling my house”). Or perhaps charge a premium to include demographic data for each anonymous user.
  • Access to analytics – charge vendors to access trends about each audience segment. E.g. what messages were marked “relevant” by each audience, what are the common demographic characteristics behind each audience, what is the typical order of life events chosen by the audience, etc.
  • Bidding model – even if consumers opt into receiving advertising, there is a limit to how many emails they reasonably want to receive. This creates scarcity. MarketToMe can create a bidding model where vendors compete for access to highly targeted, receptive consumers.
  • Affiliate links – instead of charging vendors directly, MarketToMe can collect commissions off any sales generated from highly targeted marketing messages.

Coming Up – The Pivot!

In part 2 of this series, I will talk about a twist on the MarketToMe idea that maintains the core concept but doesn’t require creating a consumer-focused website like

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