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It’s time for marketers to put humanity back in their marketing practices. Today for SearchChat, Steve Zakur and I discuss first whether you should be worried about government regulation. It seems some marketers have their head in the sand that it will never be an issue, others have their “paranoid” dial turned up to 13. People who have been giving away their data for free are tired of being abused. There’s an unease and distrust around privacy because that trust has been repeatedly violated. Is it the end of data-driven marketing, or does marketing need to get smarter?

We also talk about how White Hat vs Black hat isn’t just for SEO. Think about data usage. When you use personal data, are you trying to game the system or are you providing a benefit? It comes down to asking what the person would think about it, and if they are benefiting.

Meanwhile, we’re rolling our eyes at Zuckerberg’s latest take on Facebook and data privacy. Maybe Facebook doesn’t need the government to tell them how to better regulate — they need to better self-regulate. Has Facebook even earned a seat at the table? (I wrote recently that I don’t think they have).

Lastly, In Marketing Charts, B2B marketing leaders point out faults in the marketing message they get. All this and more, coming to you on SearchChat.

0:00 Intro

1:55 Government regulation — is it a threat to data-driven marketing?

7:10 Humanize data-driven marketing

15:07 The disingenuity of Zuckerberg’s Op-Ed

20:40 What content do B2B leaders find important?

27:25 Outtro

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Search Chat is SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search AI and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? We’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. If you think we might have the answer to your conversion problems, feel free to connect with us.


Tim Peter: Hi, I’m Tim Peter and welcome to SearchChat, SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search, AI and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? Well, we’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter. You can learn more at

Tim Peter: In this episode of SearchChat, SoloSegment’s CEO Steve Zakur and I discuss how to humanize data driven marketing. We also discuss the changing regulatory environment around privacy and what that will mean for your customers and your business. Finally, we talk all about how to make personalization far more focused on the person. All that and more in the latest episode of SearchChat coming at you right about now.

Tim Peter: Well, hey Steve, how are you doing today?

Steve Zakur: I’m doing well, Tim. How’s your Monday gone?

Tim Peter: It has gone spectacularly. All Mondays should go like this. How about yourself?

Steve Zakur: I note a hint of sarcasm, but let it pass.

Tim Peter: No, it’s all good. It’s all good. How about yourself?

Steve Zakur: Good. Good. This is now the second week of the quarter. I’m beginning to feel like, “All right, well the blush’s off the first quarter now let’s get back into the second quarter. So things are going well.

Tim Peter: Absolutely. We’ve got a couple of things to talk about this week. A couple of fun ones, and I thought I’d lead off, no softballs, let’s get right to the hard drive. There was a really, really fascinating piece that came from eMarketer where they talked to a bunch of different folks and there was a study of us marketers by the Winterberry Group and the IAB (The Interactive Bureau), and they talked to a number of marketers and by far the number one thing that these folks said was their concern was going to hurt their ability to do their job better, and better in this case means more data driven marketing was government regulation.

Steve Zakur: Look at that.

Tim Peter: Yeah, they saw that as the number one threat to effective data driven marketing. And I just thought, “You know who probably has a point of view on this.”

Steve Zakur: I don’t know, Tim. I don’t know. I’m wondering. This is something we’ve talked about a bit, which is what are the risks for us as businesses essentially building business models. So for software companies like us building business models that rely upon personal data and for companies who are consuming that to build business processes that rely upon that. I’ve talked to a bunch of people. There’s varied opinions on this. Some are of the, what I consider the head in the sand to group, which are like, “Ah, and it’s never gonna be an issue.”

Tim Peter: Oh, right.

Steve Zakur: And there are others especially in industries like banking insurance who have … They turned the paranoid dial up to 13 and they threw it away. Broke it and threw it away. So there’s a lot of different opinion on that. But I do think that it’s something we’ve got to keep in mind because GDPR is just a shot across the bow, and I don’t think it’s so much the regulation side of the thing, although that is the outcome, greater regulation.

Steve Zakur: But I think it’s actually you and me and everybody else who was giving away their data for free are kind of getting tired, being abused. That’s probably the best way to put it. Being abused by various companies. And by the way, I mean, I think this is clearly tip of the iceberg because we could see some of these companies abusing our technology and it’s like, so what don’t we see? I think that’s the fodder for additional regulation, that kind of sense of unease, distrust, especially because that trust has been violated many times over the past … Pick your timeframe, quarter, year, whatever. That distrust is well founded.

Tim Peter: It’s funny, I heard somebody once say a friend of mine, and I would credit my friend if I can remember which one said it, but there were a group of us talking one night and we basically got into a discussion about how as marketers, GDPR is our fault. And not necessarily any one individual at the table-

Steve Zakur: Well, I blame you, but okay, fine.

Tim Peter: But I mean, fundamentally we did this to ourselves. When I say we, I mean the marketing community by not being protective of customer data, by not being thoughtful about customer data. This sort of is the consequences. Legislators are saying, regulators saying, “You can’t be trusted to do this on your own. So now we’re going to have to tell you how you can do it instead.”

Steve Zakur: And I think that a lot of the kind of the marketing profession and how they use personal data is largely invisible. I mean, retargeting is probably one area where you’re like, “Wait a minute.” It’s clearly visible to the person who gave the data that somebody is using it for some purpose. And so I think there was a point in time, and again, retargeting might be kind of that moment in time when that really started that people began to think, “Wait a minute, I can now see how my data’s being used and is kind of chasing me around.”

Steve Zakur: So that kind of then parked in the back of people’s minds and you can see that manifest itself in various ways. But I do think it’s the events. It’s the Facebook problem, pick your Facebook problem. But it’s one of several things-

Tim Peter: Which ones?

Steve Zakur: So that’s what I think really then brought this front of mind is first you kind of knew it was happening and then you saw it happening and then you saw somebody do something that was clearly beyond the pale. You said, “I would not have authorized that.” Yes. If Brooks Brothers retargets me for blue shirts 30 times in a day, fine, I already bought them, go away. But when somebody is clearly using the data in ways that it’s obvious, I would never have authorized that had I known, that’s when all of a sudden that voice in the back of your head is now sitting on your forehead screaming. And that’s the problem for us.

Tim Peter: Well, it’s interesting because our good friend, friend of the show, friend of the company, advisor to the company, Mark Schaefer has talked about in his new book why it’s so important to be human in the way we interact with people and the like. And it’s amazing how, some companies, some people, some professionals, either because their incentives lead them this way or because they just lose sight of it, they get so excited by the fun of what you can do.

Tim Peter: It’s the Jurassic Park thing. You think about what you could do, you never stop to think, “Is that something you should do?” And if we think about customers as prospects or entries in a database or targets, it’s kind of funny how we can treat them that way as opposed to if we think about them as people or human beings, how maybe we might treat them a little differently. Right?

Steve Zakur: Yeah, that’s really true. Like any toy, data’s fun to play with. The things that you can do, if you only knew. And I get that that is the allure of that is great because when you can do one little thing, the goal is to try to do one more thing. It’s interesting, you have to kind of figure out where that line is pursuing purposes for good or for evil. And I’ve used those terms metaphorically, but I think it applies.

Steve Zakur: When we look at search data and we take search data and we feed it back into the index. And the goal there is just to make search results better for websites. We’re not talking about Google or anything, but for a company’s website we’re feeding that data back in to make search results better. And there’s no human in there trying to pitch the product that you don’t want or whatnot. It’s kind of an altruistic purpose if there is one where you’re taking data and you’re using it to improve something that otherwise might not work as good.

Steve Zakur: And that’s kind of the white hat use of data. Again, you start to shift down the … And I’ll use retargeting as another example. That’s still pretty white hat. I mean, I liked blue shirts, so I’m going to buy more of those and if I didn’t buy them or I left abandoned in a cart. Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea to try to nudge me back to getting that. But how far do you go along that continuum before you’re doing stuff that you shouldn’t be doing?

Steve Zakur: And like you said, if you’re not kind of looking up and thinking about who is the human on this, on the other end of this and how do they feel about it? How would they feel about it if they knew what I was doing? Would they say, “Yeah, that has a lot of benefit for me, thank you.” Or would they say, “Nah, I don’t really want that. Go away.” And I think that’s, as you said, the instinct that we don’t always have, we don’t always look to that point.

Tim Peter: Well, it’s funny you just may have coined a phrase that I’ve never heard anybody referred to before with regard to this. But when you talk about SEO, it’s well known that there is black hat SEO where the dirty tricks to try to scam — well, game the system. I shouldn’t say scam the system ’cause it’s Google, it’s a technology company. You’re free to try to do that. It’s not a good idea for business reasons usually, but certainly it makes sense if you’re just trying to do what’s right for your business in the short term versus white hat SEO.

Tim Peter: Where you’re saying, “No, we’re going to play by the rules and we’re going to keep our nose clean.” And yeah, there’s a little bit of gray hat in there too. But I mean generally speaking, we think about SEO is being white hat versus black hat. And what I just though you described is essentially white hat versus black hat data use search. And I think that’s a really, really good framing for how we think about it.

Steve Zakur: Yeah. I just, I gotta run down and copyright that. I’ll be right back.

Tim Peter: Absolutely. Well, it’s funny. There’s another person I know who talks about this in those terms. Julie Ask at Forrester Research, and I may have mentioned this on the show once before, but she always talks about, “Think in terms of big mother, not big brother.” How are you using the data to be helpful and supportive and nurturing as opposed to look what I can do. Right?

Steve Zakur: Yeah. That’s absolutely right.

Tim Peter: So that’s great. And I’m going to put you on the spot a little, I don’t think you need to make a firm prediction here, but I mean, are we heading towards a world where regulation is going to prevent us from doing the right thing or is there a way that we can work within a regulatory framework, whatever it turns out to be and also use data to create better experiences and also do right by customers all at the same time? I mean, is that a realistic scenario?

Steve Zakur: Yeah, I think it is. I mean I think that it is definite that these regulatory frameworks aren’t going away. Everybody talks about GDPR in California. Okay, great. But I think that we’re going to see more and more of that, and I think a large part of that’s going to be driven by humans saying, “Enough is enough.” And I think that voice is already at the table. I mean, anybody who pays attention to this knows that people are concerned about this.

Steve Zakur: I do think that the regulatory frameworks are going to continue to get refined. Whether they get stricter or just better, I don’t know. I do think that one of the real challenges is going to be essentially this right to be forgotten. Can I have the ability to manage my data, because at the end of the day, if I could just get rid of my cookies on my machine and that means I’m forgotten by everybody on the planet, I think that would be desirable. I think that would be something that somebody would want. And so I think the technology is going to have to catch up a bit to allow this to happen.

Steve Zakur: The challenge is, especially if you think about this white hat, black hat thing, all the white and gray hatted people are gonna go, “You bet. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll take care of that. You betcha.” You still have to deal with the folks who don’t live within any regulatory frameworks. And they’re still going to be the people out there who are … They’re going to be those phone calls you get in the middle of the night that annoy you, but it’s going to be on the–. That’s the real challenge is how do you prevent actors like that from continuing to bother you?

Steve Zakur: And I gotta tell you, I mean at some point that the technology is going to have to catch up because if you think about it again in terms of, what percentage of the calls you get on your cell phone do you actually answer? For me it’s 10%. We’re sitting here, my phone’s on the table, it’s muted. We’ve been talking for 13 minutes and it’s rang three times. So all those are ignored, and I think to a certain extent, take that and now think about it in terms of digital and what’s going on web and on mobile devices, we’re going to have to figure this out.

Steve Zakur: How do you mute those conversations that you don’t want to have? And so that then removes the incentive for black hat operators to actually do that. And so they’ll go figure out what something else to do to, to make money. But that’s what I think is going to have to happen is there’s going to be some regulatory framework that begins to look like people can manage their data. And then I think that the technology is going to have to take a step forward just like they’re going to have to get rid of spam phone calls, they’re going to have to get rid of spammy digital experiences.

Tim Peter: It’s a great point. What do you think about this idea? When we talk about regulatory frameworks coming and the like, and I will admit this is a somewhat loaded question-a somewhat a leading question-

Steve Zakur: I like when you serve up the softballs. Go ahead.

Tim Peter: Well, I’m concerned, Mark Zuckerberg wrote this op-ed in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago or about a week ago rather. I’m actually writing a blog post about it right now for our blog. So it’s certainly top of mind for me, where he talks about four areas where he thinks there should be more regulation and that’s great and all, except for the fact that when you’re Facebook and when you’re Google and when you’re folks like that, you’re in a position to shape that legislation and how much of that is doing what’s right for customers and how much of that is pulling up the ladders behind them once they’ve already had some success or did some success in the case of Google and Facebook, extraordinary success, making it tougher for new entrance?

Tim Peter: I mean, just your thoughts on that. I’d love to hear.

Steve Zakur: I’m rolling my eyes. So if there’s ever video podcasts, I’m extremely rolling my eyes. I really love Kara Swisher and kind of her point of view on all things social, and I think she rolls her eyes a lot as well, although she’s the queen of exasperated sighs and also very pointed direct questions.

Tim Peter: That was a nice exasperated sigh by the way-

Steve Zakur: Oh, man this just drives me nuts. These social networks created platforms and they said, “Whatever happens on them, not our job.” I’m no Pollyanna, but some of the content that exists on these sites, whether it’s terrorist training or pick your worst humankind sort of activity and yet they feel, “Oh well no, we’re just the platform so we can’t be held accountable and we shouldn’t decide who should be on our platform or what they should put on it.” So that is coming home to roost for them.

Steve Zakur: And I find it stunningly disingenuous for any of these platforms to have technology that knows that I want to watch this kind of video four hours a day, and when I watch one new video that they know to test whether that new trend … I mean the AI that is going on there is stunningly sophisticated and yet they can’t figure out like how to keep crappy content off of their platforms. It complete and utter BS.

Steve Zakur: And for Mark Zuckerberg to then say, “I’m the wealthiest guy in the world and I can figure out how to get you to watch more cat videos, but I can’t figure out how to keep vile content off the platform. I need the government to tell me what to do.” Yeah, c’mon.

Tim Peter: Yeah, I tend to agree with you. I think it’s a little bit like, this is the line that’s getting cut from the blog post and I was working on, but something about bank robbers blaming the police for not stopping them from robbing the bank.

Steve Zakur: Oh it’s absolutely the same thing. And I agree. Cut it from your blog post because it’s a horrible line, but it really is. It really is.

Tim Peter: Right. It’s this idea of, I don’t think that Facebook needs the government to tell them how to regulate. I think they simply need to be better self regulated. I’m not so sure Facebook has earned a seat at the table. I don’t think that they are … I don’t want to say that they’re untrustworthy in the sense that they are evil or untrustworthy in the sense that they’re a bad actor. I think there are untrustworthy in the sense that like your four year old is untrustworthy.

Steve Zakur: I think that’s great. I wouldn’t let my three year old do it, I wouldn’t let my dog do it and I wouldn’t let Facebook do it.

Tim Peter: Right. I don’t think they are willfully trying to go out there and be evil. I think they are just sometimes so blinded by … It goes back to what we were talking about a moment ago. What you can do versus what you should do. They’re so blinded sometimes by what they can do that I don’t know that they get a seat at the table, but they should get a seat at the table to say what everybody else should do.

Steve Zakur: Yeah, I think that’s fair. As much as I’m frustrated by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg can’t police his own business, at the same time, I agree. They’ve already demonstrated that they’re again, not a reliable partner in being good citizens. And so yeah, maybe time for somebody else to do the job. But just again, I’m rolling my eyes.

Tim Peter: A friend of mine uses the line all the time, about his wife about how she rolls her eyes so hard she’s going to give herself a concussion.

Steve Zakur: Nice.

Tim Peter: Anyway. Well, it’s interesting because I think if we look at the two things we’ve talked about so far today, one of the through lines that we see there is all about this idea of treating the customer as a human being, treating the customer as individual and thinking about them on a personal level as opposed to just as a target, just as a prospect. I am going to turn this to something that’s very marketing related and very much in our sweet spot. There was a fascinating piece that Marketing Charts referenced, that looked at the content that B2B marketing leaders think is important.

Tim Peter: So the data that we got on Marketing Charts said, half said that the content they receive is too fluffy and too jargony. These are B2B marketers. 41% said that they had issues with content not being relevant. And fully a third said, one of their biggest issues was with content wasn’t personalized to where they are in the buying process. We talk about, especially the last two of those. I mean obviously too fluffy, too jargony, there’s probably some space there for personalization. But when we talk about the second two, those are undoubtedly personalization questions.

Tim Peter: You’ve got to be relevant to me and you’ve got to be targeted to where I am in my journey. Those seem like such huge opportunities and something we’ve been talking about for a long time. And when I say we again, I mean the marketing community. What’s going on there? What are your thoughts? Why are we still having this conversation?

Steve Zakur: Yeah. It’s the big challenge of personalization. It’s funny, just before we got on here, I was actually looking at some eMarketer reports and one was about customer experience and I’m sitting on the fence, “Do I buy this or not ’cause it talks about personalization?” And I’m almost thinking to myself, “What’s been unsaid about this like gap in personalization that’s going to be worth?” So I’m still like buy it. But just kind of think that I was like, “What is unsaid?”

Steve Zakur: I think that notion of relevance and kind of tuning to the spot in the buyer’s journey are kind of everything. It’s interesting that a lot of personalization is focused on kind of who you are and trying to get at some of the, like have you been to the site before and what content you look at or not. And so I think that’s still important because it’s easy or relatively easy, because there’s lots of data, you go back to the all that data people have about you. So there’s lots of aggregators that you can purchase that information from these days.

Steve Zakur: One of the things though that we’ve been looking at is actually that kind of where are you and it’s not kind of a spacial thing where are you on the site? It’s more where are you from a topic perspective. What are you thinking about? And of course we’re looking at behavior and what you’re looking at to try to discern that and then essentially trying to do pattern recognition about everybody else who’s been at that point in time on that topic and what are they interested in. This is a place where I think maybe, and this is something, a term amongst the many terms I’ve coined, when I coined many podcasts around the creepy data, but it’s that …

Steve Zakur: I think that that’s where you get in trouble when you expose the machine in ways that feel creepy. And so one of the things that we’re looking at from our both the relevance perspective as well as … And I think they’re actually it’s both relevance, but it’s different kind of views of relevance. But where are you in the journey is just that, is can we look at what your behavior is and map that to other behaviors that were leading to certain objectives and then perhaps give you content in that moment that allows you to get there.

Steve Zakur: This is a journey. I think there’s a lot of R and D to be done here. There’s a lot of catch up that quite frankly, some core technology needs to happen. Although machine learning platforms are rapidly, rapidly, evolving. So no longer like you need a data scientists to write math equations, you can actually just pick up off the shelf. But regardless, it is an area … I mean, personalization, we’re still way far away from what I think quite frankly humans want, what I want, what I want my experience to be, and clearly there’s a gap between what I think marketing people want because I talk to them every day and this is one area where I can just wind people up and get them started is around, how do you make personalization more effective? And I think that if somebody does it right, they’re going to say, “Hey, take my money”

Tim Peter: And we’re certainly doing everything we can to be the one that does it right, aren’t we?-

Steve Zakur: You betcha.

Tim Peter: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Steve, we’re starting to come up on time here, but if you had to think about again this through line of the human and through line of how do we think about the person at the other end, where can people get started? What can they do a little different today, tomorrow, right after listening to this that can help them think about this from a more human perspective?

Steve Zakur: It’s interesting, I spend a lot of time talking to marketing leaders about two topics. One is essentially visitor journeys and all its manifestations. And those are usually very rich, rich discussions about hopes and aspirations. And the other place we talk a lot about is customer experience, which I think there is a lot less kind of clarity on what does that mean? Because to some people it means, “Oh yeah, I heard that term and I’m thinking about it.”

Steve Zakur: And by the way, it surprises me how many people are in that place. And other people have very sophisticated NPS feedback loops and it’s very, very cool. But I think that really is the heart of the human, is we can look at the data and we can see the data. But I think that you also have to consider the human. I think that is an area where a) I have nothing to sell you, so I can talk about this without too much self interest in it. But b) I think it really is something that we have to figure out is how do we bring the human more to the forefront of our decision making about our experience so that we don’t kind of turn into the Facebooks of the world and that we’re again, thinking about this more human centric and having conversations and delivering relevant content and all that sort of stuff.

Steve Zakur: And so if I were to start somewhere, it would be thinking about, with the data science people, with the data people is how do we get better visibility to the human in this? And how do we consider what is it that they want? And sometimes you might actually have to go out and ask them.

Tim Peter: Words of wisdom as ever. Steven, probably a great place to wrap up for this week. So as ever, thank you for all the thoughts and the great conversation.

Tim Peter: There you go. Fantastic. All right Steve, great talking to you. Talk to you soon.

Steve Zakur: Take care. Bye Bye.

Tim Peter: Bye Bye.

Tim Peter: SearchChat is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter and learn more at

Tim Peter: If you like what you’ve heard today, click on the subscribe links. You can find at, on iTunes, Google podcasts, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or wherever fine podcasts can be found. You can also find us on Linkedin, at, on Facebook at, on Twitter using the Twitter handle @SoloSegment. Or you can drop us an email at

Tim Peter: Again, that’s For SearchChat, I’m Tim Peter. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Thanks so much for joining us and we’ll look forward to chatting with you next time here on Search Chat. Until then, take care everybody.

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