digital-marketing V1Went to a Firestartr conference last night, and it was a very interesting event. There were a whole set of curious start ups, doing curious things, on the Internet.

Reminded me of 2002, when everything was going to get done through the Net. 13 years on, and well, it is close.

Make your own furniture, order a massage (genuine, not the other type), get food pre-chopped for those who want to cook but are too lazy to prepare, ….

Some great ideas. With the “disruption” flag being waved at every turn.

However the Digital Marketing bandwagon continues to roll on, and on. How does the concept that someone clicks on a link, on purpose, by accident, not paying enough attention or curious but not buying – turn them into a customer.

This is REALLY 2002 all over again, when we valued companies not on revenue, profit or anything else tangible, but on the number of unique visitors to their web site. The days when Charles Schwab had a bigger market cap then Merrill Lynch, when e-Post was valued at a $1bn just before it disappeared, and anything with e- in sold for massive valuations.

Now the magic glue is digital marketing turning click throughs into customers, as if by magic.

In financial services, I just don’t get it. To be a customer, to buy an ETF or a Stock or a Unit Trust you have to be qualified. Have free cash to buy, or a pension to invest, have a known risk appetite, come from a known jurisdiction, be validated as a real person, and the rest of the KYC process.

So I see firms investing in Digital Marketing heavily, without the infrastructure to do the fundamental things that a financial services company does. And listening to the Big Data, Digital Marketing, Click Through pitches last night I can see why.

It is sadly like being back in 2002. Having spent considerable sums on converting links, to join to social media, to get to real people, there is every chance that the real person is a graduate student trying to understand the basics of the financial markets or a granny at home with her iPad trying to figure out why Netflix didn’t work, or ….

Smoke and mirrors. Of course I wish I had thought of it first, and developed a smoke generator myself, so that firms invested in me.

I am hopeful that once the hype dies down, and the value of the clicks, is evaluated as just that and not as customers, then we can get back to providing real software to Connect to real customers. And yes we have counted our clicks like everyone else, to no real avail, but we continue to do so, because that’s what you do now.

( – Quick plug.

Hope that many of the firms I saw last night become the next Unicorn, or at least make a good living out of their efforts, because they are all very focused and have solid business models. Just beware of the Digital Marketing hype. It won’t change whether a client is qualified to par-take in a financial transaction.