As I look around the ever-evolving universe of marketing tools and technological advances, I’m struck by just how far we’ve come, of course. I’m also struck by just how important it is to maintain the human element, on both sides of the marketing fence, that’s really necessary to the conversation between marketer and consumer.
Big Data offers enormous possibilities for marketers. We’re realizing some of those ourselves at my agency, where the ability to personalize, target and re-target individuals provides incredible value for both the marketer and for the audience alike: we’re fine-tuning our offers, promotions and messages so they’re really relevant to the consumer.
Automated marketing systems that can direct inbound users to a landing page that’s been generated to meet their interests and purchase patterns is another example of how we can do incredibly responsive things that, frankly, seemed like science fiction a few years ago.
As automation and technology advances, though, it’s important to hang onto the human aspect of marketing. A lot of what we remember from advertising and marketing campaigns – the strategies, images, messages, jingles and punchlines that stick in our mind for years – didn’t emerge from an automated platform. They’re the result of chaotic, messy creative thinking, or curiosity, or authenticity. So far, there’s no technology platform on earth that can replace those when it comes to finding a place in the hearts and attention span of consumers.
There’s that famous Volkswagen commercial from my childhood, starring the Beetle as part of a funeral procession. Would any digital marketing platform have the very human inspiration and savvy to put content like this in front of consumers? Or would it think it’s more cost-effective (and less likely to offend the sensitive!) to create content driven purely by metrics: does it have all the right keywords? What kind of actors should we cast, based on facial response testing among the target demo? Let’s customize the content so it aligns with each target segment. Do jokes really drive inbound leads? Let’s put more of a value message in there.
Seth Godin, the legendary pundit who gave us the term Permission Marketing in his 1999 book, worries about that too in this recent interview about the future of branded content. A lot of what he says can be applied to every other area of marketing where there’s a temptation to do things more quickly, more cheaply, and based less on real brand-to-customer connection and human insight than on pure analytics:
Being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business. You don’t get trusted if you’re constantly measuring and tweaking and manipulating so that someone will buy from you.
A lot of what I know about human nature and how we relate to the world, I’ve learned from watching my children. There’s no better way to understand how we have a deep, deep need to be challenged, to be presented with ideas that shake us up and make us see things from a new perspective, than by seeing how they’re constantly exploring and questioning the world around them. I’m positive that goes on for our entire lifetime: want interaction that’s about stimulation, not simulation.
In other words, sometimes a dialogue with a consumer isn’t about having all the answers. Sometimes it’s about asking questions, or making them Think Different, or other things that can’t be measured on any spreadsheet or database.
Finding that balance between innovation’s promise and our own creativity and willingness to be provoked and challenged is what’s always been the soul of great marketing, because it’s about mind and heart, working together.