The Resurgence of the Ultimate Technology

These days, any conversation about the future of marketing inevitably turns to tech. Data. Automation. Machine Learning. AR. VR. AI. IoT.

But when your eye is fixed on what’s coming ‘round the corner, you’re probably not seeing what you already have.

Here’s a thought experiment:

Take everything you know about marketing tech, and reduce it down to just a handful of key benefits. Your list probably looks something like this:

> TARGETING — leveraging data to profile and connect with your best audiences
> EFFICIENCY — using automation to be more responsive and reduce unneeded waste
> ACCURACY — knowing, in real-time, which customers are reacting to what, when, and how
> FLEXIBILITY/SPEED — measuring and adapting messages and strategies on-the-fly

And, if you take all the prognostications on how marketing tech will change things in 2018, most of what you heard is probably about how these benefits will get even better. But

As we all learned in Marketing 101, the creation of a sound campaign starts by determining four key things: (1) audience, (2) channel mix, (3) offer, and (4) creative/message. However, when you look at the benefit bullets above, you’ll see they only apply to the first two: audience and channel mix.

What about the second half of the marketing equation?

Yes, marketing tech can help us reach the right people at the right times via the right channels, with amazing flexibility and speed. But, figuring out what to say to those customers — knowing how to connect with them on a visceral level, in a noisy-as-hell marketplace — is a task that’s beyond the capabilities of synthetic tech alone.
Data can’t tell you how to create a great customer experience. Doing that requires what some call design thinking, and what we call actionable empathy. But no matter what you call it, it’s a task that relies on a wonderful legacy technology that’s been neglected of late: the human brain.

So, what’s my outlook for 2018? That the wise among us will embrace this legacy technology, and start capitalizing on two key “need areas” in the marketplace:

1. Zig-Zag Creative

All that weak, stale messaging — which comprises 95% of what we see — is the result of an industry that’s become too logical in its approach to communication strategy. Just because “A” beat “B” in a split test, doesn’t mean that “A” is the answer. We all know what Henry Ford said about customers asking for faster horses. What makes logical sense on the surface often fails to produce results in real life.

An example: Let’s say you’re introducing a new product, and all data and research indicates that your target demo is more concerned with quality than price. So, you go to market with a higher-than-average price point, and a message like: “Introducing Product X: the highest-quality blah blah blah available!” Your prospects are going to ignore you.

We all know this intuitively. You need to give people a message that will lead them to arrive at that conclusion on their own. Marketing is both a science and an art, and it’s never as easy as just offering them what the data says they want. The successful marketer in 2018 will learn how to zig-zag, and understand the importance of being emotionally connected to their audiences.

2. Actionable Empathy

Connecting with a customer in the fast, dizzying digital sphere requires empathy that can be put into action. The key to reaching the customer is hidden inside the customer. Our first goal, as marketers, is to draw it out.

Data, alone, can’t do that. The human brain doesn’t run on code; people can’t be programmed with simple if/then scenarios. As such, marketers need to approach each audience with humility and respect. Finding the answer with your head and heart — supported by data — is more than just possible; it’s the smartest way to do it.

Each customer segment is a puzzle that needs to be figured out. As Steve Jobs famously said: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” Data-driven insights provide critical pieces of that puzzle. But empathy requires putting all the right pieces together to create a clear, holistic understanding of the customer. With that as the foundation of your strategy and communications, you can create experiences that don’t merely sell — they integrate your brand into the very fabric of your customers’ existence.

Going into 2018, the hard truth we need to face is this: We’ve learned to stop trusting our own minds. Instead, we’ve become increasingly hesitant to make choices that aren’t data-driven and tech-enabled, for fear that are our actions won’t be well-informed, fast or efficient enough. But that’s a mistake.

To paraphrase the brilliant late neurologist, Oliver Sacks: the creative process “can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us to see with another person’s eyes.”

Or, as Ivan Pollard, CMO of General Mills, recently said: “Data plus creativity is the future.” That’s it, in a nut shell.

We all know what data-driven tech can do. Let’s embrace the other half of the equation: creativity generated by the human brain — the ultimate technology. In 2018, marketers who learn to strike that balance between the two are going to win, and win big.

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Originally published in the Jan/Feb 2018 edition of Philly Ad News.

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