Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Marketing Personalization Requires More Than the High-Tech Touch

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(Updated 6.19.17)   We’re a high-tech society, from mobile devices and tablets to robots, and online advertising is ubiquitous. We continue to adopt the newest technology as soon as it’s available – with some consequence (Try reading “Present Shock” by D. Rushkoff).  Our marketing world is no different. The marketing technology landscape (original link was 2014, here is updated one today) still includes classic tools like email marketing, display and video ads as well as newer technologies in the “spend optimization” toolset, like personalization, and now, “contextualization.” And the new ones are arriving at blistering speed. While these tools are exceedingly helpful for companies to engage with customers, I’m concerned about whether we are replacing too much of marketing’s soul in the process with what are really, at the core, simply “rules-based” machines.

Marketing tools are not only great, but today it would literally be impossible to operate without them. Yet the temptation to rely too heavily on machines (which, let’s face it, many marketers are not fully conversant with, due to the allure of slick ROI models, number-crunching, algorithms and swarms of “hard to argue with” data) is quite loudly present.

I am a data geek. I love the tools. And yet, I caution that we risk missing the essential human touch – like the creative spark that comes when a team or individual crafts a brand’s development based on better information about what customers really need or want, or most importantly, how they connect with a product on an emotional level.

Machines have no emotion. All they can do is process data. That has great value, but when you try to systemize the art of marketing, you’re really just creating faster and more effective ways to inundate potential customers with additional content – and there’s a problem with that. In the end, you may just create more effective ways to push products on customers, which everything tells us is not what customers really want!

Today, and especially today, the most successful marketing methods are those that are truly relevant to the human being considering buying the product. Yet so many dollars and so much energy is spent chasing optimization that we forget a very basic truth. According to P.F. Drucker, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.”  I would never say we should cease spending optimization efforts – I simply suggest that we pause and question what we are attempting to do and if we are really doing what we think we are!

Some wise people in the field are basically saying, “marketing has a marketing problem.” I suggest that the comfort of machine reliance may be obscuring our reality.   A recent summit speech (2014)  (Michael Brenner’s “The Content Marketing Imperative”  Unfortunately, in 2017 this is a dead link) quotes some statistics that don’t bode well for marketing folks. According to Brenner, customers are less likely to click on an ad than to be struck by lightning, and 73 percent of the people surveyed wouldn’t care if the brands they use just disappeared from their shelves.  That’s bad news for marketing (and brands!), but it’s something I think can only be addressed by reintroducing a greater human touch, and certainly by not shouting (albeit through ever more elegantly targeted megaphones) what we want our customers to hear.

Content marketing is really all about providing a place for people to engage with your brand or products, a place where they can find information and value. Right now, many retailers are doing a much better job at this than brands (in my CPG centric-world). But there is plenty of room for improvement across the board.

This certainly isn’t a new topic of conversation for me, or our industry, as it’s been a concern for years. Recently(6.30.2014), we saw one example of a technological assumption causing real financial pain. This case ultimately was deemed to be ad fraud, one that cost advertisers millions of dollars. Less-than-scrupulous people (if one opines based on news reports) were charging companies to display ads that were delivered in a 1×1 pixel window, which is obviously too small for anyone to actually see. But since the technology tracked them as “displayed,” the ads registered as “payable impressions.”

This is just one example of the problems that may arise when technology starts to dominate and even run our marketing. It’s easy to fool even wildly sophisticated machines. So, while the marketing technology landscape (original link was 2014, here is updated one today) is truly amazing, let’s not get lulled into a sense of things being OK – as the machines run the marketing.  Rather let us, the humans, “run” the marketing. The machines exist only to help us not to move so fast that unintended consequences result.

P.S. If you think speed is always positive, perhaps a peek at the cautionary tale of Flash Boys can alter your perspective.

Categorised as: Learning, Marketing, Tech