Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Reflections from the Boston MARTECH Conference: Make Me Feel Like I Matter and You’ll Win My Wallet

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In late August, I attended MARTECH, a marketing and technology conference. These worlds – and these words – have needed to come together for a very long time. It was way past time for the many talented people who have been combining marketing and technology for years, working the shadows of our industry, to “come out” – because the combination of marketing, technology and management really needs to happen now, for all of us, and in a large way.

The conference reinforced some of my ideas about this concept and once again highlighted how legitimately rare it is to find people who excel in both realms – dubbed “unicorns” in conference materials because they’re so scarce. Right now, the marketing industry truly needs these gifted people. Otherwise, the genuine art of marketing will be trampled by the starkness of a purely numbers-based approach. Yes, I do expect marketing to be measured; I am not a “creative” who whines that things “cannot be measured.” Clearly, marketing results are measurable. I just believe that the ability to combine art and technology is required to yield the best results for a business.

Erik Brynjolfsson’s presentation on what’s happening in the marketing/technology space was really exciting. Erik, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, is also a co-author of The Second Machine Age. He spoke about the dramatic changes within the technology realm, particularly the advances in machine intelligence. Robotics are getting more complex and capable than ever. But when Erik touched on advancements like voice recognition and learning devices being built into, and living in machines, frankly, I was left with some odd feelings…

It’s easy to get lost, or feel insignificant as one human being amid all of these amazing technological developments. After Erik’s presentation, I definitely did!  Yet, with the next cup of coffee, it dawned on me that part of what marketing has to do today is to help consumers overcome that very sensation – the odd feelings of disquiet lurking beneath all the amazing things to which we must adapt in this era.

As human beings today, we struggle exponentially with feeling insignificant or small in many areas of our lives (a #firstworldproblem). As marketers, we can address that by creating actual value for each customer. What I mean by that is, marketers who can make a potential or returning customer genuinely feel valued – that their purchase is truly appreciated and matters to the company – are far more likely to be rewarded.

This concept goes against fundamental shareholder objectives in many companies, like demands for constant growth with little concern for the customer beyond buying power (emboided in the very term “consumer” itself).   However (and far more quickly than some might expect), if a company can legitimately engender a feeling of appreciation in their very human customers – well, they’ve found the not-so-secret sauce that builds long-term customer relationships today. Overcoming the “just another number” feeling is critical for brand success. People want and need to feel valued, and when a company gets that, people feel better about using their products.  I’ve captured this notion in the simple phrase, “Marketing One by One.” It sounds easy, but, as we all know, it is not.

The other reality we’re facing is that customers are digging ever deeper, and/or becoming more educated (or misinformed!) by people who reveal details about companies and their products and services. This is not news, but how a product is manufactured, its ingredients, where it was made, sustainability, etc.- and on the service side, commitments, how they are treated, how they see others treated, etc. matter to our (again) very human customers these days, to an ever greater degree.

And it’s more extensive than just products and services. People want to be involved and engaged with companies that create different kinds of value through social good, conscious sustainability and myriad other ways. Some people actively choose to give their business to companies based on whether the company “does the right thing” – or not. These expectations for social or community responsibility will continue to grow. The younger generations are more connected and aware than their predecessors, and they look for heart as well as value in the companies they choose to buy from.

Perhaps unconsciously, they’re saying, “If you make me feel valued as a person, you’re going to win my heart. And if you do the right thing, you’re also more likely to win my wallet.”

And deep down, at the root of all of the sweeping changes we see is that unsettling feeling I experienced so acutely at the end of Erik’s talk this summer, in a ballroom in Boston – a universal notion that all of us, as humans, wish to feel as if we matter. So, my challenge to our marketing industry is this: are you considering this simple truth in your efforts and if not, why not?


Categorised as: Learning, Marketing, Media, Tech