The digital world is all about experiences. Combining web content with video and mobile applications (and even large screen and interactive print), organizations have to provide an experience with their brand and content that is compelling enough for users. Although an organization may be selling a product or service, they are first selling an experience with their brand through content (text, images, video, games). The cost of that experience? Attention.

People only have so much attention (just like money in the bank). So they try to spend it wisely and feel cheated when the experience doesn’t live up to the cost.

But when the experience is worth the cost? People get something in return: a relationship. The experience transcends just the screen. It strikes at the heart of who we are and our need to connect. Which is why people gravitate towards experiences that are personalized, dynamic, relevant, and contextual. They want an experience that seems like it was built for them…or will shape to whom they are the more they interact with it.

Ultimately, this is why relationships are the currency of the experience economy. Businesses who can develop, cultivate, and stockpile relationships through engaging and interactive digital experiences will have a larger pool from which to draw repeat (and new) customers while everyone else is trying their hardest to get consumers to spend their attention.

You Can’t Have a Relationship With a Number…or a System.

As marketing has embraced digital (or maybe it’s as consumers have embraced digital and marketers have reacted to it) technology has becoming increasingly important. In many cases, marketers are caught up in the systems they use to generate the leads that drive the business. But that is just as dehumanizing as referring to people as leads or prospects in the first place. Which, of course, jeopardizes developing the relationships that are needed to succeed in the experience economy. Because with that focus on graphs and analytics, marketers stop thinking about the people to whom they are delivering their content. They only think of leads and growth and pipeline.

They ignore that most fundamental aspect of developing a relationship: engagement.

Is It Really That Bad?

Some marketers would say that it’s not. Their job, they would say, is to drive business growth. I would argue that they are no more than robots if that’s the case. Connecting with people through an organization’s brand is the greatest opportunity afforded to marketers by digital. For the first time they can really form one-to-one relationships with existing customers and people who are interested in becoming customers. It’s a global version of the corner store or the water cooler. People expose information about themselves in digital forums that they would never speak about face-to-face. And yet little is done to cultivate that.

Developing relationships with people can be an uncomfortable business. Marketers need to get uncomfortable.

Why Are Relationships So Important?

In a world full of noise, marketers must do something to separate themselves and their brand. Sometimes that may be a catchy marketing gimmick. Sometimes that may be an accidental campaign gone viral. But for the most part it will be something that fundamentally touches the core of what makes us human: connection. As humans we want to be a part of something. A neighborhood. A political party. A family. And that is no less in the digital world. In fact, digital exacerbates it by making connectivity easier. In all that noise and clutter that is becoming online, to whom will people turn when they are looking to make a purchase or subscribe to a service? To the marketer with the catchy jingle? Or to the marketer that is connecting and engaging with them through Facebook, blogs, email, and more?

In the experience economy, relationships are the new currency. At the heart of relationships is engagement. Engagement is personal.

The First Step to Humanizing Marketing

I admit this is a bit of a fluffy post. But it’s been weighing on me. Marketers have this great opportunity to actually talk with people through their digital marketing and yet, instead, they focus on programs and campaigns and a lot of that “broadcast marketing” mentality.

So the first step to humanizing marketing? Stop thinking about leads and pipeline and acquisition and start thinking about engagement. Talk with people through posts and tweets. Send personalized email. Develop trust and credibility by providing content that is helpful (not product focused). This is why persona-based marketing is so important. When you see your targets not as targets but as people (which is possible when you “put yourself in their shoes”) you have a much greater appreciation of

A New Way to Measure?

There have been a lot of services hitting the marketing industry offering to help manage social engagement. Of course, social is only one way to engage with people. But they bring with them the beginnings of a new paradigm: measuring engagement. Of course, the beginning is just that. And the offerings are shallow. What marketers need is a way to quantify the value of a relationship:

  • how deep is the person’s network?
  • how often do they talk about my brand to their network?
  • through what content do they engage with me most?
  • what was my last engagement with them?
  • what kind of conversations do they want to have?

When the marketing industry can develop software to help quantify the value of a relationship, we can take the second step towards humanizing marketing.

The Second Step to Humanizing Marketing

Where the first step is pretty easy (if not time-consuming), the second step is hard. We have to convince a global economy that relationships with people are the best long-term strategy for continued growth and success. That’s right. It’s not short-term pipeline that will make the company succeed. It’s the trust, credibility, and customization provided by a humanized approach to marketing that will build the business of the future. It’s people.

Doing this will require educating executives that short-term leads are counter-productive to long-term growth. The pipeline will fill. The leads will generate. But it has to be done naturally, through establishing a relationship, or it comes off as just a clinical activity involving systems and spreadsheets.

The Middle Ground?

Okay, so I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that there is a place for lead-generation marketing activity. Let’s face it, some people don’t want a relationship. They just want to get in and get out. Marketing, then, should be about building a layered approach. For those that just need the facts, that just want the information so they can decide themselves, that just want to buy, treat them like they want to be treated. Like a number. One could argue that by giving them what they want marketers are actually establishing a relationship with them as well (albeit utilitarian).

But this approach can’t be the dominate layer. Again, long-term business success in the experience economy is all about establishing relationships and connecting with people so that you become the place where they spend their attention. But a combination of tactics actually enables marketers to satisfy existing business requirements (i.e., lead generation, conversion, and pipeline growth) while practicing the humanization of their craft…and demonstrating how deep, intimate relationships with online users can actually generate much more success than focusing just on the numbers.

Go Forth…and Humanize!

Okay, in addition to being a little fluffy, this post (and my position) is a bit Utopian. But successful marketers are already changing. Just look at the trend towards storytelling (the foundation of any good experience).

Marketing is going to change. Do marketers all need to get around a campfire and sing Kumbaya? No. But if marketers fail to understand that they must treat their audience as people who want to have some kind of relationship (and not be considered just a number) they will get lost in the noise.

This blog post is from  http://www.rethinkeverythingblog.com/2017/10/22/humanizing-marketing/

Posted by Jordi Pera

Jordi Pera is an economist passionate about tourism, strategy, marketing, sustainability, business modelling and open innovation. He has international experience in marketing, intelligence research, strategy planning, business model innovation and lecturing, having developed most of his career in the tourism industry. Jordi is keen on tackling innovation and strategy challenges that require imagination, entail thoughtful analysis and are to be solved with creative solutions.

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