I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to brands, consumers and technology.
This I believe: technology should make the relationship between a consumer and a brand that much better. It should be easier. It should be faster to respond. It should be cheaper. It should be more personalized. It should be customizable. It should be knowing. It’s not just a pipe dream, either. It is what technology was intended to do. In short: marketing, advertising and communications that leverage technology should be able to reach a more relevant and intended target audience. It should be cheaper to reach that audience. And, the messaging should be more effective because of this. When this happens, the costs of creating connections should drop substantially. When that happens, brand should be willing to spend a lot more to make these connections because, well… it works. This isn’t just business philosophy. As someone who was sitting in front of a computer and selling online advertising circa 1999, this is how it was promised, packaged and sold. There’s one caveat: we all knew that as digital took hold, the value and merit of it would increase the costs (both in development and placement). What’s interesting, is that the development/production costs dropped, as the technology got better, but the cost of placement (the media part) increased. Still, for a brand, this was/is panacea: Highly measurable advertising, interactive spaces, platforms that people are proactively spending time on (and not just passively viewing) and a more qualified consumer (if they had the tech, this means that they are smart and have money to spend).
Did we choose technology and code over people and emotions?
I still use social media platforms. Every day. A lot. I am highly engaged on them. I rely on them. From private groups on Facebook to my Twitter feed to stay up-to-date to LinkedIn for business opportunities to YouTube for casual (but relevant) viewing before I go to bed. I’m no neophyte. From day one, I would pump these platforms with as little data and information as possible. Looking back, this was a silly strategy. Now, with everybody so engaged and the advancement of machine learning, artificial intelligence and companies who better understand how to connect third-party data sets and manipulate the system, this I believe: Even if you put minimal amounts of data into these social networks, their data sets (on the backend) and from other users can build the near-perfect composite of a user. Yes, they “know” you regardless of what you’ve put into the network.
This makes it hard and harder to love all of this connectivity.
Taking this a step further, I have had a front-row seat to the disruption of the advertising business. This new claim that advertising is more about technology, data and code than it is about creativity, storytelling and connecting human beings to one another? I don’t believe this digital transformation to be true for the advertising business. If you want a consumer to buy from you, it’s not going to happen because a brand has the superior data. If you want a consumer to buy from you, it is going to happen if you try to connect with them through a story/message/content that resonates. A story that both gives them more information about your brand, while – at the same time – showing them something that they either see in themselves or want for themselves. Do we need the data? Of course, we do. Do we need the humanity, emotion and the story? Of course we do, but we need the story and emotion much more than anybody is giving it credit for these days. Much more.
Everything is “with” not “instead of.”
That line still rings true. In the early days of digital, I’d often be confronted by the media and other pundits about how digital is going to destroy the other media formats (“advertising is dead/dying!”). I never subscribed to that ideology. I still don’t. Everything is “with” not “instead of.” We should take that same approach to the current state of business. Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc… are going to win no favours by putting the data and code ahead of the people and humanity. For some reason, it does feels like this is what they’re doing… or what they’ve done in the past (and it’s really coming into the light now). If the system is now broken, then the code and technology is not going to fix it. People and our connectivity is what can fix it. I love technology. My guess is that you love technology too. Still, we can’t keep moving forward like this, if all we do is place the code, data and algorithm over the people.
People over code. It’s our only choice.