How Tech Can Build Human-Centric Brands

Chris WrenJanuary 25, 20184 min

There’s no shortage of brands that become seduced by the possibility of technology, imagining scenarios for the modern world that are marginally useful at best. Jucero is the widely-mocked startup that got squeezed out when consumers realized they didn’t need a $400 Wi-Fi connected juicer to make juice. BMW developed an app to lock/unlock and start their cars that required something like nine or ten steps. How is that more convenient than a key fob? And this year’s CES saw a luggage robot following a man around. This is what the world needs?

Marketers, too, are easily seduced by tech that disconnects from consumer needs and desires. Marketing automation typically uses behaviors to trigger continued actions, making it seem more responsive and aware of what a customer is trying to do. And while automation has tremendous power when the logic is nuanced, it also has the potential to overly-touch customers in desperate attempts for ‘engagement’. Programmatic ad buying automates decisions about where ads will run and when (based on business rules), is driven by auctions, and values data over deal-making. The rampant fraud and abuse stemming from programmatic is a major culprit in driving fake news. Without the ad funding, many of the questionable sites would go away. As Gartner says, “the paradox of programmatic is that it’s like the party nobody wants to be at and nobody wants to leave.

As Simon Silvester once said, “We have a choice: to follow where the technology is taking us, or make the technology work for human beings.” This year, a lot of people will be talking about artificial intelligence (AI). But the very worst thing that marketers and brands can do is to use AI to find new opportunities to harass customers, or pinpoint “optimal tactics” to get customers to “engage.” Instead, brands need to flip AI to IA: Intelligent assistance.

Intelligent assistance subtracts complexity from people’s lives and decreases the distance between where they are and what they want to do. What does that look like? Amazon’s Go is a superb example of frictionless retail, where the technology is smart enough to tell the difference between looking at an item while browsing, and what ends up in the shopping bag. In fact, many of Amazon’s systems are designed to make it easier for customers to get the things they want. Jaguar and Land Rover SUVs offer “activity keys” that are waterproof and can be worn around the wrist so their customers can enjoy the outdoors without fear of losing their keys. What a simple, elegant solution. Wearables are also being leveraged in tourism negating the need to check in to hotels or pay for services on cruise lines.

Here’s three key ideas to help you keep your brand focused on what matters most — the people that matter most to your future.

1. Don’t automate the relationship. Marketing technology should enhance a relationship, not drive it. If a customer opts-in to one of your brand’s programs, be sure the program is designed with the customer in mind. So, a customer downloads your eBook. Think about what that means for the recipient, what’s their state of mind and what are they ready for next? Take the time to create branches and set your communication tempo to reflect the behaviors you’re tracking.

2. Look to new ways to connect personally via emerging platforms. B2B brands should be leveraging LinkedIn Sales Navigator and Point Drive. While email remains an inexpensive and prolific way to communicate, using Sales Navigator gives a chance to connect more personally with the customers and accounts you’re trying to land. Combine this with Point Drive for a library of personalized content that can be tailored (and tracked) to the conversation.

3. Dig deeper into social networks. As Geoff Colon says, “we live in a surfeit of subcults.” Brands can take advantage of this by digging deeper into the subcommunities online, but not for the purpose of serving these communities advertising. Imagine if a product manager dropped into a forum of fans, and gave them an inside track on what’s coming from the brand in the future, or encouraged a community to come to a local event versus (or complimenting) paid promoted posts on Facebook and Twitter.

The answer to how tech can build human-centric brands is simple: Put human needs at the center of everything you do.

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