It was both curious and revealing that at a conference focused on data, there was so much talk about humanity, authenticity and voice in marketing. This is one of the themes that emerged from the Brand Marketers Summit last week in Kohler, Wisconsin. The ironic end result of Big Data and data-driven marketing is a more human-like relationship with the customer. The massive number of inputs and data types now pouring in to marketers from offline, online, whether it is transactional, behavioral or attitudinal, add up to a more nuanced and detailed portrait of the customer.
Until now most companies knew their customers only as they existed within the “purchase funnel” and via data points that prepared for or enacted transactions. These many other inputs now allow the brand to know their customers outside of the transaction, to know what else is of importance to her and to relate to her in different ways.
The broader implication of Big Data, then, is that companies have the information and the means by which to effect a more human approach to communications. As Tom O’Keefe, CEO of O’Keefe, Reinhard & Paul, said on a Summit panel, we may be witnessing the “de-manufacturing of brands.” The means are there to talk in real-time to consumers in the places they live and socialize online without the corporate speak and guardedness companies have effected for centuries. In fact, these channels give a brand no choice really but to adopt a different posture. In discussing how marketers can use the social channels to touch consumers, he said: “Consumers don’t want to feel the messages have been on a shelf that need to be queued up from some master plan.” Brands that play in the social space in the hopes of having true conversations with the customers need to “be more vulnerable and spontaneous.”
One of the things we heard across the three days was how much spontaneity requires planning. In recounting how Sears/Kmart deployed its #shipmypants campaign, Division VP, Mobile + Social Media Marketing, Adriana Llames Kogelis explained the massive preparedness required. There were phone trees of executives on alert to give go or no-go commands on messages and decisions to deploy campaigns. There were contingency plans for handling a provocative campaign that might evoke negative rather than positive response. There were messages already planned for how to address controversy in each of the social channels. And as Kogelis acknowledges, building such fail-safe systems around what on the surface looks like spontaneous messaging runs the risk of being overly planned and sounding canned.
In some sense the new social channels, while they seem to invite all brands to have “relationships” with consumers have also helped marketers wake up to the hard reality that most people just don’t care too much about the brands they use and certainly don’t love them, are not really their friends, and are not really thrilled to hear from them. Erich Fischer, director of media, sponsorship and Analytics at LifeLock, admitted that the hundreds of thousands of people who “like” his personal identity protection brand on Facebook are not his friends by any stretch of the imagination. He got them because they had some contests that drew people to hit the Like button.
In the same vein, consumers are not sitting waiting for their brands to reach out and start conversations. “They want brands to be able to engage in conversations they are already having,” O’Keefe says.
In an age of the more human company brands need to think about what their corporate voice is and why they are even starting conversations in other people’s social space. Posting pithy hashtags and clever tweets for their own sake may help a brand get some momentary visibility, but it doesn’t make sense or ring true to consumers in the long run if there isn’t some good reason for the brand to be talking in the first place. “You have to understand what the core value proposition is in real time marketing” said Scott Carliss, VP digital and social media, AEG Global Partnerships.
The emergence of the humanized corporation, forced into personability by analytics and social media, is incredibly challenging but also fascinating for marketers. In one sense this is not wholly new. After all, didn’t TV help initiate the cuddly corporate mascot, Speedy for Alka-Seltzer, Ronald McDonald for Mcdonald’s and others? Not surprisingly, some of these mascots have migrated onto social channels like Twitter. If companies really start knowing their consumers on an intimate and highly detailed basis, if consumers are delivering intimate data to the consumer industrial complex, then people will expect companies to talk the talk and walk the walk of being human or more human-like.
Videos from the Brand Marketers summit are now available on the agenda page for the event.