The basic thrust of speeches from anthropologist and digital marketing analyst Brian Solis and separately, David Shing, AOL's digital prophet, was that it's easy to forget about the people we're marketing too when there's so much tech involved. Watch humans "in the wild" and you will see how they consume media on their devices (and it usually is plural) and get a hook that they are not always doing what you expect them to do where you expect them to do it.
Rather than brands being in a huge scrum for attention on a wide media landscape, humans "in the wild," as Shing calls them, aren't looking out for your brand but are on a set of services they like -- and if you're there, they will bump into you. To do that brands have to think beyond the usual huge channels and look to apps, blogs and sites that are popular in product and demographic niches. It can mean giving up a little control in joining in new conversations beyond where you might not have previously expected your customers to be, but can show the human side of a brand. Giving up full control is inevitable, Shing surmises, because today's consumers express themselves through entertainment. They don't just consume, they create and curate as well and so engaging in that process means letting go of some of the control.
Similarly, Brian Solis reminded marketers that we are emotionally led human beings who don't fit into a marketer's plan of doing what we're expected to do at preordained time and places. Instead of launching "me too" campaigns that are driven by technology, they need to appeal to our emotions and to be human. Somehow and some way, the trick is to move beyond the individual, fleeting success of a popular Facebook post to actually becoming more human in the minds of consumers. Good metrics from individual campaigns is fine in the short term for the long term success will come from humans marketing to humans guided by emotions.
Like all advice from clever thinkers, the words of wisdom are easier said than delivered. How being more human will impact each brand is up to them to figure out. I have to say there's an element of me that was thinking all along that most marketers probably realise they are selling to real people -- and that perhaps ironically, you need a lot of tech to do that and more tech still to optimise where you spend hard-earned revenue.
The general takeaway that brands need to be viewed as human and that they understand people are human too is a good matrix around which brands can begin to improve their public image.
Shing's advice for marketers was to accept that Steve Jobs was right all along and that we live in the "show me" culture. So rather than repeat campaigns, create something new and don't be afraid to show customers what they should be doing or what they need.
Solis' parting words left an impression on me too, and I'm sure the same is true of other delegates.
"In the age of machines, humanity is the killer app," he concluded.
It's one of those phrases that we could come to think of as obvious, and it may not stand the test of time. Right now, however, it has me thinking that it's the perfect test for any new Web service, app or advertising campaign. If it appeals to the human side of us all, if it engages our emotions and crucially prods that most human of all emotions, empathy, then it has a chance of standing out in a very crowded tech-led media landscape.
As a pure coincidence, BA emailed me this morning with a birthday gift email. Sure, the tech to know I am on their executive programme and my birthday is in July came through CRM technology, but the presentation of a wrapped-up present to use for a birthday treat getaway in July was a very emotional, human use of that data. The tech is vital, then, and we shouldn't kid ourselves. However, using it to show we are human and we know how to empathise with other humans is the ultimate goal. Forget shiny and new tech -- think empathy instead.