Do you feel like your smartphone is listening to you and snitching about your interests and preferences to advertisers on the Internet? Given that it’s all too common to stumble upon a digital ad for that hot air frier you just discussed with a friend, you may feel as though the technology is stalking you. Depending on your perspective, you may find what’s really happening to be reassuring or even more disquieting.
As you interact with apps and websites, you are leaving trails of data behind you. Media platforms and brands use these data signals to make inferences about your interests and behaviors that they use to personalize the content you see. In other words, your smartphone isn’t listening to you—you’re just a bit predictable. As idiosyncratic as your tastes and interests may be, todays’ algorithms and marketing platforms can decode them and make smart assumptions based upon them.
There is a complex debate about data privacy laws and ethics that I won’t delve into in much detail—let’s just assume your organization will use the data for good and with your customers’ permission. With that in mind, the question you may be grappling with today is how you apply technology to deliver a better, more relevant and more personalized experience for your customer. And for many brands, that starts with making a choice about tools and technologies.
Navigating the buzzwords and tool choices
With so many buzzwords and an estimated selection of 8,000 marketing technology tools out there, picking two or three solutions can feel like an accomplishment. But the truth is that despite the noise, most brands are converging on a similar set of technology tools and solutions. Most public cloud spending (nearly two thirds) goes to the top three hyperscale providers--Google, Meta and Amazon get half of digital media spending outside China. And most brands have standardized on one or a mix of around eight martech platforms.
While some brands are more mature in their use of these tools and platforms, it’s clear that technology alone will not give your company its competitive edge. If everyone is using the same technology, that’s not going to be enough to get to those creative, personalized experiences that inspire and engage your customers. And that’s where data and data science come into play—if you have access to the right data and the right data models, you can transform how you speak to your customers.
At this stage, it’s not enough to just understand who customers are in terms of their demographics, what their interests are or even what they will do next. We want to get past the point of endlessly serving Facebook ads for the same mortgage offer or electric bike to someone based on the knowledge that they’ve read some reviews and fall into the customer demographic we are targeting. We want to also understand more about the whys behind their buy—What inspires them? What moves them? Knowing what makes your customer tick on this deep human level is the real competitive advantage.
How machines can make customer experiences more human
This is, of course, easy to say but hard to do. The good news is that artificial intelligence (AI) tools are rapidly advancing. AI enables us to take those facts we collect about our audience and find the human magic in them. It allows us to do two things at speed, scale and low cost: make predictions about people based on data and automate decisions about what we should do based on those predictions. AI uses machine learning models to learn what works and make better predictions and decisions over time.
This enables brands to talk to people in a more human way that avoids the robotically boring-but-creepy engagement that is all too common in digital marketing. AI models can help us to go beyond predicting which influencer endorsement, product or benefit will entice a customer to understanding why. For example, we can present engagements that resonate on a deeper level if we know that someone is motivated by status, health, or family.
We are already helping many brands to use data to get from today’s commoditized technology tools and platforms to the more human engagements that give them a real edge. Brands with deep insight into consumers’ needs, motivations and emotional reality will be best positioned to drive growth and build enduring customer relationships in the years to come.