Being human in a data driven world: A marketer’s guide

5 August 2015

Written by Rob Limb

Data is the new oil - the future and saviour of marketing. It helps us make smarter decisions and drive sales at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing approaches. But there’s a myth at the heart of our data-driven world and it shows up in the language we use.

We talk too easily about precision, predictability, fact-based decision making and real-time contextual automation. This language is clinical, command-based and deeply misguided. The truth is that today’s customers are not only more connected and complex but they’re also in control.  They are as emotional as ever and they tell us time and time again that they want to be treated like human beings. If our digital customers really want to be treated like people rather than data points, how should we respond?

One answer is to consciously put human behaviours before technology, before data, and before channels. Do that and I believe you will get more value from your plans to automate and personalise.

Here are six questions that may help you to take a more human approach to using data:

1. Do you have a vision for how your data will add personal value to your customers?

You’ll be seeking more ways to commercialise the data you own and find new ways to make communications more personally relevant. But do you have a vision for how that data can help your customers reach their goals. How far will you go to give your customers visibility and control of that data in ways that will help them?

2. Do you follow your customers through the messy world of the lives they lead?   

Does your marketing team put as much value on observing and listening as they do on improving their data literacy? Data alone will not tell you about the emotions that drive people to act and share as they interact with you. It takes more than cookie pools and preference management to do this. It demands direct and empathetic observation of customers as they experience your business and the ability to understand how they feel at every step.

3. How responsive are you?

Response is everything.  It’s more important than relevance in my book when it comes to engagement. That’s in part because digital channels have fuelled an exponential rise in inbound contact and real-time dialogue, but also because the bar has now been set locally by global players like Netflix, Google and Uber. The practice of real-time response management still gets comparatively little budget and focus compared to the efforts that are routinely put in to deploying push messages.

4. How often do you say thank you?

We’ve learned in our workplaces that recognition feels good, but we may have lost the art and the value of a well-timed thank you to our customers. Your customers will notice when you do it.

5. How overtly do you ask your customers for feedback and how do you prove that you have listened to them?

We’re becoming better at listening by stealth through the data trails that customers leave online. But there’s power to be had in using data that has been explicitly asked for. Customers love to be asked and better still they loved to be heard. Above all they want us to demonstrate we have listened and acted on their behalf.

6. How much attention do you pay to the people on your frontline?

Frontline staff are often the point of connection between the data you hold, the technology you deploy and the experience your customers have. The value of their insight into behaviour often gets get overlooked in the push to automate and digitize. Don’t underestimate the power and the insights they hold.

These questions reflect an approach to data driven marketing that is about consciously putting human behaviours first and a personal belief that it pays to be human in a data driven world.