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Digital era marketing

Human FIRST, Digital second.

Marketing Transformation is often associated with digital transformation. But do we overlook something in the race to master the technology - that the competitive advantage we have is that humans can empathise? We look at brands that do it well, whether the balance is right and practical advice we can put into practice.​


Episode 031 TOPICS:


  • Why Humans are feeling creatures that think  

  • Should CMO’s continue to spend more on tech than people?

  • Can A.I. teach us to be more compassionate? 

  • Brand learnings from Humana, AirBnB, Pampers

  • Heartifical Empathy - by Minter Dial 

  • Great marketers lead with empathy and compassion

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed

31. Human First Digital Second



Certainly, a rich subject at the moment and we wanted to tackle a subject where it’s pretty much in line with the podcast itself really. Where marketing transformation is often associated with digital transformation and that’s sort of seen as a step change powered by technology, but I think sometimes, in a race to master that technology and see how it impacts our lives or our business goals, we overlook what is pretty much in front of us with every day marketing chat about algorithms, cloud solutions, AI, we forget that the one competitive advantage that we have is that we are humans, we can provide and as humans we seek out those that understand us and our needs yet interestingly, are we leveraging this enough? And thus, what we want to look at in this podcast are brands that do it well, whether that balance is right, and what we can learn. And Sam, you’ve got some data haven’t you, that brings that to life?


Head vs Heart


Yeah, the title of this episode is human first, digital second and when I say human first I really mean that we are feeling creatures that think and not thinking creatures that feel. Now, that’s not a Covid 19 driven insight, it’s not my own wisdom, it’s from the work of psychologists and researchers in neuroscience that found eighty percent of human decisions are made through the subconscious, through being intuitive, through our gut feeling, through the emotional part of the brain i.e. the nonverbal parts. In other words, you come up with a decision or an answer before you often realise that you have. I think we’ve all had that feeling when we know an answer to something, but I can’t tell you why I know the answer. At that moment I just know that I know it, right? That means that only twenty percent of what we do or think comes through the conscious part of the brain.

Now, with that insight of how we think and how we make decisions and respond to the current changes going on transformations happening over the world, I’m a little concerned with how that matches with the seismic shifts that are happening out there. Especially in the world of marketing. The tech becomes more and more part of the role of marketers and everyday life, the curve ramps up. I’ve seen some data that shows the adoption of a lot of technology in the last few weeks has significantly increased. And there’s a marketing technology leader called Scott Brinker at a loud voice in the transformation space and the overview of the marketing technology landscape is called the martec5000 and the time of recording is actually around seven thousand different platforms, vendors and technology that exists, and he’s actually crowd sourced updating it for this year, so, it’s probably going to be about nine thousand or so. But it covers advertising, mobile display, search platforms, content, social and relationship tools and platforms, commerce sales, data, the management of data space. All of that stuff, and if you can imagine what’s going on now, what’s going to be coming onboard beyond 2020, the point here is it’s become so complex for marketers and far, far too complicated for CMOs to wrap their arms around this and all of this space.



Yeah, absolutely. And we get a real sense of how CMOs are handling this via the CMO spend survey from Gartner over the past few years. Now, we know these numbers are going to change during the current circumstances, but it’s a good benchmark and also I think it’ll be interesting to see how some of the adoption speeds up as well.

But putting that to one side for now, nearly a third of CMO budgets are allocated to marketing technology. And marketing technology, martech budgets, continue to move forward with no sign of stopping, up from twenty two percent of the budget in 2017 now accounts for about twenty nine percent of the total marketing budget. Making it the largest area in investment. And although marketing budgets remain steady despite the uncertain times ahead and we aren’t sure where those spends will return to, what I expect, Sam, is an increase in finding people to manage the tech, rather than actually investing in the skilled resources themselves.



Yeah, there’s different schools of thoughts so, there’s definitely a challenge out there, you’ve probably heard, and the audience has probably heard of Chris Penn and John Wall they’ve been hosting the fabulous Marketing Over Coffee podcast for over a decade, for a long time. They have a huge emphasis on marketing analytics, and the data space and there’s a great framework from their company called Trust Insights, and you can find them on and you can find out more about them. And this is a shameless plug, an unpaid plug, I’m just a big fan of their work by the way.

Anyway, I was at a marketing technology conference about eighteen months ago and Chris Penn gave the keynote on digital AI, and he was very clear on the limitations on the technology and the important role of humans. And a lightbulb came on for me when he pointed out that getting the right governance in place is so critical for marketing technology., and basically, before you dive into the risk and the compliance and operation and the strategies, ultimately the foundation of their framework is getting humanity right. Getting the humanity right is about the change management, the programmes and the training and everything that people need, it's about the human beings that you need to focus on first. And I asked him to send me the slide, because I had to change my presentation for the next day to reflect this thinking, and it’s why I’m such a huge advocate for people first, for making people the starting point in marketing. 



Well, absolutely, Sam. I mean, you always champion this human side and again, if we look back at that CMO study there’s some interesting stuff as you delve into the detail there. Email marketing, online management, digital analytics, as you would imagine they are the main thing CMOs are investing in, in their tech budget. Meanwhile, twenty-three percent of budgets will go on agencies, but that’s down from the year before. And martech will take 29 percent as we covered earlier on, while staff cost will account for twenty four percent of the budgets, down, again, by three percentage points according to that. So, we do have this situation where, on one side we’re talking about an increased need to focus on the human factor but, the budgets just aren’t really reflecting it.


People vs Things


Yeah, Chris, this is the point I keep banging on about. CMOs are still spending more on the stuff than the people. The good news is that the gap is closing, so, the most recent survey says again, spending twenty six percent on the tech and twenty five percent on the people from the Gartner survey. Ok, the gap is closing but it’s still not good enough as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to continue to make the plea. But the promising aspect then, just to be more positive, there’s still a pretty high focus on the research and insight and also prioritising the customer experience and making that insight driven. So, that’s good to see those are priorities. I see that as helping to tame the direction of tech in the right way for the audiences that marketers need to really delight. 

And a couple of examples that come to mind of who does it well. I think, in the current climate, It’ll be interesting to see how they come out the other side but, for example, Disney. If you think about resort experience where they have these magic bands, wristbands that they give out and they released the smart bands with RIFD enablement, which meant that you can use it to make payments, to manage your reservation, to access hotel rooms, but then, it went a bit further and you could use it to make the visit a bit more personalised; they’d, for example, send Mickey mouse to personally greet the kids at the gate, when entering the magic kingdom and they had all the data to make sure that was spot on. Another example is WeChat, a platform that merges messaging and gaming and media sharing and payments in a really super user centric way. 



Powerful examples there. One of the things we’ve talked about before, is that as more is spent on the tech you can squeeze, not only the people out, but the human aspect. And what I mean by that is the empathy. We’ve talked about how artificial intelligence could eventually be used to design marketing campaigns in the future, rather than people, but we have to appreciate allocating marketing tech budgets is complicated. And there’s a really interesting article, we’ll refer to it in our blog, by a lady called Lucy Hanley and she makes a point. Humans are social creatures and we thrive on empathy. We like to think that we are logical creatures but in truth, our emotions govern a large part of our intelligence. And there’s interdependencies between emotional intelligence and general intelligence and that you can’t have one without the other and the point there, Sam, is that’s what makes us tick. We can have all of the ingredients, you can try and create that artificially, but without that secret sauce that makes us human, you’re going to end up with a really bland dish.



Yeah, great point, Chris. I think of it as the ability to truly step into the consumer’s shoes and understand the totality of their lives. Not just one point or a point in time. But, how do you see it, Chris?

AI vs Robots vs Marketing


Well, I think, you’ve got all of the killer ingredients that can’t be replicated, and that ingredient is empathy. It’s that ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing within their frame of reference. Now, that’s almost a definition of it, but you would think that an algorithm potentially could get there though. And I’m not talking about a robot dog with sad eyes, what I’m talking about is, can you create an artificial intelligence system where you move beyond that general intelligence, where empathy will be essential? Just like human intelligence is different to artificial intelligence, you know, you’re going to need that human empathy to move it on from an AI perspective. But will it really work the same? You could argue that, is AI empathy the same as humans? Will it work in a business? But ethics will be different as well. The way humans use ethics is related to empathy and AI doesn’t make that connection. It’s like somebody trying to create a replica of your meal without any of the context or the know-how, to carry on that analogy from earlier on. 



Yeah, great points there Chris. And I think for me it’s important to remember, and I think for you as well, that the goal is to always remain human. However, we could argue another case that sometimes the tech is the best way to do that. Here’s an example I found for the research on this. A US medical company called Humana; they’re using software Cojito. And it’s training their employees to be more compassionate. So, it’s helping to improve communication by analysing vocal cues in their conversations with customers, such as the pitch or the tone of their voice. The call centre agent, with the customer on the phone, can see a speedometer icon. And we all know what that looks like if you’re driving a vehicle, it then gives an on-screen tip to perhaps slow down if they are speaking faster than usual, in that case the software is acting as a coach. The reality is we are humans. So, we get tired, we might have blind spots or biases, maybe we don’t respond well to certain accents, or respond better to other voices and tones, but the software is helping to coach the people. 

Another real-life experience I’ve realised, is that Alexa is prompting me to have a great day or enjoy pancake day, and what if Alexa could really process my tone and suggest perhaps a recipe that I love or remind me of a friend that I haven’t spoken with in a while? It knows that I’m in a bad mood and it’s trying to cheer me up, perhaps. It’s probably because they’ve actually hired a bunch of AI personality developers in Seattle according to LinkedIn, some of the research I was doing for a job posting. So, it describes the role as crafting successful conversational voice interactions, and compelling spoken prompts. Writing jokes, songs and stories. So, it’s actually early days for it, but they are already using humans to try and insert that and uplift that in their programme and interaction.



I’d love to see the profiles they get for those types of jobs. 



Yeah, imagine being a writer or a musician or someone who writes jokes, it’s just interesting that you’d perhaps have to hire comedians and writers and journalists and not traditional marketing folks for that role. 

Another example that comes to mind, we can all perhaps empathise with, although, they’ve kind of changed their policies in our current climate, but don’t you just dread calling the bank, or dread trying to return a product. I’d have to say, my best experience is always returning stuff back to Amazon. I use the chat on my cell phone, it’s actually fun and easy, it’s rewarding, it quickly identifies me, pre-empts what I want to do, identifies the return, tells me the refund is on the way, feels very real, feels very human but it’s a complete bot. There’s nobody there. But, for me, that’s empathy done right in my book, because it makes me feel like I’m being treated personally and I’m trying to connect with another person. But try it with another company, service or a retailer and check out their chat feature and see how that differs.


Bringing It All Back Home


Yeah, good point. As I said in one of the last episodes, the Sky feature worked incredibly well to cancel and pause Sky Sports, I was very, very impressed. But we try to bring this back to our day jobs and look from a perspective of junior marketers as well as CMO and think, what do you practically do? Well what you do is to ensure that every role you have, you relate it back to the human aspect of your business- your customers. If you do product focused business, your job is to make the developers feel like the audience, and I really mean feel, so, empathy comes through there as well. There’s plenty of techniques that can be used to do that. Whether that’s straightforward in terms of making personas or the focus groups or whatever, the techniques that matter. What matters is that you bring the human aspect into your job, all of the time. You make sure it's not a number in an excel spreadsheet or a line of code, you make sure that you’re bringing the humans into it. 

Second thing you can do is find the human aspect in your marketing as well. It’s not about transactions or subscriptions or product sales of X, it’s about the need you are fulfilling for your customer. And Sam, it’s no coincidence that some of the most successful countries, even if they’re tech-orientated, work hard to make sure they connect. And again, an interesting point here is that as a species we’re always looking for something to identify with, whether that’s entertainment, stories in the news, the people we meet, we search out traits that we recognise and respond to and it’s no secret that oversize  overheads  that we see are characters in movies or animations or even on logos are to remind us of babies and that empathy, that real strong empathy that we get with babies.

The other aspect is that companies are more successful and effective when they present those identifiable traits with their customers and that can be through branding. We talk a lot about whether it’s their values that we stand by but interestingly, logos and that personality, that face of the company is another important part where we see that come to mind. Sam, any that spring to mind? 



Yeah, for me, there’s definitely been a shift over the last few weeks or so, with more leaders coming to the forefront and actually as being spokespeople for their companies and their brands and their businesses. So, I’ll pick one that comes to mind for me, it’s Airbnb, which is a very real example of a company that makes strides forward, but then it kind of stumbles, picks itself back up again, tries to course correct, the transition from start-up to scale-up to an established brand. The nature of their business is for everyday people to open up their homes to perfect strangers. It’s a truly wonderful insight, because you’re not supposed to stay or talk with strangers but actually, what Airbnb does is encourage you to actually engage with them and strangers homes I suppose, but that’s because it's been opened up. 

Unfortunately, there are some risks of that because people, unfortunately, live out their biases and operationally profile certain groups. So, a few years ago, research showed that people with African American names were up to sixteen percent less likely than identical guests with white names to be accepted in those establishments. What Airbnb did was, they kept it real, they admitted the mistake, they actually embraced the criticism and they wrote a public apology letter. They acknowledged it up front that there was an issue, it was happening, and they were going to address it. 

In 2016, they asked Laura Murphy, the former head of the Civil Liberty Union in Washington DC, to lead a review of every aspect of their diversity inclusion on their platform. CEO Brian Cheskey, he’s out there front and centre saying ‘hey, look they were too slow to take action’, and what was good is they put into place several steps to make diversity and belonging a more prevalent component of their business. They’ve launched campaigns such as #weaccept, #onelessstranger to the point I made earlier. They provided school kits for learning about bias, making it easier to flag and to report bias, they’ve introduced a non-discrimination policy. 

So, it’s constant effort, but they still continue to face issues that force them to step up. Recently they’ve had safety issues from party houses, things have gone very wrong and they’ve had to ban them from the platform. Then again, reports of scammers duping customers, how they step up to that, and now their business model’s under more pressure as they have to clean up after, they recently announced guests would receive a full refund for the cancellation of reservations during the Covid period, but that angered many hosts as they didn’t have any resources to cover it. So, they’ve had to direct two hundred and fifty million dollars to the hosts following a flood of cancellations on the platform, and the number’s only increasing. So, stretching their cash flow and their short term IPA potential but that’s an organisation that tries to do the right thing and has it in its DNA, but is constantly course correcting and pivoting very public, and we’ll see how they go again in the current climate where their business is being hammered with bookings down so much.



Yeah, a great example in this climate, and I think the other aspect that is important is very, very human characteristics, which is getting it wrong. It’s being fallible, like you say it’s picking yourself up, admitting that you didn’t quite get that right and taking steps again. 

I think the other aspect so many successful marketing campaigns include is human personality, is to allow a brand to form a strong connection with the audience as well. And the truth is, people just don’t connect with logos the same way they connect with people or characters. And it’s interesting, again, just looking at how to bring a human face into a marketing campaign. There was a really strong quote from a guy called Peter Markey, director of brand communications and marketing Aviva, which is an insurance company, and he wrote, ‘it’s our job to show consumers we are not faceless, we don’t describe ourselves internally, as a human brand it’s not the language we use, but we will realise that as a brand we do need to have a human face. The biggest challenge for any human brand in financial services is not allowing there be any gaps in the brand between promise and experience.’ I think that absolutely sums it up.

 And of course, how do you measure it? well, you need to keep on that brand unity by constantly measuring customer satisfaction by following the net promoter score or other devices in order to do that. Back to your point about measuring, Sam. How do you keep yourself honest?



Absolutely, all great points there, Chris. And what you just reminded me of, there’s an opportunity here for a special shout out to Minter Dial, who’s written a fab book in this space, called Heartificial Empathy, again, Minter Dial, and he’s got a fab podcast called Dialogue with Minter, of course, great name for a podcast. The book, Heartificial Empathy- really well worth a read, a bunch of frameworks, examples, suggestions on how you can dig deeper in the space of empathy. So, check that out, perfect for this show.


And as I think about it, I’d like to share another example of a brand that I think has done a great job of leading with a human insight to solve a real issue, a brand that comes to mind is Pampers UnderJams. It’s a product based on the understanding that bedwetting amongst kids, in this case 5-9 year olds, is a very embarrassing issues for kids and their Mums; the child feels isolated, they perhaps avoid sleepovers with their friends, and they just want to be like the other kids, and the parents, they kind of feel that using those special kind of underpants is regressive and a failure as a parent and that is a true feeling that they have, so they go to great lengths to actually hide the issue. They might be buying extra bed liners or extra sheets, so there’s this terrible issue that there’s a taboo on both sides and the embarrassment meant that the parents didn’t even want to be seen in store with the product in their car. So, Pampers decided to empower both the kid and the parent, providing kid appropriate tools and education, they could face it. They created a site at the time called Pampers UnderJams, targeted display media to drive the educational information and make sure that people understood this is a medical issue. It’s not embarrassing, it's just a medical issue and how to deal with that with advice, information and videos.

That kind of approach is tackling a taboo in a really, really human way, and using technology to remove friction. So, ultimately you could actually order online, and you could order through websites which was a very practical business driving solution but also, the practical solution to address the embarrassment that people had with buying it and picking it up in store.



Yeah, great example there. And if we think about a tech brand which has AI and automated processors at the heart of it and clearly, in the news at the moment we think about Amazon. And that rough smile, that Amazon logo has morphed a bit over the years, but let’s not forget that the logo was designed to have that A to Z and trying to create that roguish smile, and it’s a pretty accurate expression or reflection of the expression we use when we get a package in the mail. So, a great choice for that logo for the company and clearly part of that design process. But again, thinking about how tech companies bring that to life I think is quite fascinating. But Sam, conscious time has got ahead of us again. It's amazing how quickly it goes, so, I think we should just bring it to a close. Been a really fascinating session, so, why don’t you sum it up for us?


Today’s Three Key Take Aways


  1. We are feeling creatures that think, and not the other way around. Remember we’re feeling creatures that think, not thinking creatures that feel. 

  2. Lead your business, your brand, your company with empathy. Lead it with insights and a bias to upskill people to be comfortable and be more open to unlocking and mastering and embracing the technology. 

  3. The technology should be there to help us humans. It can help us be more compassionate. It should be powered by algorithms that makes us more customer and consumer centric.



Good. I particularly like that last one. Really, really powerful. And continuation of this theme next week in episode 32. We’re going to look at the growing relationship between the CIOs, chief information officers and CMOs, and where that road goes. Why is facing headwinds the conflict between them? And how, now, especially in the current time, digital transformation trends are accelerating and why it will acquire all hands-on decks. So, going to be a powerful episode. 


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