We are in a digital era of marketing where increasingly impersonal interaction takes place online and marketing automation is seen as the answer to a range of issues.
In contrast to this, customers and marketing pundits are driving the need for personalisation and customisation of content and customer experience.
These two driving forces in contemporary marketing are, at first glance, seemingly irreconcilable and imply a potential future in which customers relate only to pre-programmed algorithms.
Where is the human touch? Is it no longer essential in marketing?
The marketing and advertising industries seem to be totally enamoured with the idea of automating as much of their work as possible.
While this is great in theory and allows for a much greater range of messages and communication to be handled, it can also magnify any problems with the customer acquisition process.
Part of the problem is in its very nature – it’s automatic. This means that problems don’t tend to be noticed until they have had a big impact.
It relies on data – whereas a human can look at some information and see instantly there’s a problem with it, the automated process will just try and use it anyway.
Automation is not good at dealing with the unexpected – suppose one of your prospects changes their mind halfway through the buying process and decides they want to buy a completely different product or service of yours – could your automated process handle that? A human being would have no problem. Or suppose the buyer leaves the company and another person takes over responsibility with a different job title and from a different department – would that trip up your process?
But perhaps the biggest issue is that it needs to be programmed – too many users assume that the automation will do everything for them and fail to create a working strategy and a valid plan in the first place. If the initial programming is based on an ill-thought-through strategy, the automation will just end up emphasising just how bad that thinking was.
One area where automation and programming can be of enormous benefit to your audience is in helping them to make sense of their issues and the potential solutions.
In this age of content marketing, buyers often struggle under the weight of information that’s presented to them. A Gartner survey recently reported that 50% of respondents said that the amount of trustworthy information they encountered during the purchase decision was overwhelming. Whereas previously a salesperson would have guided them through, now they are making that journey themselves, unguided.
So online tools that help prospects diagnose their problem, identify solutions, calculate options and their benefits are immensely powerful ways to attract and help potential buyers.
Content such as overviews, guides and simple steps to follow to arrive at a solution are also invaluable.
With research showing that buyers and prospects want more personalisation, companies are scrambling to create systems that allow for multiple messages, different nuances of communication and the ability to take data, analyse it and use it in personalised marketing material materials.
Unfortunately, many businesses misunderstand what personalisation means. At the worst level, they think it means marketing material with the prospects name mentioned several times. They analyse user data in increasingly clever ways to deliver up personalised messages selling their products and services.
But personalisation is not about the data. And maybe personalisation is the wrong word to use anyway – it’s more about delivering an experience that is tailor-made to the prospect’s or buyer’s needs and interests. Addressing their issues and concerns. These are not things that show up in the data, they are not so easily elicited, stored, analysed and acted upon by a pre-programmed system.
Rather than taking your marketing messages and personalising them to customers, offer up a range of messages and allow your customers to choose the ones that resonate with them. It’s not about railroading your prospects down a certain path by cleverly manipulating them – it’s about allowing them to choose their own path, their own way – allowing them to personalise their experience themselves.
A keyword is empathy. Rather than trying to personalise your marketing messages, you should be engaging with your prospects – getting to understand them and their concerns, who are they and what are they trying to accomplish?
Anna Hrach, Strategist at Convince & Convert suggests these questions to get closer to customers:
- What's it like to be our customer? This helps ensure customer satisfaction and understand whether the customer’s needs are truly met.
- What steps did you take to become a customer? This helps detail the path to purchase and understand what needs to happen to move to the next step.
- Did you explore other offerings/companies? This helps uncover how competitors are engaging prospects and aids in identifying messaging gaps.
- What made you choose us and why? This helps uncover specifically what’s working — and what’s not — with messaging and personalisation tactics.
One great source of information about customers is your customer service departments – support, maintenance, repair, and the like. Talk to your customer-facing personnel. If you have distributors or other third parties that deal with your customers – learn what they know about your customers and their issues too.
A Matter of Viewpoint
As marketers, our job is to sell stuff. Our minds are focussed on that goal – looking at how we can craft messages that will ultimately result in sales. But too often we concentrate on what to do, rather than how to do it. We create perfect sales messages that just don’t work on real people.
To explain, marketing is often obsessed with the sales message, with the features and benefits of products and services. While this is important for marketers to know and understand, communicating those on their own are not the way to achieve the ultimate goal of making sales.
This is because buyers are human beings. They don’t care about these things - they really want to know how your product or service will help them in their job, how it will make their life easier, how it will solve their problems and resolve the issues that they are facing day-to-day. How will it help them get a promotion, work fewer hours and sleep at night? They are interested in solutions.
To understand your customers, so that you can create content and marketing messages that does resonate with them and catches their attention, you have to put yourself in their shoes.
So, marketers should stop thinking like sellers and become customers – well in their heads at least. The more customer-like you become and the less sales-minded, the more chance you have of making a meaningful emotional connection with buyers that WILL result in sales.
Don’t be a seller – think like a customer.
If you use automation, make sure you understand your prospects and customers before you set up processes and workflows. Make sure it’s implemented and used intelligently. And always make sure there are human touchpoints.