Marketers: Don’t Forget the Human Connection

by Bant Breen

For many organizations, the race to master data and harness the power of the marketing technology stack has resulted in the customer and, perhaps, an understanding of human relationships being lost. 

In a recent research study from the CMO Council, in partnership with Harte Hanks, 41 percent of respondents acknowledged that focusing on the relationship being built, instead of the campaign being deployed, has been a key challenge. Nearly one-third surveyed for the report “Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice” admitted they sometimes forget that their “targets” are human beings. 

In the study, we found that doubts about organizational readiness to expand and advance the omni-channel experience through richer personalization is surprisingly high, with 42 percent of respondents indicating they are not prepared to leverage intelligence gathered across listening posts to deliver a better customer experience. Not a single respondent among the 152 senior marketing executives felt they were well prepared to integrate new experiences and new points of intelligence to improve brand engagement.

This is a stunning revelation.

It is quite apparent that developing the human experiences that customers are looking for can feel confusing for the data- and technology-driven marketer of the 21st century. In every point of connection, customers leave small data clues behind that can enrich our current profiles and give brands the insights needed to craft the right combination of message, channel and timing. 

As companies adopt data, technology and process, the customer and the very real, human and fragile relationships that marketers have worked so hard to build have been lost, giving way to settling for assumptions about broad personas and an almost obsessive focus on campaign performance. 

And, make no mistake, this all matters. According to a study by the research firm Motista, consumers with an emotional connection to a brand have a 306 percent higher lifetime value, stay with a brand for an average of 5.1 years vs. 3.4 years, and will recommend brands at a much higher rate (71 percent vs. 45 percent). Another study, by Aberdeen Group, found that companies with extremely strong omni-channel customer engagement retain, on average, 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent for companies with weak omni-channel customer engagement.

That’s not to say that no companies are getting customer experience right.

Chief marketing officers responding to our survey believe brands like Amazon, Google, Apple, Nike and Starbucks are leading the way, looking at omni-channel engagement as a means to guide and inspire customers on a journey, and not just push them forward in a buying process. The survey found that 42 percent of marketers believe these marquee experiential brands are not just developing better relationships, but are more effectively leveraging customer experience as a driver for profitability and growth. 

And there is hope for the broader marketing community, too. What came to life most notably in the research was the absolute desire of marketers to go back to their roots as relationship builders, leveraging the “why” behind customer actions and intentions to build lasting dialogues with customers instead of just pushing accounts and targets down a pre-set campaign path.

To truly win the day, marketers must start by taking a step back to the fundamental question of revenue and intent. Yes, we are talking about new technologies and even new concepts, but, fundamentally, the rule is still to generate revenue by getting the right message to the right person at the right time. So, even in this age of technology, data and connectivity, we still must understand what our revenue goals are and then figure out which customers are most likely to drive that revenue and how we plan to measure and define success.

Customers will always tell us what they need. The question is, are we listening?  


Quantifying Some Insights and Themes

Some specific insights and themes that emerged from the research include:

Data is a dilemma. But “big data” isn’t marketing’s biggest challenge. It is actually the “small data” — the data used to describe the small, specific attributes delivered directly from the customer through, as an example, the Internet of Things. 

  • Thirty-six percent of respondents believe that small data will be the greatest challenge for their organizations. 

We’ve lost the ability to be human, and we can’t blame the machines. 

  • As previously noted, some 41 percent admit they are overly focused on driving campaigns, forgetting that they are building relationships. 
  • Nearly 30 percent admit they think of their customers in terms of targets, records and opportunities.
  • Interestingly, an equal amount (30 percent) admit they are also struggling to define and deliver returns from customer experience strategies.

Going small could bring our humanity back. Marketers believe small data will: 

  • Help extract better signals from the noise (45 percent),
  • Reveal the “why” behind customer actions and behaviors (41 percent),
  • Help focus on the people behind the data to deliver more human interactions (35 percent) and 
  • Aid in filling key gaps across the customer journey (35 percent).

Source: “Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice” report by CMO Council and Harte Hanks

Bant Breen is CEO of Harte Hanks, a global marketing services firm specializing in multi-channel marketing solutions. Experts in defining, executing and optimizing the customer journey, Harte Hanks offers end-to-end marketing services that include consulting, strategic assessment, data, analytics, digital, social, mobile, print, direct mail and contact center.

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council is dedicated to high-level knowledge exchange, thought leadership and personal relationship building among senior corporate marketing leaders and brand decision-makers across a wide-range of global industries. The CMO Council’s 16,000+ members control more than $600 billion in aggregated annual marketing expenditures and run complex, distributed marketing and sales operations worldwide.

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