In the beginning, there was the customer, mass advertising, direct mail and the sales person.
Then along came the Internet. It was quickly followed by banner ads, pop ups, promotional emails, search engine advertising, social media, marketing automation software, big data, and so on and so on.
The emergence of the Internet revolutionalised many things, and among those things was also marketing. Never before did marketers have access to such a vast selection of channels and tools in their arsenal to reach their target audiences. Many turned into downright hoarders in the race to adopt the latest and greatest online innovations.
Eventually, the focus naturally shifted to how to make these channels perform for the marketer whilst making the maintenance of them less time and resource consuming.
The answer was automation.
Digital Marketing Space Is Oversaturated
Customers are now added to so many remarketing, email and other advertising lists that the influx of promotional messages from hopeful marketers has likely reached its saturation point. In practice, this means that many customers do not feel that the messages they receive stand out to warrant any other action than a hit of the delete and/or block button.
Despite marketers being able to personalise messages and target consumers based on specific behaviour and demographic data, the execution often still seems somewhat lacking. The modern digitally savvy customers know very well the difference between an automated email and a message sent by a real person, and are likely to place a predictably lower amount of value on the former. Automated messages don’t make them feel particularly special or valued.
It seems that at some point marketers became distracted by the shiny, long list of specs offered by various digital tools, and forgot about the most important thing – being human.
Digital Marketers Forgot Their Purpose
Marketers were always supposed to be the voice of the customer within a business. They were meant to look after the customer experience and make sure that the customer was always at the epicentre of everything a business did.
This mission has seemed to be somewhat forgotten, and it has had a real impact on businesses. According to a recent study conducted by Accenture Interactive in the US, there is now a sizable portion of consumers who feel that “All offers and communications [online] blur together in an undifferentiated way. […] Customers feel like companies have used digital not to tailor their experiences, but to commoditize them.”
There’s a Need to Humanise Digital Marketing
In other words, online customers are treated like numbers, not like people. Automated ‘do not reply’ emails that get triggered when a customer sends in a customer service request are probably one of the worst offenders, as are poorly targeted banner advertisements, email drip campaigns that don’t rely on proper segmentation, and unintelligent AI website customer service chats. The list goes on.
It’s not entirely fair to solely blame the digital marketers for the current situation. The digital sphere is digital after all, which makes it challenging to have the same level of clever, immersive human interaction we can have offline.
Still, there’s a clear need to bring the human element in to the modern digital marketing approach. The good news is that the space is constantly evolving and the direction certainly seems to be going towards offering experiences that are smarter and more real.
The Future of Digital Marketing May Be More Human
So what exactly are the digital visionaries of today betting on being the next big thing? If Facebook’s 10-year roadmap is anything to go by, for example, bots and virtual reality.
Chatbots Will Imitate Human Interaction
At its recent F8 conference, the social media giant announced that it’s investing heavily in chatbots, which, if you’re basing your opinion on current half-baked attempts, sounds a bit dubious.
However, it’s clear that artificial intelligence is continuously getting smarter, and it will quite probably soon be able to do simple, human-like customer service online without actual human interference. Facebook states on its Facebook for Developers page that “Whether you’re building apps or experiences to share weather updates, confirm reservations at a hotel, or send receipts from a recent purchase, bots make it possible for you to be more personal, more proactive, and more streamlined in the way that you interact with people.”
If the bots developed are smart enough, the digital customer service experience may very well be able to emulate a genuine human-to-human interaction. It might take some time until this is reality, but chatbots can definitely be part of the solution to the problem of the missing human element in digital marketing, although artificial.
Virtual Reality Will Provide Real Life-Like Experiences
Virtual reality is another big opportunity that has been identified also by others than just Facebook. Google, among others, has already taken steps in this space with its Google Cardboard virtual reality headset. Google has also introduced 360˚ videos on YouTube that, along with their Cardboard headset, give consumers a low budget access to virtual reality.
The ways virtual reality can benefit digital marketers are looking promising. As the appeal of virtual reality is in providing immersive, real life-like experiences, it could be that the way forward for marketers would be to sponsor certain virtual reality events, or offer exclusive content via virtual reality.
Also, with Google announcing its 360˚ live video streaming launch last week, the possibilities for marketers in this space are practically endless, especially in humanising digital marketing. For example, what’s stopping retailers from offering live, exclusive shopping experiences in virtual reality for their valued customers from the comfort of their own living rooms? Better yet, an online only eCommerce operator could mimic a brick-and-mortar store experience in virtual reality, with a real person showing people around their virtual store.
Internet of Things Will Make Marketing More Personalised
The final buzzword on every digital marketer’s lips is of course the Internet of Things. Although slow to take off due to the massive overhaul of products needing replacing in order to be in the ecosystem and recent privacy concerns, the future does present perhaps the most exciting possibilities for digital marketers yet.
By 2020, there’s likely to be 20.8 billion connected devices on the Internet of Things. The amount of data collected from these devices will give amazing insights into consumer behaviour and also take segmentation to a whole new level. Or as Marketo put it, “more connectivity leads to more data, leads to smarter data, leads to more relevant campaigns, leads to more customer engagement.”
Especially the possibility of delivering highly targeted, personalised messages to customers based on the data gathered via the IoT devices would make it possible to better imitate one-to-one human interaction in marketing communications and for the brands appear more human in the eyes of their customers.
Time will tell if the new inventions will actually see digital marketing take a more human-centric approach, or whether these will be mere additional channels to a digital marketer’s existing repertoire for them to continue on the same robotic path as before. The ideal outcome, of course, would be a digital marketing world that combined the human approach with the possibilities offered by latest digital technology.