The Machines that Make us More Human

By Andrea Reichenbach, Senior Director-Marketing Strategy, Acxiom

Andrea Reichenbach, Senior Director-Marketing Strategy, Acxiom

The discussion about cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and the impact these technologies will have on our daily lives will likely continue to make headlines for years to come. This, however, is not an article about machine learning. Rather, it’s about something that isn’t examined with nearly as much fervor: how we can use such innovative tools and technologies to make our interactions – whether person-to-person or brand-to-consumer – more human.

"It is the culmination of all these small, seamless and more human exchanges that will provide real consumer value and real business value in return" 

Over the last few years, speakers at a multitude of conferences and webinars have advocated for the elevation of customer experience through a more data-driven approach. Hearing the call, business leaders have collected, democratized and connected more data than ever before. They are tearing down data silos to consolidate and improve the view of the customer and are designing customer journeys to drive more effective engagement.

There’s no question these investments and the increased collaboration between technology and marketing teams have already created tremendous value for brands and their shareholders. Consumers also benefit from increasingly simplified experiences. However, such gains will inevitably become no more than table stakes.

How can brands stay ahead of the competition, build long-term brand affinity and advocacy with customers and attract new ones? By realizing that all this foundational groundwork gives them more than an efficient and optimized marketing function – it also provides the ability to be more personal, to understand their customers as individuals, but more than that, to show them actual empathy. The question then becomes how to get there.

At our Financial Services Executive Summit this past November, Acxiom CEO Scott Howe presented some of the latest trends and discussed the possible implications to the industry. He outlined three important ways brands can win today and in the future by humanizing how we engage with customers:

Forget channels exist. Consumers may not see channels anymore, but most of us still operate in what we view as a multichannel world; yet channel disruption continues to accelerate. So how can brands start to forget as well? Or at minimum appear less fragmented when we communicate to customers either online or offline?

Resolving identities across channels is essential for marketers to have more human engagement with consumers. By more universally recognizing them and leveraging the ability to connect identifiers, marketers can begin to seamlessly interact with and respond to consumers across traditional channels – direct mail, online, TV and mobile. It also prevents over-communication to the same consumer, helping prevent message fatigue or confusion while significantly optimizing media spend.

Most importantly, as marketers try to manage growing channel proliferation, identity resolution also prepares them for the introduction of emerging and new channels not yet conceived of within the Internet of Things. If we do nothing else as an industry, ensuring identity resolution is at the foundation of everything we do moving forward will be transformational.

Collect and use only the data your strategy requires. Culturally we are moving away from ownership in favor of access. Who needs to buy CDs when you can stream music? Or own a car when you can car-share? Brands today are consuming massive amounts of data unnecessarily. Collecting data for data’s sake is no longer sustainable or advantageous. Instead, business leaders are developing tailored data strategies, starting with an audit of the most important decisions they want to make, and then sourcing the data needed – whether first-, second- or third-party – to inform those business decisions.

An articulated strategy saves them from having to potentially sort through thousands of generated reports and allows them to consolidate and sequence the relevant data, and then optimize accordingly. What are the most effective ways to increase net promoter scores among my high-potential customers? How can I simplify customer service for business travelers while abroad? Data strategy needs to follow business strategy. 

When seeking the right data to inform those decisions, data curation becomes increasingly important. With so many available sources, more broadly curated data sets are necessary for building highly sophisticated analytical models. This also naturally opens the door to maximizing the potential of machine learning, which at this point in its evolution is most effective when focused on a specific question.  

One additional benefit to solidifying a corporate data strategy is that, from a data governance and ethical perspective, it provides clear guardrails for the use of consumer data. Articulating what data will be collected for what purpose, and the potential value it will deliver, is a much simpler task for brands, and one that strongly communicates respect for the customer.  

Recognize your customers in every context. It may take us a moment to recognize someone out of context, but customers today expect brands to recognize them wherever they are. Beyond that, they want the brand to know them and their preferences – and to anticipate their needs.

Mistaking these signals can be costly. Luckily, brands with strong first-party data know their customers better than anyone else and are more frequently activating their most valuable asset on owned platforms and across the vast ecosystem.

An average Fortune 1000 company can have well over 100 partners that could benefit from access to first-party data – creative and media agencies, online publishers, email providers, site personalization firms, DMPs, DSPs, ad exchanges, TV partners and so on. All these interactions can now be informed by data and optimized, and the brands that quickly learn to respond with a personalized, timely and meaningful interaction will be the brands that consumers go back to, time and time again.

Leading financial services brands continue to work diligently to meet the challenges caused by digital disruptors, changing consumer behavior and their own traditional models. But many can realize significant gains by taking advantage of the foundations they have already put in place. It is the culmination of all these small, seamless and more human exchanges that will provide real consumer value and real business value in return.  

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