Richard Southon of Communicator: how marketers can connect in a technological era

Big data, SEO, bricks and clicks, cloud computing, ransomware, segmentation, automation and peer to peer communication – in a tech dominated brave new world, marketers can easily feel totally adrift on an ever-expanding ocean of possibilities and pitfalls. Add in a huge dose of economic uncertainty, political unpredictability and the challenge to find and connect with customers gets even greater.

Fake news and pay-to-sway politics have ensured a jaded, sceptical and distrustful audience. Marketing cannot be divorced from its social context and is most likely to succeed when brands convey a message that inspires trust. Human-first thinking makes this possible because it activates profound motivations and responses that have evolved with our capacity to communicate and connect.

We don’t need science to prove that we are social beings who want to interact with each other; every human being who has ever lived has experienced interdependency. But we do need it to gain better insight into the biological and psychological mechanisms that inspire social connection. There are complex interactions at work which determine how individuals react to what they view on screen, be it marketing or anything else. Facebook is so interested in what their human customers are thinking that it has just set up a dedicated neuroscience lab to gain a better understanding of hitherto imperceptible biological reactions to content.

The Facebook project is just one example of how science can help us improve engagement and connection. Beyond this, valuable insight has also been gained from recent studies into brain stimulation. This research shows that that marketing activity which emulates human traits, and communicates in a human tone, activates the same areas of the brain that respond to real life human interaction. Our improved understanding of this interdependency gives a clear message to marketers who want to communicate effectively – brands will prosper by appearing ‘human’ in the eyes of their consumers.

These science-based insights signpost the need for marketers to employ core humanising principles to cut through the complexity and get results. Key ‘Think Human’ strategies include:

1. Keep it real – fake has never been a good long-term choice, and customers value authenticity now more than ever. It has always been crucial for humans to know who they can trust and prioritising human values that matter to real people in the real world is fundamental to effective and successful marketing. Fake news always runs the risk of being disproved, authenticity does not.

2. Keep it consistent and confident – it’s not just financial markets that want certainty, recent political events are enough to prove just how readily humans translate confidence as competence. Whatever the brand, it must convey a consistent and coherent identity that runs through every interaction. Brands need to have both clarity and certainty around their values, message and worth if they want to enjoy a reputation that consumers respect. Data can tell brands something about who their customers are and what they want, but it cannot give any brand a unique and valued identity. The best human focused thinking establishes a clear mission and values that ultimately activate trust. Before brands can hope to radiate confidence, they need to know who they are.

3. Keep it responsive – human to human is a two-way thing. Listen, respond, provide. Maximise the opportunities that multi-channel marketing offers to gain insight into what customers are telling us. Their insights, and particularly their complaints, can help a brand to grow. It is not enough to tell a customer that you are giving them what they want and need, you have to know what that is because you’ve listened. People will like your brand because it’s interesting but they’ll gravitate towards it even more if it shows that it’s interested in them.

4. Keep it surprising – creativity is perhaps the ultimate expression of being human. Humour, surprise and style all show that brands have made an effort to communicate in a human way.

5. Keep it human – at all stages of the marketing journey there should be a recognition that, ultimately, a brand message is a communication between humans, not a string of code targeted at a data set.

Visits, likes, followers, clicks and swipes are important but it’s the humans who initiate them that ultimately matter most. However we choose to do it, connecting with human customers as real people is what great marketing has always been about.

Richard Southon is MD of integrated marketing agency Communicator.

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