(Re) Humanizing Digital Marketing Post-Pandemic

two hands reaching towards each other and touching

It’s time to get up close and personal with customers again!

Accelerated by the continuing evolution of digital technologies, the way marketers connect with customers has drastically changed, especially since the global pandemic began.

Marketing now and then: Machine vs. human

Back in the day, you might probably remember how “traditional” marketing was – it was all about building in-person relationships with customers. I remember the day when apart from physical, tangible ads, marketing professionals were literally out in the streets meeting people to connect and expand the reach of their marketing messages. Those were fun, engaging, and interesting days.

The digital era presented a different way of marketing and connecting with audiences. In fact, professional marketers today, often work to segment potential audiences down to the smallest cohorts, allowing hyper-personalized content to be delivered, sometimes even to a segment of one, guided by the well-crafted algorithms of various digital platforms.

Thanks to “cookies”, advertisers collect literally terabytes of data on a daily basis and have a scary amount of information on each of us (our digital footprint), all the way from websites we’ve visited or the products we’ve searched for online. This enables them to serve us more targeted ads.

In turn, this targeted messaging helps businesses:

  1. Save money by continually evaluating how a particular ad campaign is working in terms of ROI
  2. Re-work their strategies and put their money towards campaigns that contribute the most traffic or revenue to the business

When the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on hold, digital advertising and marketing helped sustain many a business online. The subsequent explosion in the adoption of digital to sell to and service customers has spread to almost every sector, with even the traditionally “offline” businesses racing to digitize as many facets of businesses as possible in the shortest amount of time. While on the one hand many will agree that this represents “progress”, should we on the other hand lament the death of “human” contact in customer interactions that happening is slowly but surely?

Is this sea change all necessary and beneficial? Or is some part of all this simply a result of corporate greed as businesses push to squeeze more $s from every dollar of sales.

Social media platforms: The battleground for digital marketing

Have you ever thought about buying a certain product or service and then suddenly ads for these begin to appear on your social media feed? Personal, right? But don’t you sometimes think it is also creepy? In the world of digital marketing, this is often attributed to hyper-targeted advertising. If you love watches, you are more likely to see ads from different watch brands pop out of nowhere on the social media platforms that you are using. If you Google a particular product or service, you are likely to see an ad for it when you open your Facebook or Instagram.

While advertising on social platforms can be a cost-effective way for brands to gain awareness and more audience engagement, it also poses numerous challenges to online privacy for prospective customers. Not all people appreciate this type of advertising, especially those who value this privacy.

During the past year, Google, Firefox, Safari, and Apple have all announced that they will be scrapping third-party cookies starting as early as 2023. While this is a big win for privacy advocates, it is a huge challenge for the marketing world which has “milked” the use of cookies for over two decades.

How will marketers, advertisers, and the many platforms evolve their methods and algorithms to remain effective in this cookieless world?

A time to rediscover the “one-to-one” connection in marketing

Few people today would question the fact that digital brings many operational and strategic benefits to modern businesses. It is cost-effective and a great way to reach customer audiences on a large scale. Along the way, however, the runaway success of digital has started to precipitate the loss of the “personal” touch in marketing via this medium. The very thing that might have endeared customers to brands is in danger of being lost to the cold touch of automation.

Would it be more appealing to talk to a real person even on social media compared to bots on messenger? Could it be that if there is one big pitfall of becoming too much digital, is that the human touch is being neglected?

Digital practitioners today need to all take a step back, take a break almost from their relentless inertia of motion forward on digitalisation. In partnership with their clients/brands, they need to give themselves the mind space and time to think, feel again how this digital march forward can be done “right”, not just for marketers but also for customers. For example, it could be great to rediscover the customers’ journeys, their moments of delight or pain especially in the context of digital today and where needed, bring the human back into the marketers sell or service playbooks.

Aptly, an author on Medium argues: “Due to the increasing connectedness of the world, we’re not only starving for recognition in person, but our biggest happiness and satisfaction now lie in how many followers we have and how many ‘likes’ we get – even when these come from total strangers. It’s as if most undertakings in our lives have turned into opportunities to showcase ourselves so we can feel validated by those around us, but for what?”.

Social media companies are also responsible for this ‘like’ trend. As another read from the Harvard University School & Arts and Sciences states it plainly:

“Unless the advertisement-based profit model changes, companies like Facebook will continue to do everything they can to keep your eyes glued to the screen as often as possible. And by using algorithms to leverage our dopamine-driven reward circuitry, they stack the cards – and our brains – against us.”

Digital marketers return to the human element

However, not all digital marketers are pushing for an all-in digital strategy to sell and grow. In fact, with browsers planning to ultimately block or severely limit the use of third-party cookies, many marketing professionals are starting the pivot back to more traditional forms of lead generation, pre-sales service, and support – some in person (where possible) and others that are hybrid in nature – human but driven by digital means.

Hand in hand, marketers are also working hard to ramp up their “first-party” data collection which in simple terms is a rolodex of customers/prospects that have had direct contact with a brand or service. A forgotten resource, many marketers are realising that these customer/prospect lists are often out of date, duplicated, and, in some cases, simply wrong. A rich single source of intimate customer data that, when collected, digitized, and used with the appropriate consent could put much power back into marketers’ hands in an environment where the traditional cookies no longer exist.

This of course stands in stark contrast to years of marketing via providers of third-party data and marketing lists which now have a starkly limited cache of trust and longevity, and could ultimately phase down and/or morph into other forms of marketing support solutions.

Stricter privacy laws around the world are also forcing marketers to invest in their own process compliance and in sophisticated platforms such as CDPs (Customer Data Platforms). These platforms help better manage disparate customer data stacks and ensure they are used with the appropriate discretion while ensuring the continuity of marketing success.

Ultimately, advancements in not just technology but also more holistic and personalized digital strategy and execution are what digital needs to succeed in the post-pandemic cookieless world.

Wouldn’t you like to learn how you can accelerate digital performance for your business?

The post (Re) Humanizing Digital Marketing Post-Pandemic first appeared on GreenBook.

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