The Big Data blunder: Missing personal connections

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Having just spent a week away in the mountains of Maine—in a place where there was no mobile service but there was wifi -- I saw a good range of styles in how generations of all ages are using digital channels in their life. What I saw really drove home three things that marketers too often overlook—direct and powerful routes to connecting with people (and customers): 

1. Passion: My son is totally involved in musical theater. I was a theater buff as well, as a kid, but all I had then was the ability to listen to soundtracks, see shows that my parents would be generous enough to buy tickets for, and try out for plays myself. My son, however, is able to see video clips from every Broadway show, watch behind-the-scenes interviews with actors and stage hands, get detailed scripts with staging notes, etc., all of which can consume hours of his time. His knowledge of the best ways to preserve one's singing voice is impressive. Similarly, my brother-in-law is obsessed about mountain biking, and uses the Web to constantly expand his microscopic knowledge of equipment, techniques for different trail conditions, and best nutritional strategies for his body. Knowing these passions, and tapping into them, can be incredibly powerful. As marketers have known for years, making a positive emotional connection with a customer is the holy grail. There are now just so many more ways to do that. Yes, there is a long-tail of “passion” categories, but understanding them and developing content for them is a sure route to making a real connection with a customer that can survive far beyond any initial purchase. 

2. Problem solving: My family was constantly checking out “how-to” videos on YouTube or elsewhere to get a first-hand sense of the best way to make a meal, fix a screen door, repair a bike, or pick out a kayaking paddle. Deeper research I have seen from Google indicates that they see this as a growing driver of purchase behavior along the Consumer Decision Journey. Having engaging content that helps someone tangibly see a product or a solution in action trumps basic product listings, and even basic advertising, as a driver of purchase intent. Call it “help marketing.” To meet this need, brands should be encouraging buyers to share their experiences with products, give them new ideas of things to do that they can share, and can basically do much more with showing real people getting value from the brand. Create and curate dozens of these, instead of focusing narrowly on one big 30-second spot. In this context, “helping” absolutely is marketing.

3. Discovery: My wife and I had been pondering putting solar panels on our house. When we returned from our vacation, we received a regular-mail envelope saying we were good candidates for solar. Inside, it had a URL that led to an aerial view of my home with panels superimposed on it. A further click led to a live conversation with a rep and an easy exchange about leasing models and contracts. Everything was seamless. The company, Sungevity, discovered me by using sophisticated tools sitting on top of Google Maps, but then created a journey that impressed me with its use of personalized data, easy access, and transparency. We are happy customers, and I have spread the word to the rest of my family, who saw my experience and are now prospective customers as well.

Too often I see marketers using data to target people accurately but then delivering “in-your-face” offers. Consumers see this and tune it out. As marketers, we need to step back, think about people's passions, problems and potential journeys. From there, we can determine a way of connecting in a way that feeds them, helps them, and makes their lives easier.

Which of your customers and prospects did your brand interactions help today?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.