Like most things in life, marketing is continuously evolving and more so than ever before. We are currently in the midst of a transformative marketing stage. The dynamics driving this era are technology (e.g., artificial intelligence (AI), data management platforms (DMPs), customer relationship managers (CRMs), etc.), social media, mobile, declining brand trust, changing consumer habits, blurred lines between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, increased competition, and the realization that emotion — not just logic — plays a huge role in all decisions. These factors are, or should be, influencing how we approach marketing, branding, advertising, messaging and communications.

The proliferation of marketing technology (martech) is undermining a much needed human-based marketing approach today. Automation and sophisticated tech tools promise more personalization, a better customer experience and more knowledge of your customers. Indeed, there is truth and value in these promises and platforms. And yes, martech must be a vital part of a marketing manager’s toolbox and skill set today. But, martech is only one piece of the marketing equation and it needs to be put into context within the desired customer experience in today’s business environment.

What is human-based marketing?

Human-based marketing is giving a loud voice to your customers. It is proactively, regularly and genuinely opening your arms wide to their thoughts, opinions and preferences on a variety of brand-facing topics via face-to-face meetings between your customers and marketing professionals — then reacting to those conversations. Human-based marketing also builds goodwill with all your customer types (loyalists, passives and detractors), as they will appreciate that you want and respect their opinions.

Marketers who lean predominantly on martech to solve their challenges, provide the ultimate customer experience, collect all customer data and drive their strategies must take a step back to put martech into perspective. They need to remember that today’s savvy customers are wary of how brands use their data to be marketed to and can sniff out when brands are being inauthentic.

A recent IBM survey of 2,039 participants, conducted by The Harris Poll, found that the ability for a company to protect its customers’ data is “extremely important” to 78% of U.S. consumers. Furthermore, only 20% of consumers now have complete trust in organizations to do so.

Marketing managers must keep top-of-mind the fact that customers crave genuine, transparent, intimate and authentic brand experiences — experiences that go beyond what AI, retargeting, automation and advertisements offer. In 2017, “The Consumer Content Report: Influence in the Digital Age” found that “86% of people say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support.”

The human-based marketing approach is imperative to providing this kind of real-to-the-touch experience today. Below are three initiatives to get your company on the path to a more human-based marketing organization.

Have a different conversation.

Sales regularly speak to, meet with and email clients and prospects. Your sales professionals are an excellent source of information on your customers, and marketing professionals should frequently consult with them for excellent insights.

However, a customer conversation between a sales professional and a marketing manager is night and day — resulting in entirely different findings. The tone, line of questioning, endgame, body language, vibe and mood are completely different when sales and marketing professionals speak with a customer.

Human-based marketers frequently meet with all of their customer types in person. They know that this is some of the best, most insightful, most important time they spend during their work hours. They record their conversations, have them transcribed, use them to develop or tweak their buyer personas and garner invaluable insights that drive everything they do from strategy and messaging to creative and determining appropriate channels. Just as important, human-based marketers share these insights in report form with sales and key stakeholders.

Annual or biannual customer surveys that collect insights on brand perception, user experience and media-usage habits are useful and important. But they should not replace a marketer’s regular, face-to-face meetings with their customers.

Create a VIP office for your customers.

Regardless of the size of your office, dedicate a space solely for your visiting customers and place a placard outside the office that reads “VIP Customer” with their name, title and company. Once or twice a week, invite a customer (or prospect) to visit your office for the day. In advance, schedule a couple of hours for your customer to meet with a handful of employees for an informal, light (yet informative) chat.

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