I just finished reading 'The Undoing Project' by Michael Lewis, and like 'Moneyball' and 'The Big Short' before, it was remarkable, even quietly life changing. I knew a little about Behavioural Economics, specifically the human brain's preference to work in sub-conscious mode and I had heard of some of the biases we use to make decisions, but I had no idea how ingrained, nor universal it was, I thought it was just me!
In short we are a mess of inaccuracy and emotion, that is baked in to brain design - no one is immune. The two psychologists that delivered my relief, Danny Kahneman and Amos Tsversky, are beautifully brought to life by Lewis, who has a talent for pulling you inside the hearts and minds of his subjects. As such, the ending creeps up on you and had me in sudden floods of tears, such was the force of the journey of these mens' lives.
Putting the emotion aside for a second, the book is especially relevant to my everyday work in marketing. I am lucky to have now lead the marketing for two digital native companies, eHarmony and Pandora. For the poor digital natives that have invited me with high hopes, to many a predominantly 30-something male lunch or dinner, I have let them down sorely. Asking questions about digital and data they not only don't have the answers for, but are offended by the very thought of. I mean who questions digital and data, especially from within? Well unfortunately for me and them, me! But I am passionately consumer-focused and I have not seen the sort of marketing blindness I have recently since the literally "blind" or more accurately "high" days of 90s advertising.
Basically measureability has become the small god of marketing. If you can't measure it, it may as well not exist.
The irony of all this is that the proponents of digital are the first to say that Marketing has been 'Moneyballed'. Unfortunately though the premise for their data and the countless ad-tech salesmen selling solve-all algorithms to marketers, is that customers don't act like computers. The purchase decision process has not evolved alongside the marketers' ability to process big data or deploy machine learning. We are also not online every waking hour, easy to forget when your day-to-day is, I know. Making these broad-based assumptions and extrapolations to understand the consumer, feels lazy to me and seemingly, given recent revelations around some programmatic advertising, a fast way to a quick, albeit ineffective, buck.
Instead we need to understand psychology to make sense of post-action data. Humans are not one-dimensional, they are complex and irrational. The good news is that marketers pre-digital know this well. GenX, the only generation that is digital/analogue ambidextrous, not only understand digital and it's opportunity, they also know how to get a thought wedged into someone's mind with a catchy tune or a message subtly placed repeatedly on their way to work. They know that positive emotion is the biggest drivers of advertising effectiveness. There is a world of joy beyond the rationality of ultra-convenience and personalisation.
Of course in this day and age customers expect a certain level of relevance and at a base level we have to use all the data we can deploy to make our messages right for that customer, so right it adds a little bit of convenience to their everyday lives. But that will only get you in the door, it won't keep customers coming back, and it most definitely won't create a step change en masse. To create something that stands out in the mess of ads chasing us around online and offline, you need to 'surprise and delight'. A funny little concept that even pre-dates millennials.
'Surprise and delight' doesn't have to be full blown disruption either, it can be a song they hear and desperately swipe to shazam, it can be a killer line or simply an inspiring association. Of course if you do have the means, a new dopamine-driving app or UX change can supercharge you onto a new level of growth, but that is usually reserved for the few, despite every "entrepreneur" talking about the "uber of..." every chance they get.
When my suggestion of a more human-focus in our approach was rudely dismissed by a 30-something self-proclaimed AI entrepreneur at another cliche-filled lunch, (this time blockchain was somethign every marketer needed to know about it...stat) initially I was confused and offended.
But then I stopped and I just felt sad. Sad that they will never experience what it feels like to truly inspire an audience, or understand the human condition to a point where they will create something that actually does have the ability to change the world. Beauty is not in 1s and 0s, beauty can come from it, but only if you search for it in the data and yearn to invent rather than iterate.
Beauty lies for all to see in the human spirit. In the every day, in a look or a gesture, in a memory, in love and in human connection. Brands need to find a way to promote the human spirit even in the humblest and simplest of ways to be truly relevant and to have any chance of becoming a part of their customers' life story. When my 8 year old started singing "must be Santa, must be Santa..." yesterday, I desperately wanted to contact the marketer who created the ad, as it has become a part of our lives within a week of launch for the simplest of reasons.
And before I get relegated to a "vintage car driver in a 747 cockpit", lamenting the passing of the good old days, the closest thing to longitudinal studies in advertising proves that this approach translates to much higher revenues. My own case study results backed this data in real life and I got to experience a rare and elusive moment in my career where I created a huge step change using emotion, music and an integrated approach, after years of rational digital only.
|What happens when you capture some real emotion in your advertising - pre-spike was SEM and display advertising only|
You will only understand the power of a human approach, if you delve into the immeasurable world of emotion, the irrational architecture of the brain and lean into its perfect imperfection. I don't think it is beyond data science, I just think it is outside the comfort zone and definitely not an easy fix, but if an art director can become a dashboard creating, tableau super-user anything is possible.
A variation on this post first appeared in CIO Advisor Magazine