How to humanize algorithm marketing for success

Tomás H. Lucero
|Jun 19|magazine17 min read

When it comes to algorithm-based marketing, companies seem unable to consider it from the consumer’s point of view. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), instead of deploying algorithms as marketing tools, organizations should be looking to inject humanity. In other words, humans, into their efforts to reach out to customers.

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Essentially, algorithms are sets of “if-then” rules. However, factors such as the widespread use of mobile devices, predictive analytics and others, have assisted organizations in finding many ways to use algorithms especially in marketing.

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Algorithms use customer-specific knowledge to craft customized offers and deliver them, often in real-time. Other industries, including online entertainment and banks also use them in various ways. Despite the growing popularity and ubiquity of algorithm marketing, companies should be careful about using them. So says the HBR.  Following are the main reasons why.

  1. Algorithms are not sensitive enough to context
  2. They arouse suspicion and easily backfire
  3. They encourage complacency
  4. They stifle customers’ emotional responses to marketing offers

The HBR does not recommend getting rid of algorithm marketing; not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead it suggests complementing it with human interaction. Marketers can do this by bringing in an actual human to interact with customers or creating algorithms that work in more human-like ways.

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The HBR suggests three steps to making a more human use of algorithm marketing.

1. Understand the context and make it part of the tailored offer. Effective marketing is a constant study of what drives a positive customer response. “Constantly testing the impact of different contextual factors through field experimentation and observational research is part of the solution,” says the HBR. In practice, this may mean creating more complex algorithms with more rules and flexibility to apply those rules.

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More importantly, though, it entails “the creation of processes and activities” where the marketer can respond to a customer without using algorithms. It’s a waiter empowered to offer a free cocktail to an upset customer; a salesperson who takes the time to educate a customer on a software package so he understands how he will use it at home. “These activities produce a value for the customer that algorithms simply can’t.”

2.Introduce unpredictability into marketing. Once a customer catches on to the fact that he’s being targeted by a weekly email or a daily tweet—regimented activities algorithms perform—it’s only logical to tune it out, or unfollow. You want to make your brand more authentic and human—not less.

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You also want customers creating emotional relationships to your product or service. Introduce randomness and surprise into your marketing activity. A Canadian bank transformed its ATMs into “Automated Thinking Machines” surprising customers with $20 bills and other gifts. The move created excitement on social media, bolstering the bank’s brand in the public eye.

3.Encourage interaction with humans at key customer decision and experience points. Luxury brands overwhelmingly prefer human sales and service staff over technological methods because, as of yet, there exist no adequate technological substitutes for empathetic, competent, and empowered humans.

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Without disregarding your budget, every marketer needs to consider how to put a human being in front of a customer at key interaction points. “Hybrid approaches utilizing a combination of humans supported by expert algorithms for services such as financial planning, product recommendations and building security are an effective way to 'inject the human' into algorithm-based marketing activities,” says the HBR. 

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