One of the biggest “trends” in marketing already seems old. It feels like we've been talking about personalization--the ability to communicate directly and personally with customers--forever.
But from where I sit, it's only in the past 18 to 24 months that personalization is finally becoming a reality. And that's because technology--the engine that makes all things marketing grow scale--has finally caught up with the vision of personalization.
The technology I am speaking of is known broadly as marketing automation technology. But even that technology has evolved in recent months. At least three things have happened in the general marketing automation category to make personalization a reality.
First, the technology has become more mobile-centric. The second wave of marketing automation tech vendors were mobile-first, meaning that they were designed to capture customer behavior that only mobile devices could capture. Obviously, this makes personalization more possible, for only an individual customer's behavior can tell you what to tell her, at what time, and on what device.
And once the technology went mobile, marketers could never go back. In fact, one can say that mobile has helped to redefine marketing automation, setting the bar for customer insight far higher than before.
But mobile, alas, is not enough. An equally important advance is machine learning. It's only recently that technology has advanced well enough to enable brands to make sense of all the behavioral data they are collecting and to use that data to connect meaningfully and personally with their customers.
This has--and will continue to have--a profound impact on careers in marketing. No longer are marketing executives recruiting mainly for creative and administrative talent. Now data scientists, too, are migrating to marketing departments inside corporations--at least to the ones that can afford them. More noteworthy, data scientists are making their way to technology vendors where they are working on products that are affordable to the larger market of marketers who need to keep up with technology trends. As was true with mobile, once you go machine-learning, you can never go back.
But perhaps the most important recent change worth noting is not technology-based, but technology-dependent. With mobile technologies and machine-learning, brands are not only learning to automate their communications with customers at scale, but are humanizing those communications as well. It may seem counter-intuitive, but we may have come to a time in history where machines are helping us become more human.
What I am witnessing today is kind of a renewal in faith in the marketing profession that we can actually treat our customers with the dignity and care they deserve. But it's only because the tools we use have become so advanced that we have this ability to market in a more human way.
Not long ago, Jaron Lanier--one of the great critics on the mechanistic approach that had been dominating marketing--cautioned business people to stop thinking of customers as gadgets. The year was 2011, well before some of the trends mentioned in this post came to fruition.
We are not out of the woods yet. A disproportionately large segment of the marketing population still spams its targets.
But like all early innovations, the future of a personalization is here and will be more broadly distributed soon. As I said, once you go mobile and machine-learning, you can never go back.
But once you go human, going back will be even more unacceptable. It would be like going back in history at a time when your work got so much better--not just for your customer, but for you, too. A more human approach to marketing--aided by technology--will inspire us all.