Op-Ed: Why AI Won’t Replace The Human Touch In Brand Marketing

Op-Ed: Why AI Won’t Replace The Human Touch In Brand Marketing
Advertising

The best brand experiences will prioritize human connection, with 'silent' tech working in the background, argues Mirum strategist Kimberly Gossard

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 22 may 2018

Technology has become so pervasive in our society that by 2025, it’s predicted that Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) will have become a thing of the past, as all C-suite officers are expected to be versed in digital.

The concern for CDOs is also shared by the general public across many disciplines: they’re worried that their jobs will soon be rendered obsolete by technology. In fact, over 70% of Americans are concerned about machines taking over tasks previously performed by humans. And the humans are in good company, as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have also spoken about the threat of artificial intelligence to humanity.

At this year’s Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, an esteemed list of speakers reassured us how it’s more important than ever for technology to be created and managed by humans. At first, it seemed a bit surprising that a big-time technology conference would put so much emphasis on the issue; after all, everyone was there to hear about the latest breakthroughs in integrated software solutions, witness best-in-class examples of AI, augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality, and to understand the latest trends.

But after three days of listening to industry experts, the point was clear that technology can’t replace the human touch, which is particularly true in the marketing industry.

“People buy experiences, not products,” said Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe.

Anyone familiar with the show Mad Men will know that marketing was previously accomplished by gut feeling, not big data. Today, it seems we are edging toward the reverse, but ideally it shouldn’t be an either-or situation. Rather, we need to find the ideal balance of using technology without leaving humanity behind. We need to use the time-saving tools and insights that technology provides in order to optimize and maximize the human talent for storytelling. Good marketing is really just good storytelling, and good storytelling requires an understanding of one’s interests, attention and emotional response (which AI can already gauge), but also the ability to be vulnerable and share one’s self with another.

The strongest relationships are formed from mutual responsiveness, which requires an emotional give and take that is unique to humans. The popsicle hotline at the Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles, or the handwritten thank you letters from kids for DonorsChoose.org are just two examples of positive, branded relationship-building that technology cannot replicate. To put it simply, people want to feel validated and cared for. And people—unlike data—are less predictable, with selective memories in need of reassurance. Since humans are the consumers we’re trying to influence, humans know best what brand stories and experiences resonate most.

That said, technology will complement our experiences more and more in the years to come. Gartner predicts that by 2020, consumers will manage 85% of their relationships with an enterprise without interacting with a human. Accenture, however, says that 83% of U.S. consumers still prefer dealing with people. According to a Retail Information System 2017 study, executives say that no one is doing personalization well, meaning there’s a large gap between what brands think they are offering consumers digitally and what consumers are actually experiencing.

The solution isn’t to hide from the technology revolution or replace all your people with bots, but rather to use the intelligence big data offers to help better inform human decisions. We need to think carefully about how, why and when we choose to automate things. “By applying AI tech alongside humans, marketers are discovering how to restore the human touch by amplifying, rather than replacing, the empathy that makes sales efforts successful,” reports Gartner.

As this mindset regarding technology becomes more broadly adopted throughout the industry, I believe we’ll see data infusing the creative and design aspects of marketing—the data-driven design movement, in which what were once two very separate elements will become a single intertwined approach. Big data will cease to be viewed as a purely quantitative asset, and will be used in partnership with human creativity to evoke emotion and create amazing experiences. At the Adobe Summit, Tamara Gaffney, Principal Analyst at Adobe, said, “Augmented humanity allows for human creativity and heart to override the rules, have free will and think outside the box.”

How will this partnership work? Rather than be front and center, technology will become a silent partner that improves experiences in the background, allowing us to focus on the people our marketing serves rather than the data points those people make up. Customer experience will give way to human experience, with B2B and B2C methodologies transforming into P2P strategies.

Perhaps one day AI really will be able to think for itself, be able to understand the big picture, prioritize brand goals and make decisions based on variables with altering weight depending on the circumstances. Hopefully, auto makers’ AI marketing platforms will learn not to put ads in articles about car crashes. AI will forever be artificial; it will never understand the intangible essence and feeling of being human. It will never be able to share vulnerability or empathize like a human. And it will never intrinsically have the desire to be part of something morally good that’s bigger than itself. For that, I share Adobe’s belief that humans alone have the power, responsibility and privilege to be the real experience makers.

Kimberly Gossard is a brand strategy consultant for Mirum, San Diego. As a strategist she wears many hats. She is a detective, storyteller, problem solver and creator.


Lead Image: Andy Kelly | Unsplash

Technology has become so pervasive in our society that by 2025, it’s predicted that Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) will have become a thing of the past, as all C-suite officers are expected to be versed in digital.

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