The best bargains happen when two people connect beyond the transaction. This was the thought that entered my mind as I sat down at every single talk I attended at this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC). The thought also made me think of my hometown, Danao a city in southern Philippines where most of the shopping experience only involves a cash register and two people making the bargain – no apps, no promo codes, and no online carts. Although the city has yet to catch up on some of today’s technologies, the simple means to make a transaction can still make a huge impact to its’ customers. Customers went home with much more than they bargained. Whether it was an extra half-kilo of mangoes that the seller offered after finding out that the customer just had a birthday, a tray of eggs on top of the purchased rice as a reward to a young boy doing the grocery shopping for the family, or an additional freshly grilled fish for the daughter of a loyal customer who’s visiting from the capital, there was a moment that made the shopping experience meaningful.
The moment of finding out more about the customer is the same principle why a company like Spotify, a digital music service that gives you access to millions of songs, continues to exist. “Music is deeply personal,” Liberty Carras Kelly, Head of Sales at Americas Spotify opens her talk, “Man vs. Machine: Putting Humanity Back into the Marketing Mix.” Kelly explains how dedicated Spotify is in customizing music to its listeners based on what people are doing and how they are feeling. She attributes people’s commitment to the brand because it’s not just about the playlist but also, a “peak into relevancy.” She reveals a few things Spotify knows about Seattle; we are 60% less moody than Portland and sleeping, yoga, and chilling are our top three activities. These are only a few customer data-points collected that allow them to define moments and drive customer loyalty.
“Listening is the secret to discovering great stories,” Aric Lapera, Vice President for Brand Strategy at BuzzFeed speaks of the value of feedback in his session, “Crafting a New Marketing Story.” Although BuzzFeed don’t always get their content right, Lapera stresses a technique he calls “Data Learning and Understanding” that seeks the answer to why a piece of content didn’t work. So in a way, part of the output is made into a new input. “Our feedback loop teaches us the best ways to tell a story,” Lapera adds.
As I carefully chose my next sessions at the SIC, I thought of diversifying my list by not only hearing what brand spokespersons have to say but also hear from marketing advisers. Gabe Goldberg, VP Account Services at Possible, a digital marketing agency, had a very interesting title to his talk, “Out of Sight: The High Cost of Not Knowing What We Don’t Know.” Like Kelly and Lapera, Goldberg advocates for the personalization of brand experience through data. However, he shares the flip side, “We know the benefits of big data but we have the wrong people looking at the right data.”
Goldberg mentions a few case studies to demonstrate his claim on how brands can be perceived as “out of touch.”
One damning example that he shares is an article written by Nico Hines for the Daily Beast published during the Olympics this year. To provide readers with an inside look at the dating culture inside Rio’s Olympic village, Hines used dating apps such as Bumble, Grindr, Jack’d, and Tinder for his research. For his story, Hines wrote about the athletes he “matched” and met with on the gay male dating site Grindr. The article withheld the athletes’ names but exposed their profiles including their countries and athletic teams. LGBTQ advocates were outraged and media platforms covered their statements citing the editor’s failure to comprehend the impact of outing closeted athletes compromising their privacy, safety, and security. There are over 200 athletes who competed in the Olympics from countries for which being gay is illegal or punishable by death.
— Hemi Y. (@hemiyeroham) August 20, 2016
Goldberg wonders how marketers are able to make wrongful decisions when they have access to all the data they need. But what is most alarming is how these brands have failed to establish precautionary steps moving forward. It seemed that the people in charge were “completely deaf to how people would receive the product and the communications.” During his presentation, he asked a thought-provoking question: “Where is the line – between joke and outrage, between offense and nuance?”
He admitted that although he wants better communication, he does not know how to solve the problem. “What I do know is that we’ve got better tools now than ever before. I know that social media can help us communicate. I can learn from people across the country who think far differently than I can. I know that we’ve got virtual reality and augmented reality that can help me experience some else’s experience so that I can become more compassionate and empathetic, learn something I didn’t know.” Goldberg ended his talk on this note inviting everyone to join him in addressing the issue.
The market place has gotten more complex and it’s only a matter of time before technology will make its way even in the most remote areas like my home city. But we should not be afraid of the lack of technology, we should be cautious of a lost trait in today’s digital age – listening. Warren Etheredge instilled this powerful idea in one of the final talks at the SIC. His session, “The Art of Listening,” took its audience through a memorable interactive experience that only involved him armed with his pen and white board and us his curious audience waiting for a chance to ask him a question or two.
“Turn off the judgment and turn up the curiosity and there is always something to be discovered,”
As I listened to the talk, I found myself connecting Goldberg’s idea of not knowing what you don’t know and Etheredge’s techniques in the art of listening. “Turn off the judgment and turn up the curiosity and there is always something to be discovered,” Etheredge suggested that we aim for discovery when we want to connect with people. Today’s marketers are able to satisfy their curiosity by acquiring data from various identity information sources from social networks, search engines to geolocations and wearable devices. Sifting through a big pile of data and making sense out of it can be challenging but it’s how brands listen and connect to customers these days.
“Once you admit you don’t know everything, you liberate yourself. You’ve now opened yourself up to discovery. Seek the truth and not the validation.”
Like Spotify and BuzzFeed, brands now have the ability to discover more about their customers so they can personalize their experience and make it meaningful. But brands, whether packaged good, service, app, or media platform, also have to approach the process of discovery by engaging with people who look, think, feel, and do things differently than they do. This year, tech giants like Facebook, Apple, and Airbnb released the demographic breakdown of their workforce to show their commitment to diversity and inclusion, something that starts within the walls of an organization and manifests in how they communicate to their audience. It is in steps like these that brands admit that they don’t know everything but they are willing to change. As Etheredge stressed, “Once you admit you don’t know everything, you liberate yourself. You’ve now opened yourself up to discovery. Seek the truth and not the validation.”
In Seattle and the rest of America, a transaction may not be as simple as walking to a fish vendor’s shop. Knowing someone’s birthday or adding a loyal customer to your database may not be sufficient to make meaningful connections these days. But if there is one thing we can learn from the old marketplace, when customers like, comment, and share something, they listen well.