Data-driven assumptions get in the way of growth, but emotionally intelligent marketing can save us
There are two core concepts that drive marketing: Consumers want and need things, and consumers want to be understood.
Marketing today thrives largely on people wanting and needing things. But we let assumptions try to accomplish understanding—getting to “know” consumers by gathering implicit data from all reaches of the internet. That time you clicked on an ad by accident. Or when you looked at foot baths on Amazon for your mom. When you searched that actor from that show that you actually didn’t like. All these actions captured as pieces of information about you, producing data that doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you.
As we adopted new channels with larger audiences, gathering this implicit data was really the only way for brands to scale and target their assumedly relevant content for people who might want or need it. We relied on data networks to publish ads and emails and text messages — “Buy this look! Go to this event! Book an appointment!”
But consumers today make purchase decisions based on the emotional connection they have with a brand. The increased impact of personal relevancy on buying decisions is an obvious reaction to how marketing has worked to-date: telling people how they feel and what they should buy.
Emotionally intelligent marketing is about truly considering the person on the other side. It’s being able to adapt messaging and content to various ecosystems and interactions. It’s knowing when to ask questions versus when to provide solutions.
Can implicit data understand consumers?
Brands rely on various data sources with the hopes it’ll help them express understanding of individuals at a massive scale. But when I get an ad for a pair of jeans that I just looked at for a friend it doesn’t feel like that brand understands me. I don’t feel understood because the brand tried to understand me without involving… well, me, they person they’re trying to understand, in the process.
Telling someone you truly know them because you’ve read their entire online presence is, at the very least, disconcerting. But with no real alternative, this has effectively become a standard practice for all of us in marketing. No matter how much you think you know your customer, if they don’t feel that you understand them then you’ve wasted time and money.
It’s the equivalent of believing that gossip columns actually know what’s going on with celebrities — assumptions far outweigh fact, and there’s little to no consideration for the people on the other end.
So how do you make consumers feel understood?
The feeling of being understood is created by a series of interactions and feedback loops between two people. Brands can understand consumers by building a relationship with them: listening, gathering information, and providing something that’s relevant and valuable in return.
Think about a traditional in-store experience — we’ll go with skincare as an example. You walk into a beauty shop and a salesperson greets you. They ask if you’re shopping for yourself or someone else. They ask about any issues with your skin (v dry), and what products you’re currently using (moisturizer, obvi). They, steeped in product expertise, know that your moisturizer isn’t working hard enough (esp in the winter) because it’s missing hyaluronic acid, and recommend a product that has it. You feel like they get you. You buy the new product. This entire interaction totally hits both of those core concepts — making a consumer feel understood, and giving them what they want and need. The best salespeople have high emotional intelligence, tuning in to all these bits of context and navigating customers towards a positive outcome.
Compare this in-store interaction to visiting a website, a brand’s “digital storefront.” It’s the equivalent of walking in to find a salesperson listing out every product in the shop — “Moisturizer! Exfoliator! Serums! Toner! Foundation! Concealer!” — just hoping that something strikes a chord with someone around them. In the brick and mortar, one-on-one human communication world, no salesperson would list off what’s in the store and just hope for the best. It certainly doesn’t make anyone feel understood, and is hit or miss in making a sale of an item someone wants or needs — with no way of finding out why or when it’s a miss. Relationships just aren’t built by people talking at each other. They’re built the old fashioned way — by people talking with each other.
How do you bring the experience of understanding to the internet?
What works so well about the brick and mortar storefront example is that the salesperson is able to understand the customer and sell them the right thing (or in marketing jargon, qualify and convert the lead)—all in one place. There’s a lot of power in the explicit data you can uncover when personally asking someone about themselves.
So what’s the digital equivalent of this highly effective in-store experience?
One-to-one conversations happen on messaging channels. And with 1 Billion monthly users on Facebook Messenger alone, we know there’s “foot traffic.” We also know that consumers are “stepping in” to talk to brands — one year ago there were 2 Billion messages being sent between businesses and users monthly on Facebook Messenger, now there are 8 Billion. In fact, messaging is so prominent that larger brands are having to close these channels off because their social teams are inundated with the inbound—all the customers entering their messaging “storefront.” Unable to respond to everyone, they respond to no one, effectively missing out on the opportunity to convert those leads and maintain positive brand sentiment.
So what would it look like if a brand could actually use a channel like Facebook Messenger as its storefront? A consumer could “walk in” — be greeted, asked questions about themselves and what they’re looking for, providing explicit information about their wants and needs. Next, they’re sent the relevant products. They feel understood. They buy. Everything from the wording of the messages to the routing of relevant content enables an emotionally intelligent experience. All of this can, in fact, be done in Messenger.
But there’s absolutely no way that a brand could deploy individual salespeople to manage these digital messaging channels and make that whole lovely experience happen. We know that. There needs to be a way to scale it.
How do you scale understanding, on the internet, from one-to-one to one-to-many?
Messenger’s bot platform was the first step in attempting to scale the channel. A lot of things went wrong here — tech was being built for the sake of it instead of on the premise of solving a problem. AI isn’t smart enough to manage conversations on it’s own, not to mention the moral qualms in pretending that something is human that’s not. Plus, these bots weren’t connected to brand CRMs, making much of the experiences contextually off-base.
But the premise — automating messaging and conversations — is the logical solution to scaling up one-to-one human messaging.
In 2016 I created my first bot because I needed that step up from one-to-one human messaging, and noticed the benefits quickly: when you ask someone a question in Messenger they a) are very likely to respond, b) will share a lot about themselves, and c) will come back and do it again.But after creating a few of these bots I became frustrated with the inefficiencies in production. Building one-off bots is akin to needing a developer to build every single one of your email campaigns (a thing I used to do, which has caused the seemingly innocuous term “tables” to haunt me till this day). I saw businesses spending several months—and lots of cash—on development resources to produce what amounts to a single acquisition campaign for Messenger. For an industry that seemed to have a lot of momentum, there was nothing to scale campaign management for messaging. And I needed a scalable solution.
For one of the Messenger experiences I was running, we built a lightweight dashboard that enabled us to run campaigns over time—selecting a segment of our audience, dropping content into a conversation template, and broadcasting it through Messenger. It worked in a way very similar to how email publishing functions.
When thinking about scaling messaging channels, coming from the angle of how marketing teams work makes the most sense. Marketing teams are the ones that operate these channels and they are the ones who know how to really be thoughtful about their audience. They know how to construct customer funnels, and how to get customers through those funnels. They know how to talk to customers. All of the systems they’re operating serve the purposes of managing content, capturing audience data and using that data across initiatives, and knowing how all of this is performing. It was very obvious how messaging should fit into that stack, but a platform to do just that hadn’t been created.
After building that campaign dashboard it became clear that other brands could benefit from that kind of system—so we built Paloma. With it, brands can build the conversations that qualify and convert leads, capture that qualifying data on their customer profiles, and send targeted conversations with more relevant content in the future. Seems obvious now that we’ve said it out loud, but being able to create thoughtful, personalized experiences for every individual customer at such a massive scale is something very magical ✨
Consumers want to build relationships with brands — that’s exciting! What a great time to be a brand! We know that conversations are the best format for building relationships—enabling brands to exhibit the emotional intelligence that today’s audience expects (and deserves)—and that Messenger is where you can have those conversations with consumers. I’m excited to scale all of that with Paloma, so brands can provide better experiences, and consumers can actually feel understood.
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