Have Marketers Forgotten What It’s Like To Be Human?

Marketers need to move beyond the data and metrics and remember to make meaningful connections with other humans, says columnist Jim Williams.

marketing automation cyborg ssEverywhere we turn, it seems that automation, software and “over-metricizing” are suffocating our profession. In the endless quest for leads and conversions, we’ve relegated ourselves to growth hacking, A/B testing, email nurturing and other robotic tactics, while measuring our success against a long list of metrics we can’t possibly keep up with.

In this raging sea of data overload, somehow we’ve lost sight of what really matters in marketing. We’ve lost of the art of persuasion, of creating amazing experiences, of surprising and delighting.

In short, we’ve lost the ability to build meaningful connections with other humans.

More Trust, Fewer Tests

While watching a small set of targeted metrics is essential for helping you reach business goals, dedicating resources to developing and nurturing lasting customer relationships helps fuel those metrics and can yield payoffs that keep on giving throughout the customer lifecycle.

When customers are happy, they refer their peers, act as references and open up their wallets wider over the long term. With a steady stream of references and referrals, you can cut your buying cycle and pack your pipeline — all because you focused on the needs of your customer instead of your need to reach this month’s conversion metrics.

So how can we become human again and begin making these meaningful connections?

It all starts with trust. According to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, 80% of those surveyed said they bought something because they trusted the company. Another 68% said they’ve recommended a peer to a company based on trust.

The report further stated that the biggest opportunities for building trust fall in the areas of integrity and engagement — things like being transparent and keeping the lines of communication open; listening to your customers and addressing their needs; valuing your employees; and putting your customers first — even ahead of profits.

But trust can’t be built by simply watching the numbers. Going beyond the metrics means remembering one thing: what it means to be human.

The Power Of A Good Story

Storytelling has long been one the most effective ways for marketers and other business leaders to build connections with customers and to achieve their business results along the way.

According to a recent B2B content survey, 81% of B2B leaders surveyed said that engaging in compelling storytelling is one of the most important elements of effective content (second only to audience relevance).

More than just a product pitch, a good story appeals to the emotions — a factor that Forrester found has a significant impact on the customer experience.

More importantly, a good story propels people to take action. This quote from Harvard Business Review contributing editor Bronwyn Fryer sums it up nicely: “If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.”

So while it’s not hard to see why storytelling should be an integral part of trying to make customer connections, generating relevant stories and getting people to share them can be challenging.

Let Your Advocates Do The Telling

For busy marketers who struggle to create the impact they’re looking for by telling their own stories, turning to customers for user-generated content is the way to go — especially if those customers are enthusiastic advocates.

When customers have a great experience with a company, they’re more than happy to tell the world about it, and that’s a good thing for your brand. Why? Because customers trust each other more than they trust your company.

A Gartner survey shows that peers and communities are the second-most trusted sources of information across all phases of the buying cycle, with self-driven information coming in first. That’s why online reviews, testimonials and references are critical to building up that company trust. In fact, 72% of buyers surveyed said that positive reviews increase their trust in businesses.

Tapping into the stories of your biggest fans helps you make connections with new customers and also strengthen your existing customer relationships. You then have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate those who do positive things for your company without even being asked. And when your advocates feel appreciated, they’ll be motivated to continue that positive word of mouth about your brand.

How To Find The Right Story

You don’t have to go very far to uncover an incredible story. In fact, the stories you seek are already out there waiting for you. You just have to uncover them.

Depending on your business, your advocates likely use social channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram to share their positive stories about your brand. Some of them are also writing in-depth reviews about their experiences with your products or services.

If the stories you want aren’t out there yet, challenge customers to tell their stories by asking them to share and providing the right type of recognition for those who do so. For example, you could give them VIP access to a company event, private meetings with your product or executive team, tried and true “thank you” cards, or any other creative reward, depending on what motivates them.

Getting employees in on the act is also essential, since they are the ones who know your products and services best, as well as your customer successes. And when your employees are engaged to tell those stories, everyone benefits, including your customers, your company and its bottom line.

Gallup states that it has “consistently found links between employees who are engaged in their jobs and the achievement of business outcomes such as quality, safety, profitability and productivity.” Fred Reichheld, creator of the famous Net Promoter Score (NPS) system, has noticed something similar: that companies can only get high customer satisfaction scores when employee engagement is also high.

Getting Back To Human

It’s time for marketers to learn how to become human again. Yes, metrics and data are necessary to help us find out where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to be in terms of goals and achievements — but they are not the be-all and end-all of our efforts.

As the leader of a relatively young marketing team at a fast-growing technology company, I strive to reinforce this principle day in and day out. It’s easy to obsess over and try every hack you can think of to improve your numbers. And it’s really, really hard to tell meaningful stories that connect with individual buyers on a personal level (especially in B2B). But it’s worth it.

Most recently, for example, with the help of our customers, we took the opportunity to use video to humanize our brand and tell an interesting story about our company and what we do for our Series B financing announcement. After only a week and a half, it’s still too early to know the full impact of that campaign on our business, but we’re already on track for a second record-breaking week of new sales opportunities.

I’ll never be able to tie all of that revenue directly back to our video campaign using marketing automation and CRM software, but potential customers are telling our sales reps it is the reason they’re willing to take our calls now.

Somewhere beyond the layers of numbers and statistics are customers just waiting for you to notice them. Go ahead. Connect. Surprise. Delight. Just don’t cut them out of your marketing equation.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)


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