At the 2018 ANA Masters of Marketing, customer-centricity emerged as a necessary part of a successful strategy. MediaLink’s Jason Shulweis explores marketing’s re-humanization.

“Effective marketing is about more than just marketing. We must infuse the ‘personal’ of personalization in the way we do everything… Humanity is the way to be customer centric.” – Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO, American Express.

In order to grow, marketers and brands rely on their customers to buy their products. While data was a major theme of the conference, it was clear that there is a degree of “human” emotion in consumers’ decision-making that data cannot predict (yet). To match that emotion, brands must become more human as well.

In a session titled “The End of Advertising as We Know It: Now What?”, much of the discussion focused around the “new playbook” for marketing engagement. Mark Truss, Global Director of Brand Intelligence at J. Walter Thompson, aptly pointed out that trust and empathy are essential components in brand/consumer relationships – similar to strong relationships between people (read: humanization). This can be manifested on social platforms, in customer support calls, within a company’s walls among employees and everywhere in between. Is this next phase of advertising “Actvertising” as Shawna Ross, Executive Director, Planning at McGarryBowen and Magen Hanrahan, VP, Marketing & Media Services at The Kraft Heinz Company called it? We believe that will absolutely play a role as it lays out how brands can have more meaningful connections with customers.

Nydia Sahagún, SVP, Segment Marketing at Wells Fargo & Co., spoke about the need for brands to show humanity and authenticity in their actions to match the evolution of consumer expectations. Later that day we heard from Lisa Bacus, EVP and Global Chief Marketing & Customer Officer at CIGNA, who recently launched a new marketing campaign using light humor around a serious topic to be more human and effective.

In a session titled “Leading Disruption to Drive Growth”, P&G’s Marc Pritchard sat down with American Express’ Elizabeth Rutledge, Deloitte Digital’s Alicia Hatch and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts’ Jill Estorino, and kicked things off with a call-to-action, boldly stating that “we are taking back control of marketing to lead disruption and drive growth”. While broad, it was compelling as he listed out five areas of growth for marketers: Data & Technology, Talent, Customer, Brand Experience & Innovation, and Society & Sustainability. Even when speaking about the least human-sounding of these – Data & Technology – Hatch pointed to how Deloitte is focusing on humanizing and democratizing data: “We need emotional datasets to fully understand creative and how to build relationships with customers.” To that end, they are using Natural Language Processing to better understand emotions, and neurological insights to dig into the subconscious reasons people prefer one length of video over another.

Implications for marketers:

If you don’t have a real relationship with your customers, you are going to lose them. As a marketer, your first step in becoming more human needs to involve understanding if you have the first-party data you need about your customers to succeed. Next would be figuring out what to do with it. There was much buzz at the ANA about in-housing to achieve that, but marketers have to understand they need a nuanced approach for determining what capabilities to own and when to collaborate. This is increasingly important as brands and marketers must regularly converse and interact with the people to whom they are selling products and services. This means constantly getting honest feedback, and putting themselves in their customers’ shoes. Brands have personalities and voices – embrace this, invest in it and partner accordingly.