The other night, as I was flipping through the channels on TV, I stumbled upon an old, familiar episode of Star Trek. In this story, a planet of humanoids was worried that centuries of civil war would eventually wipe out the entire species. To address this, they automated warfare to the point that now only the machines fought with each other.
The people of the planet were no longer directly involved in the conflict. Instead of going to war themselves, one side’s machines simply fought the other side’s machines until a winner was calculated by an “infallible” supercomputer.
While comparisons could be made to modern-day drone warfare, as a marketer I pictured an analogy much closer to home. In a drive to become more and more efficient, and to increase the almighty ROI, modern day marketers are engaged in a seemingly insatiable quest for marketing automation. Where salespeople once picked up the phone, networked, or met in person with prospects, now it seems that more and more of these sales-related functions have been outsourced to apps, and informed by algorithms. Schedule your tweets, load up your curation tool with content, hit send on your latest drip marketing email campaign – and then you can just sit back and watch all the marketing magic happen, right? Not exactly.
As someone who’s been on both sides of those communications, sometimes it feels like marketing has become just a bunch of machines talking to another bunch of machines – with no humans in between who care very much about what’s actually being said. Economies and efficiencies of scale have allowed us to wash our hands of guerrilla marketing in favor of the push-button solutions analogous to the warring factions on that old episode of Star Trek.
As economical and practical as these methods of metaphorical “marketing warfare” may seem, don’t you get the feeling that the more time you spend on Facebook, Twitter, or reading your email these days the less you feel like you’re actually conversing with live human beings? As practitioners of marketing, surely this is not the pinnacle of our collective creativity.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Luddite. I don’t wish, nor do I implore you as a modern marketer or business person to completely unplug from the marketing machine. It has its place. In fact, marketing at scale can yield great insights about your audience and provide valuable feedback that can be used to refine your messaging.
For example, testing a series of ads with large audiences on Facebook can provide bell curve statistics that show you clearly (and relatively cheaply) which messages resonated – and which messages died on the vine (or the Vine!).
Similarly, if a social media scheduling app consistently identifies a large portion of your audience to be engaging at a certain time of day – or a certain day of the week , then that’s you’re cue to spend more time, live and in-person on those platforms, during those peak times.
If you use marketing automation tools and techniques to reach the masses, continue to do so. But consider spending at least some of your valuable personal time making connections with just a few members of your target audience. Pick up the phone and ask a few former clients (or new prospects) out to lunch.
In between your slate of scheduled tweets, why not spend an hour or two a week participating in some relevant Twitter chats and engage in some real-time communication with other real human beings? Give Facebook Live a try and revel in the fact that others – whether it’s one or one thousand people – have chosen to share their precious time and attention with you at that moment.
Look, if your top salesperson came to you tomorrow – excitedly clutching a thousand leads, you’d know that he or she could still only meaningfully contact a handful of those leads per day. Heck, you’d no doubt be delighted if a relatively laid back sales campaign of contacting a few leads every day resulted in a few conversions a week. What’s the alternative – sending your salespeople out among the dozens or hundreds of automated messages your marketing team currently sends out per week – hoping that some of that spray and pray messaging nets a few conversions somewhere down the line?
Do yourself and your organization a favor. Instead of chasing the next shiny automated social media object, do something your competition doesn’t expect – take a short hiatus from all the noise and head in the opposite direction. Try slowing down and see how it can actually speed up your marketing success.