On some level, perhaps even unconsciously, people know this and are beginning to resist, using everything from ad blockers to cord cutting, to forming communities around niche-y direct to consumer brands like Warby Parker and TV shows like Game of Thrones, to joining Facebook groups and showing up at 12-Step meetings.
The more we atomize and dehumanize customers, the more we isolate them. And that’s not what human beings want and need. I’ve been doing a bit of research into anti-aging and longevity (for obvious reasons), and I’ve learned that what human beings need most is a sense of connectedness and community. That’s present in all the Blue Zones, places where high percentages of the population live to be centenarians. Apparently, that need is so deep that even people who don’t actually commit suicide can commit a kind of para-suicide, which means they can eat poorly, drink too much, become addicted to drugs, or live recklessly as if they wouldn’t be missed if they died.
In marketing, we used to know that brand loyalty came from a sense of connectedness to something (Starbucks’ “3rd Place” campaign and Apple’s tight communities), but when we rely purely on data and perceive individuals only as atomized units to be targeted through artificial intelligence, we are overlooking important customer insights. It will be a long time before AI can correctly predict which of your prospects would be yours forever in response to community-based marketing outreach.
In the mean time, I’d like to recommend that we temper our enthusiasm for or fear of AI and data, and remember that in marketing we are dealing with human beings, and that even if you are selling to the CEO, changes are (s)he still puts her pants on one leg at a time.
Francine Hardaway is an associate professor at Arizona State Journalism and a partner at Stealthmode Partners.