Kill your machines

If markets are conversations, the voice at the other end of the line is increasingly sounding more like Siri and less like a human.


Technology is a wonderful thing — until it starts to get in the way.

2014 was a year of automation failures. Oreo had an auto-reply slip up. The New England Patriots had to apologize for accidentally tweeting a racial slur. Facebook stirred up memories that people would like to forget.

See: Good intentions gone bad.

Personalization is a funny thing. It happens to us in hundreds of ways every day that make us smile — from a coworker sending me an article he knows I’ll like, to me cooking my wife’s favorite meal, to my favorite coffee shop asking me if I want “the usual.”

But it’s very hard for large companies to do it well, especially at scale.

Digital provides more tools to do it, but there are no shortcuts. Relationships aren’t built in real-time. They’re built over time — in thousands of meaningful interactions with individuals, not shallow, “personalized” interactions with thousands.

Relationships aren’t built in real-time. They’re built over time.

Delivering immediate value has somehow become the mantra of the digital age, but real relationships are built on consistent value. Show up, time and again — not just when you have a campaign you want me to know about. Be warm and human. Treat me with respect.

No amount of data you have on me can make up for a lack of trust.

So going into 2015, let’s resolve to have a healthy sense of what technology can achieve at scale, and bring a focus on humanity back into customer relationships.

Three quick ideas from me:

Have a healthy skepticism of algorithms. I’m convinced there are few technical solutions to human-centered problems. And when you find one, people start gaming the system right away.

If you must automate, build in some human oversight. I’m not naive enough to say that you should never automate your marketing efforts, but machines don’t have the same eyes as humans do or understand context as well. If you must schedule, schedule with caution.

Screw the market; respect the individual. Did you know that all Millennials don’t look and act exactly the same? You wouldn’t know it by the mess of articles out there stereotyping the entire generation. Treat every conversation as if the person you’re talking to is a unique individual with their own thoughts, fears, and interests.

If markets are conversations, like the Cluetrain Manifesto predicted, the voice at the other end of the line is increasingly sounding more like Siri and less like a human.

We can do better.