Personification: The future of marketing is near…and is it Facebook?

Dave Yuan
Dave Yuan
May 18, 2016 · 4 min read

Online marketers often ask, “What’s the next big thing in marketing and advertising?”

Answer: Personification. Over the past decade, big data, whiz-bang technologies and new digital channels have let marketers run highly targeted campaigns. Though each campaign may be well targeted, their cumulative effect is overwhelming and uncoordinated. New channels got added to the old, and the outcome is “shock and awe.”

The future is reimagining and redirecting our marketing machinery. If we use this technology to create consumer experiences that are highly coordinated, in context, and appropriate to the individual, these interactions feel native, intuitive, natural, and human. That is the future.

Here comes Facebook

What I saw at F8 (Facebook’s Developer Conference held in San Francisco, April 12–13, 2016) could be big. Facebook appears to be connecting the last mile between consumers and businesses, and if Facebook’s data gets integrated with all the marketing and adtech machinery, that union could bring about this “personified future.”

Consider Facebook’s assets:


Facebook has the real names, addresses, demographics, and social graphs of 1.6 billion people. And it’s growing!

Massive consumer engagement and web-scale context .

For several decades, the recurring rage in marketing has been personalization — optimizing consumer experiences using what a marketer knows about customers. A great concept, but marketers know very little about customers. Less than 5% of site visitors log in and self-identify, and even the biggest sites see only the tiniest fraction of a user’s Internet experience. On the other hand, Facebook boasts having real identities for most of the world’s Internet population outside China. And incredible engagement: e. g., a US mobile user is on Facebook one out of every 5 minutes she’s on mobile!

ATTEND FROM YOUR DESK: Learn social media “next practices” from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

That huge sucking sound is Facebook hoovering content: Third-party content sets, video, live video, 360 video, and saved content from phones, drones, APIs, in apps, in feeds, from third- party sites, and from messages. And if you watch Zuckerberg’s F8 keynote closely, Facebook doesn’t just pull in the world’s content, it wants to know what the content means.

50M businesses : Over 50 million businesses have Facebook fan pages. Many of them are ad customers who upload their customer, product, and targeting data to Facebook. Millions of sites use Facebook social plug-ins, the No. 1 sign-on product on the planet.

Connect in an environment native to the consumer.

Some 60 billion messages flow through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp a day. This is three times the peak global SMS volume and shows clearly how consumers want to communicate with each other. Facebook Messenger has extended Messenger so that consumers can talk to businesses. Consumers already send 1 billion daily messages to businesses on their fan pages.

A.I./machine learning.

What do you do with the biggest network on the planet (representing a huge chunk of all Internet engagement), the biggest content repository and 50 million networked businesses connected to consumers in a native communication channel? You build a massive AI repository to understand it all. In doing so, it can understand intent, add automation where appropriate and scale these interactions. Facebook can help marketers engage in a more intuitive, personal and “human” way and lead to personification.

Facebook is uniquely positioned to build this. It has 60 billion daily consumer-to-consumer interactions, a billion daily consumer-to-business interactions, an open-source community engaged to enrich its analytical framework and massive global developer groups to build algorithms and bots.

So what?

F8 highlighted Facebook’s 10-year product vision, so I imagine much of this is still in the formative stages. But it’s a big idea from a juggernaut that has unique assets. And, if even only partially successful, it make Facebook’s influence on marketing and advertising even greater than it is.

The danger here is that the marketing and ad technology infrastructure becomes obsolete and gets replaced by bots that sit on the Facebook platform. But I don’t think that will happen.

Why? Because Facebook is enormous, but the Internet is even bigger. There’s the open web, and then there’s that other juggernaut, Google. And while it may ebb and flow, consumer engagement and the Internet are likely to always to be heterogeneous and diverse as new platforms are created. (I’m glad that’s the case.)

Marketers also have massive amounts of intellectual property (content, brand, algorithms and data) built into existing marketing systems that generate revenue and value. Most investors miss this point. Consider email marketing. Ask the investment community and most will tell you that email marketing is commoditized and dead. Talk to a marketer, and they will tell you that email continues to be the workhorse of marketing. It’s often the highest ROI channel, and one that consumers are comfortable transacting in. Marketers have incredibly effective tools that they are going to continue to invest in.

Facebook doesn’t appear to have the desire or the DNA for B2B software. I don’t think the company focuses on B2B marketing technology. Facebook’s initiatives appear to be aimed at creating more consumer engagement and deepening their ad model.

Facebook is building a lot of infrastructure connecting consumers, content, and businesses. Marketing that plugs into this infrastructure will be powerful and can bring all its horsepower and intellectual property into the native communication channel between brands and consumers that Facebook provides. Facebook and marketers can create brand experiences with more context, better address consumers’ wants and needs, in a native channel that feels more human, more personified.

David Yuan is an advisor at Pinterest, and investor at and a board director with Act-On Software. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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