The new marketing is people-centric, and today companies need to gain a deeper understanding of ‘who’ their customers are, as people, not simply consumers.
However, even when they get to know their customers, companies still rely primarily upon what we can call "hard" data: socio-demographic, economic, and geographic data - sometimes they add behavioral data, such as past purchases and content views.
With a metaphor, we can say that if companies were humans, they would be people who use only the “left side” of their brain, the rational part. But what makes humans so able to understand and communicate with other people is the completion of that rational part with the emotional one: the “right side” of the brain.
Now, if we imagine what this right side of the brain is made of in the digital world, we can say that it is made of "soft" data: the desires, motivations, emotions, and personality of customers.
These human-like data have become essential today. To understand why, let’s see an example from a well-known marketing strategy that relies on a psychological principle: social proof, a technique that leverages our tendency to follow the majority, to look at other people’s actions and behave consistently with them.
In marketing, we want people to imitate desired behaviors, those that will lead to a sale or a conversion. So, we use the social proof principle every time we inform potential shoppers of what other customers do (for example, what they have bought) to convince them to do the same.
We often find this principle applied in the e-commerce world. Think of Amazon and its suggestions tool. Amazon makes extensive use of social proof: "people like you also bought this item"; "frequently bought together"; "customers who bought this item also bought" and so on.
Knowing what other people buy can be important to help us - as customers - to make good purchase decisions. But if you're a marketer, you should ask: is it really so important to all of us? Do we decide and behave in the same way?
An example. Think about a person like Hester.
Hester is a girl that wants to feel unique - in psychology, they say she has a personality trait called "need for uniqueness". She is creative, original, and a bit eccentric. She wants to feel special with everything she buys and wears; when shopping, she looks for different styles and innovative outfits. If Hester buys a dress and then sees it worn by someone else, on the street or at a party, she gets annoyed.
Now, think about the Amazon-like message "people like you also bought". Do you think that a person like Hester would feel engaged? Or is it more likely that she would get annoyed by the expression "people like you"?
That is the point. Today, 1-to-1 marketing is growing faster and faster. Market leaders such as Amazon, Youtube, Netflix, Spotify are dominating thanks to their ability to accumulate lots of customer data and use them intelligently.
At the same time, we have psychological principles - such as social proof, and many others - that are widely used in marketing but still applied in the same way to all customers.
In this scenario, what about individual differences?
We’re not talking about age, gender, geography, or past purchases. We’re talking about those characteristics that we, as human beings, can see in others and take into account when we interact with them. We’re talking about psychology and personality.
We have seen Hester, with a high need for uniqueness. Now let’s see Emma.
Emma wants to “fit in” the group - she has a personality trait called "need to belong". She likes to follow trends and, when shopping, wants to feel fashion. She is the typical girl who, when deciding the outfit, needs to see it already worn by friends and influencers on social media.
Maybe, compared to Hester, she would be much more interested in what other people (“people like her”) bought, much more attracted by messages that leverage social proof.
That’s why customer personality matters.
A good salesman who knows his customer's personality has a huge advantage: he not only knows what to suggest to his customer but even how to paint it. A good seller in the store would certainly communicate differently with Hester and Emma. So, why communication online should be the same for them?
Imagine the experience that Hester and Emma could live on the e-commerce site of a fashion brand when looking for a new dress and some accessories to match.
To be more empathic, that brand could highlight for Hester the most niche and exclusive clothes, that she could be the first to discover, with more powerful storytelling for her, such as: "Discover how to create your unique and innovative outfit for the summer".
With Emma, instead, it would be better to suggest the most popular and fashionable clothes, preferred by the community of other customers, with a more effective message for her, such as: "Discover how to create the most trendy outfit for the summer”.
What is obvious for a good seller still seems impossible for e-commerce. Tailoring the message to reflect a person's attitudes, motivations and personality is a natural process in "offline" marketing, and technology is rapidly evolving to bridge this gap, enabling companies to be more “empathic” with their customers.
There are lots of things that technology can do better than humans, especially those that follow the same general workflow: gather data, analyze data, determine a course of action, implement the course of action. Communication, however, doesn't fall into that standardized process for its intrinsic nature of being more powerful if differentiated, flexible, and tailored to the specific characteristics of the receiver.
That's why skills like persuasion, social understanding, and empathy are going to become our "competitive advantage" as artificial intelligence takes over other standardized tasks. But this also means that technology will always go further in the direction of learning, or trying to learn, the way humans communicate. Digital communication today is more efficient, of course, for the number of people it can reach simultaneously, but human communication is still more effective. Whether or not it will always be, that is an open issue, which is up to each of us to answer!
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