How Marketing Got More Personal

Part IV in the series, "Marketing in the Age of Intelligent Machines"

In 1996, a Stanford professor named Clifford Nass created a bit of buzz when he published a book touting his findings that people tend to treat computers they way treat real people. Nass -- who died in 2013 -- was making a point that would resonate even more twenty years later: we love our devices so much in part because we spend so much of waking time with them.

Correction: today, we also spend a lot of our sleeping time with devices. A 2013 article published here in The Huffington Post reported that sixty-three percent of "smartphone users age 18-29 admit to drifting off to sleep with a cell phone, smartphone or tablet in their bed." Fact is, some folks treat their devices better than they treat people. In the mobile era -- for so many of us -- devices are our digital significant others (SOs).

Mobile creates intimacy

For this and other reasons, marketing has gotten a lot more personal -- or use the industry term, personalized -- over the past few years. And it all begins with the new level of intimacy we have with the intelligent machines in our lives. Why: Because one of the most preferred modes we have for communicating with these machines is based on permission. As I mentioned in the last article in this series, on mobiles apps we grant brands the permission to push messages to us. In other words, we opt into this experience that grants brands the right to our intimacy. Contrast that with push marketing in the PC era; back then, generally we could only opt out. This subtle shift in behavior has opened the door to new intimate experiences between brands and people that Nash and his colleagues could only have imagined. Today, even email and other channels are poised to provide more intimacy, thanks to automation technology.

Mobile creates knowledge

But here's where it gets really interesting. It's not just that people give brands permission to push messages to them -- in other words, permission to contact them, proactively -- it's also how much brands know about people that can make those moments of contact so personalized, and so meaningful. With mobile tech, brands can learn what time of day it might be best to reach you, as an individual, not just as a member of target demographic. Brands can learn on what device to reach you. Brands can also learn what message might be best to send at said time of day and said device. At my company we call this personal communication at scale, and it is driven by the personal knowledge about customers customers that brands can amass in the mobile era.

Mobile creates the future of personal communication

And we say mobile era because -- from our perspective -- mobile is still in in its earlier days. And that means that its early days for the intelligent machines that will soon navigate their way into the most intimate places of our lives. Like our cars, where already they are learning our driving habits so well that they can guide us (check out the hot car-tech company, Mobileye, which recently celebrated the largest IPO in Israeli history). Like our home appliances, where already they are learning whether we are running out of product so that they can make it easy for us to replenish it (check out Amazon Dash, an early/beta version of this brand-experience scenario).

In fact, it will be hard to predict just how and where brands will have the opportunity to connect with us, engage us, and -- if they are smart -- delight us (the subject of the next article). But one thing's for sure, it will get more personal. And once you get personal, you can never go back. Keeping up with the new leaders in customer experience will keep us plenty busy.