Marketing Automation is Not a Customer Relationship-Building Strategy

Social media is about people. Marketers know this. We’ve talked about it forever. Yet, we want to scale, so we throw technology at the issue. Because technology scales everything right?

Wrong. The ‘Human Element’ matters. People, too, must scale.


Here’s the issue: marketing automation. No, I’m not against it. Marketing automation is great if it creates better, more human experiences. However, in many cases simply automating social media (two of every three posts are generated by technology and not organic) does not mean a better experience for the user. It means robotic posts, no one listening, canned content, and a lack of real-time conversation. That means a lack of people: passionate employee champions who are there to engage with customers to provide substance, service and subject expertise.

A company needs to leverage not just technology; it needs to leverage tribal human knowledge and unleash its best people – its most passionate storytellers and experts – in order to grow relationships. Too many companies throw technology at the issue and think it solves the scale problem. It’s the traditional call-center mentality – cheaper, better, faster. And that approach applied to building customer relationships fails!


Unleash the Human Element by Scaling ‘People’

Letting go and empowering people requires big corporate values like trust. IBM, as an example, has more internal bloggers, advocates and champions having conversations in real-time with customers than other company in the world. I spoke recently with Susan Emerick from IBM and she mentioned that in some cases (according to company metrics) employee advocates brought 7X more value to customer relationships with their real-time content and conversations. Isn’t that the point of business – to serve customers profitably, and build relationships?

Return on Relationships Means Effectiveness, Not Efficiency

Scaling relationships, then, means scaling ‘people,’ not just technology. Customers and prospects don’t want to have interactions with marketing; they want interactions with internal domain experts. Most content has traditionally flowed through the bottleneck of marketing where it is sanitized, interpreted, and messaged. Yes, marketing can add value. However, marketing as usual in a larger environment often trades efficiency for effectiveness. And how much real efficiency is provided, anyway? That’s debatable.

The true measures of a successful social business are lifetime customer values, revenues, loyalty. Growing these measures means growing human relationships. That is something that cannot be nurtured through automation alone.

Tear Down the Marketing Firewall (or at least lower it!)

The best storytellers are often not in the c-suite or marketing suite; they’re the creators, curators, developers, innovators and service people on the front lines of change. If you are not unleashing your best people – with some healthy guidelines of course – you are not using your full storytelling capacity. That shortchanges your content and conversation strategy. A truly social and human business recognizes that employee relationships with customers are often the reasons customers are loyal. Yes, it can work the other way, too. Business has been, and always will be, about people.

When it comes to scaling relationships, effectiveness counts more than efficiency. While technology is a great enabler that allows marketers to listen, analyze and figure out how and where to deploy content; it’s *people* that make content, service and interactions effective. Zappo’s, for example, doesn’t reward customer service personnel for reducing call times. Instead, they are rewarded for making customers happy. That’s effectiveness that increases loyalty and revenues. The longest recorded customer call for Zappo’s customer service (with breaks) was 10 hours! Efficient? no; effective, hell yes. Customers love Zappo’s.

Of course, technology can create efficiencies and effectiveness when it automates the things that humans don’t do well. Consider online banking – less time, less hassle, more efficient, likely equally effective in most cases (not all). Customers are messy, unpredictable, irrational buyers, and the accessibility of external and internal advocates to answer questions, have conversations, make them feel great about your brand is something that technology can’t do alone without people. That’s effectiveness that pays. According to IBM – by a factor of up to 7X!

Marketing Automation Isn’t Marketing ‘Automaton’

Sure, humanizing is partly about tone and type of content, and we’ve focused a lot on that as marketers – on making the content itself more human, less jargon-laden, more consumable and shareable. All of that is important. Hell, it’s where I spend a lot of my time. Yet, if that content is delivered via marketing automation, we’ve failed to scale using our most prolific resource –people. Content delivery by human beings engaged in real-time conversation adds measurable value to the top and bottom lines.

Automation has a human “I” in it; without that, the word is ‘automaton.’ That’s what marketing becomes when technology is a substitute for, rather than a supplement to, the human element.

What do you think?

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