The theme of this issue is the often-conflicting relationship marketers have with their data and their creativity.  In this article, our straight-talking resident Rockstar CMO Ted Rubin argues for the human touch.


Most of today’s senior business leaders and marketers developed much of their perspective during the dot com boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, followed shortly thereafter by the proliferation of social platforms. It is little wonder then that when approaching all of marketing today the solution for most folks is rooted in technology. It is the same with most start-ups that are still pursuing the model of aggregating a huge audience, using big data to spot patterns of groups and selling ads. People buy more stuff and we get a ridiculous valuation.

The problem is, that in today’s climate and culture of transparency and social platforms, humans need to be more involved, not less. Enterprise solutions that promise to manage customer relationships across digital and social platforms are simply modified CRM systems that extend the spamerific effect of email carpet bombing, and retargeting every other form of customer outreach. Yes, Banana Republic, I know you have some amazing sale every day but the combination of a daily email, following me around the web with ads, and the inability to escape despite multiple unsubscribes actually decreases my interaction with ALL email and ads… did the algorithm predict that? A person who actually thinks as a customer and spends most of their time interacting with customers would.

Here’s the thing… direct response type marketing, and I say ‘type’ because it seems with all the data and machine control so much marketing has become direct response driven, and all about delivering immediate results, but at what cost to brand equity? 

This is a conversation shared repeatedly with John Andrews during our early morning walks when traveling and spending time together. We’ve had countless hours of discussions with brands, colleagues, venture capitalists, and investment bankers that ultimately lead to a central question – “How can you use technology to scale and protect your model from competition… or simply keep up, but not lose the human touch and engagement necessary to foster the relationship for the long-term?” These inquiries have caused us to think deeply about the future of the industry… what is the right blend of people and machines?

Our fundamental belief is that people have to be at the center of the new media equation, not technology. We need to employ tech to do jobs that help broadcast and syndicate the content produced by our agencies, employees, community, and customers, or somehow makes their job easier. We need to make heavy investments in measurement and analytic technology to better understand how an audience is interacting with content and the overall effect that has on the relationship and loyalty a consumer has with a brand or retailer. 

But… marketing will win when humans control the machines, NOT when machines control the humans. Use data to inform, not to ‘make’ the decisions. 

There is no substitute for careful planning and oversight… but it has been way too long coming for CMOs to acknowledge the critical importance of judgement, intuition, gut instinct, personal involvement, and listening, the true connecting fiber between us and our customers. They’ve known it all along, but have felt compelled to sing the “big data will deliver it all” song. 

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