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Trading Brains for Buttons: The Unintended Trap of Marketing Technologies

Posted 28 January 2016 9:00 AM by Jared Degnan @MoxieUSA, @jareddegna

Whether you call it adtech, martech, automation or programmatic, far too many marketers are treating technology solutions like they’re a panacea for our ailing relationships with consumers. 

Don’t get me wrong — marketing technologies are amazing. They allow us to reach greater numbers of consumers with an increasing level of personalization. However, since the dawn of the printing press, countless marketers have looked at buttons as a way to turn their brains off. These technologies somehow make them believe they can get great — even better — results by reaching more people with the same tired, old pitches.

For instance, with the invention of the printing press, marketers thought volume was the solution. So they flooded the streets with flyers, which consumers promptly threw away. And with radio, these marketers tried to get noticed by turning up the volume, which only inspired consumers to turn the channel.

Many marketers today are playing the same game with digital communications. They replace community managers with auto-responders and try to use adtech to serve millions — if not billions — of “personalized” creative.

Here’s what these marketers are missing: with each advance in marketing technology, consumers also get smarter. They find new ways to tune marketers out. And that’s why we’re staring down the barrel of a crisis in advertising. This desire to find some peace amidst this deafening and relentless marketing chatter has spawned an entire industry — one dedicated to helping people completely block markets out.

The Solution? Training Our Brains as We Build Technology

The single greatest technology marketers have is the one square foot between their ears. As we improve our ability to serve more people in the same amount of time, we have to train our brains to keep pace with that evolution.

Rather than turning our minds off, we should advance our exploration of consumer behavior, research and creativity in step with technological progress.

I know — it’s not as fun as pushing a button, but ask anyone at any gym on the planet and they’ll tell you that all the technology in the world can’t substitute for the raw effort that comes from continuously challenging and pushing ourselves.

Think of it as a proportional sunk cost in the development of new technologies: as you calculate the costs and efficiencies of marketing automation, raw time and talent have to increase at the same rate. Only then will we be able to scale the creativity and innovation that consumers demand of us — and ideally grab their attention (not to mention their business, loyalty and advocacy) along the way.


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