With as many digital marketing programs, apps, platforms and dashboards as are currently available to the modern marketer, clearly marketing automation is an idea whose time has come. But at what point does all that automation start to mask, hide, obfuscate and cloak the real goal of the marketer – to persuade, influence, elicit emotion and garner a specific reaction by connecting in some emotional way with the individuals who make up the target market. If the machines are deciding the timing, tone, quality, frequency, subject matter and even copy point priority, is there really a relationship being created there?
While I’m still emotionally a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology, I understand it’s uses and marvel at its potential to make our lives easier, and more productive, alleviating the drudgery of some of the more mundane daily tasks and delegating the type of “step, repeat” activities that make up our daily existence to simple machines. However, there are limits to the level and type of task I’m willing to relinquish to the machines. The little voice in the back of my head that warns “If it can do this, what else could it do if I don’t keep control over it” is running that script more frequently when I take a few moments to fill the que of my social media automation platform. It speeds up knowing that the machine will be totally in charge of what people see, when they see it, how often they see it. Relin quishing that level of control is a little scary.
Now, take that a step further. The next generation of software is likely to have wider permissions within your physical and online universe. It’s possible, given the necessary set up structure, for a similar platform to deliver a message to a given recipient, with the ability to search their hard drive and cloud account, dredge up bits of information gauge their reactions to online posts by others, collect viewing habits for photos and videos, and be able to piece these disparate pieces of data together into a coherent letter rife with personal references that only make sense to them. Its invasive, it’s creepy, it gives the recipient a sense of exposure, but if crafted correctly and reigned in appropriately, it would be so personal and so relevant, it would out-pull almost any generic control letter by a factor of 10. Are you scared of the machines yet?
Currently, the overuse of personalization typically takes the form of using the person’s name or address or other key piece of publicly available information too many times. The only damage there is to the sender, as it pulls back the curtain and exposes the use of data in the letter, destroying the illusion of personal relations and destroying trust. This depresses response, but doesn’t hurt anything. But taken a notch further, say that same letter is riddled with personal information, including images of your home and kids, banking and financial “hints”, information about your mortgage or car loan, the kids’ school names or addresses, extracurricular activities. Looks and sounds personal, right? Now imagine that letter is stolen out of the mailbox, or picked up out of the delivery bin before it even gets to you. The person with ill intent now knows more about you than they could ever discover any other way, and can use that data to do anything they want, unfettered by regulations, legislation, professional ethics or legal restriction.
Used correctly, personalization and data “injection” can make messages feel relevant, feel familiar, feel comfortable, and lead to a positive response. Used incorrectly, personalization can open the door to abuse, cause damage to both the sender and the recipient, and lead to a range of problems from minor headache to legal action. When employing automation for driving or disseminating marketing messages, best to err on the side of caution and keep your human fingers in the pie at critical points – just to be sure everyone stays on good terms – be careful out there . . .