As the world sees the news and begins to comprehend the horror of the devastation affecting the Houston, Texas region, marketers are likely still sending messages and serving ads to those affected in the region. A highly publicized gaffe by Airbnb this week, in which the company deployed a promotional email campaign touting “floating world” destinations, served to highlight the issue the marketing industry faces as it relies increasingly on automation and algorithms: have we forgotten our human side?
Some might react ‘What’s the big deal? Consumers affected by Harvey probably just ignored the message.’ But to that, I say we should be raising the bar and seeking a better frame of thought when it comes to how we treat consumers.
The Airbnb story highlights a glaring issue in marketing today: programmatic messages and campaigns planned in advance with no system of checks and balances are perpetuating a kind of communication that erodes trust and the reputations of brands among consumers. In extreme cases, such as the one this past week with Airbnb, messaging mistakes can lead to a public relations nightmare. But in reality, the issue is much larger.
Take for example a trendy home brand that sells products that I really like but sends me multiple emails per day. The company serves endless ads all year, even trying to sell me on items that I’ve already purchased. It’s becoming annoying to the point where I’m considering ending my relationship with the brand.
What is the root cause of these types of missteps, though? It’s not like the Airbnb marketers set out to deliver a message to southeast Texans in such poor taste. I also doubt that the home brand seeks to destroy my trust and annoy me as much as they do. These are symptoms that stem from following a traditional marketing approach that is broken. This traditional model lacks a real sense of empathy because it overlooks its main audience in the pursuit of product placement, channels and campaign execution. Part of the solution, I believe, is that the industry requires a shift to a Consumer-First marketing model. With consumers at the core of everything – data, planning, creative and execution – the marketing approach plays closer attention to factors that are invaluable to the consumer such as empathy and trust.
What’s broken and how do we fix it?
Most marketers I speak with are already aware of these shortcomings and understand that the current way many of us think about marketing is broken. I’m not blaming individual talent here, but over time, the collective industry missteps have led us to where we are today. Here are the major problems contributing to our current, broken, traditional model and ways we can fix them:

Brands Don’t Have a Clear View of the Consumer and Context
Because marketing ecosystems were cobbled together since the digital age into the post-digital age, many systems don’t meet the needs marketers have today to change course: They aren’t fully integrated, nimble, or real-time, and don’t provide a clear view of the customer. Without a single source of truth at any given moment, it can become difficult to understand what a customer wants and needs and to be able to deliver on a quality experience. Selligent has developed a Universal Consumer Profile to help brands maintain a full view of the consumer and how they’ve interacted (or not interacted) with your brand over the course of the relationship. We’ve also developed Live Content to help target and personalize communications based on location, weather, device, etc.


KPIs and Goals Are Too Focused on the Short-Term
Marketers are tasked with meeting aggressive goals, but they’re usually squarely focused on short-term campaign revenue.  Yes, revenue is a requirement to be in business, but neglecting a long-term view of delivering value to the customer means inundating consumers with an overload of messages in the name of short term revenue. While it is the chosen approach of our times, I believe it is ultimately a mistaken one. I challenge brands to put more emphasis on long term goals and views in the interest of considering what will drive a customer to come back again and again over their lifetime, what makes them happy and what makes them tell their friends and family about your brand. In this way, as a result, more revenue can be realized through a stronger and longer-term relationship.

Suppression is Undervalued
Following the theme of my last point, strategy based on short term revenue results in marketers pushing out as many messages as they can across channels. Beyond regulatory compliance, marketers aren’t incentivized to leverage suppression logic as a marketing strategy nearly enough. Sometimes not putting a message in front of a customer is the right thing to do. By leveraging common sense on the basic end, all the way up the chain to automation, using AI capabilities to create suppression logic that continues to refine itself and iterate based on knowledge in profiles of your consumers, brands can selectively take away messages that hurt longer term relationship with consumers, and add messages that enhance this relationship.

Overall, Airbnb is one of the success stories of the modern digital age. It has built a platform based on trust and a unique understanding of customer needs. So when a mishap of the magnitude described above occurs to the sharing economy darling, it gives marketers sense of how hard it is to get Consumer-First Marketing right and an inkling of how much is going wrong elsewhere. Marketers need to take a good look at their tech stacks and think about two things: ‘How can I integrate my data further and how can I adopt a Consumer-First model to reinsert human thinking into the core of the equation? ` Solving those two factors will go a long way to ensuring that a repeat of the “floating world” gaffe becomes a drop in the ocean.

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