Finding the Human Touch Amidst The Data

Rachel Taylor , Manager Posterscope UK, reports from Ad Week Europe.
One emerging theme at this year’s Advertising Week Europe was the role of marketers to interpret data for a human end. Amidst the myriad of talks about data and its application, certainly a central focus for all agencies taking steps to stay in touch with consumers, there is a new sense that we should not get too caught up in the data and remember the bigger picture. Primarily this debate is playing out around the interaction of data and creativity but I believe there is an undercurrent of social purpose entering the discussion which could reframe planning priorities.
Frazer Gibney (CEO of FCB Inferno) introduced the optimistic idea that social enterprise may be the new digital, a key profit driver which businesses ignore at their peril. While it is too early to say social purpose has really embedded as a business practice, there is a growing attempt to adopt a human centric approach in a more systematic manner. This moves beyond the prevalence of ‘audience first planning’ to consider how business value is driven by truly trying to make life better for a consumer, rather than merely identifying how to target them more efficiently. Steve Hilton’s ‘More Human’ book shows this concept is part of a wider trend in business thought leadership but now it is our turn to apply the theory to the media and communication industry.[1] Consumer expectations are changing and we must ensure we put this human reality at the centre of our approach if we expect to grow our clients and consequentially our own businesses in years to come.
Central to this is the message that ‘doing good’ isn’t just a CSR, that’s nice to have, which is restricted to the 3% of current UK ad spend on charity campaigns and other pro bono initiatives. It is a sound commercial model which expands opportunities to generate income. [2] Alex Edmonds’ (Professor of Finance at London Business School) concept, quoted by Emilie Colker (VP of brand and social impact at Pearsons), is ‘to reach the land of profit, follow the role of purpose’.
She went on to explain ‘Project Literacy’ whereby Pearson’s created an alphabet of the practical effects of illiteracy, partnering each letter with a local literacy initiative to deliver tangible business outcomes.[3] Metrics were high with an ROI of 800+%, the sense of purpose in staff members helped reduce churn, nullifying the cost per acquisition of employees. Pearson’s subsequently became thought leaders in the subject, joining literacy discussions at the UN.
Similarly, in April 2016 psLIVE, now MKTG UK, officially launched their Urban Partnerships division which allows brands to create experiences that also provide community benefits and do ‘social good’.[4] Projects completed to date include the creation of a dual direction walk along the South Bank with information about how to keep your heart healthy for British Heart Foundation and London and Partners, as well as the introduction of smart benches which monitor air quality and charge devices using solar energy in Canary Wharf.
Further afield, Biocoop, a French supermarket chain, have created a campaign where the messaging revolves around the environmentally sustainable process behind the ad’s creation.[5] These are a couple of examples of brands acknowledging that initiatives previously bucketed as ‘CSR’ have a wider value, but how do we embed the desire to make a difference into standard business practice?
One option is to adopt a service model where the marketing messaging is designed based on the service it offers a consumer rather than fixating on the business objective. It is essential to ensure we continue to deliver for clients and that the campaigns drive performance, however rather than focussing on hitting specific numbers let’s not lose sight of the fact that business comes from fulfilling a consumer need, or at least a desire. While marketers will not be able to affect the product itself, a communications message that performs a service is far more likely to resonate with the individual.
The creative agency HeyHuman explained that consumers form roughly 14 different types of relationships with brands and place the most value on fleeting, shallow relationships. They argue that brands should move away from the pursuit of loyalty and instead look to give people what they are seeking – a service.
One way we have been trying to achieve this is through personalisation and the ‘segment of one’ as an ultimate form of relevancy. While this is a step in the right direction, it is the service behind personalisation which is the important and helpful element – not merely a clever creative activation which risks making the consumer ask ‘how do they know my name?’
Indeed, a Capgemini study found that while consumers are overall positive about personalisation, this positivity can quickly reverse if the messaging strays into something they find unpalatable and evokes privacy concerns.[6] As 93% of sentiment on retailers’ privacy initiatives was negative, it is dangerous territory for a brand to tread.
Jerry Buhlmann (CEO Dentsu Aegis Network) explained that to avoid this negativity, and the regulations that would surely follow, brands need to clearly outline the limits applied to personal data so that consumers can evaluate the risk compared to the benefit. To complement this, marketers should also focus on the purpose behind our messaging, making sure the benefits to the consumer are clear and real rather than gimmicky uses of data for data’s sake.
Instead, as Jamie Brighton (Strategic Marketing Manager EMEA at Adobe) suggested, we need to do a little more design thinking. Let us design for the experience rather than on a channel by channel basis, for people not for formats. Econometrics are important, however if we succeed in cracking real world behaviours and desires the results will follow naturally
Indeed Nigel Morris (CEO of the Dentsu Aegis Network for Americas and EMEA) pointed out that process, people and measurement in the industry is not keeping abreast of consumer behaviour. We should be meeting unmet needs and using our data to understand how those needs vary based on context, for example how an individual’s location will influence their current interests, mind-set and attention levels when interacting with a brand. This will allow us to design campaigns with a human truth at their core where the execution is tailored to an individual’s real life requirements, finding the human touch in the user experience.
Posterscope has produced some brilliant examples of this type of work in the last year. In the UK they partnered with Santander and TFL to help people know Santander cycle availability in locations nearby.[7] Meanwhile Posterscope Brazil created a Zika-mosquito killing billboard, which not only raises awareness of the disease and kills mosquitoes locally but due to an open source policy also provides the technology blueprint for free so it can be made and used around the world. [8] The huge amount of press attention garnered from this latter campaign demonstrates that making a tangible difference to society energises those within our industry as well as restoring faith in the population at large.
None of these revelations are ground-breaking. Havas and the Drum teamed up this year to introduce a ‘Meaningful Brand of the Year’ award for ‘brands that are gaining business benefit while successfully improving consumers’ quality of life,’ demonstrating there are a significant number of brands engaging in this territory.[9] After all, an award categorisation is the hallmark of success for any emergent planning or activation framework! airbnb were this year’s inaugural winners, underlining the point that meaningful engagement, when focused on ensuring the interaction point between the consumer and the data is as smooth and ‘human friendly’ as possible, can drive phenomenal business growth.
But let’s not stop there. In 2014 The Guardian started to talk about ‘sadvertising’ but rather than just talking about social good to raise brand awareness can we make the campaigns themselves make a difference.[10] Let’s see if we can push this positive action further and use our data to stimulate human growth on a wider, perhaps eventually societal scale.
[1] httpss://
[2] ‘Why Marketers Can and Should Feel Obliged to Do Social Good’, hosted by FCB Inferno on the IPA stage of Advertising Week Europe (Wednesday 4:00-4:50)
[6] httpss://