In the previous episode of the GoodTech vidcast, we had consumer historian and humanist marketing expert Jason T Voiovich talk about how our obsession with data is killing our marketing efforts (read the recap here). This time, Jason is back on the show to discuss how marketers can stop dehumanizing their customers and master ethical marketing. 

Watch the recording of the latest episode on our YouTube channel or read on for a short recap of our fascinating conversation. 

People aren’t their Nielsen report

Before we start talking about how to overcome our over-reliance on data in marketing, we need to understand why this is a problem in the first place. 

Jason, whose father worked at an advertising agency in the 60s, thinks that marketers today have forgotten something fundamentally important that their predecessors were aware of.

Since the era of The Mad Men (the advertising mavericks of Madison Avenue in the 60s) marketing has gone through some inevitable changes, thanks to the large amounts of data available to us. However, all that data hasn’t actually helped our marketing efforts. If anything, it has caused us to fall out of touch with our customers (more on this in our previous post). We’ve started using it as a crutch and a replacement for real human interaction – which was common practice in the days of Jason’s father, who would have customers come into his office and live-test washing machines that he was creating ads for.  

“Not everything that’s important can be measured,” says Jason. “People aren’t their Nielsen report. People aren’t their survey results. They’re whole, complex individuals. And any time you’re using data, you’re reducing people.”

The more data we can track, the more we think we understand the whole person we’re trying to speak to – and we couldn’t be more wrong. 

The pitfalls of personalization

Personalization is a marketing trend that involves collecting data and creating user profiles to market to based on data points. The term “personalization” may lead you to think that the practice it describes takes individuality into account, but in reality, it does quite the opposite.

“You’re using technology to reduce a person’s complexity to something that can be measured so that you can produce a product or a service for a very specific person,” Jason says. 

Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it?

According to Jason, personalization ultimately leads to dehumanization. It often gives marketers the wrong impression of their customers, resulting in ads that are trying very hard to be personalized (in the original sense of the word) but fail and end up being completely irrelevant for the user. 

What’s more, personalization fails don’t go unnoticed. After a while, people start noticing that they’re being marketed to – and that’s when personalization backfires. 

“Every time you get a bizarre recommendation on Amazon, you’re reminded that you’re being sold to – and that makes you harder to sell to,” says Jason. “It feels like you’re not being respected and your defences go up.”

These instances of personalization gone wrong can make people resort to browsing in private mode, clear their cookies or even shop at a competitor – which can have a negative impact on the business’s bottom line. 

So what’s the effective – and ethical – alternative?

Humanization: how value-based marketing can help businesses reach customers more effectively

Humanization is the opposite of personalization. It’s a way of doing marketing that looks at the person as a whole. Humanization asks questions about the customer like Who are they? What are they all about? What are they striving to achieve in life? And most importantly, it focuses on values instead of data. 

“People want to see their values reflected in a product,” Jason says. “The Mad Men did a much better job at this.”

People really do care how they’re marketed to. According to a 2018 Edelman study, nearly 65% of customers are more likely to purchase from a brand that aligns with their values and them as a whole person.

“The most recent evidence of this is Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign,” says Jason. As a result of that campaign, “Nike saw their sales and their stock go up because people respected that Nike took a stand that aligns with their values.”

By focusing on people’s values, you’re no longer reducing them to statistics. You’re not dehumanizing them. You’re giving them something that they want to be associated with. 

The moral of the Nike story, according to Jason, is: “Stand for something! Align your values with the values that people have. That’s not reductive.”

Tips on how to do marketing in an ethical way through humanization

So how do we stop reducing people to data and start connecting with them as the whole human beings that they are?

Jason has some takeaways for us – and they don’t involve stopping all data collection. 

“Data collection is a part of modern life – but you have to be more purposeful about it,” Jason says. 

Humanization is about transparency, agency and respect. These are the three concepts that you should focus on in all your marketing efforts.

Jason recommends that marketers ask themselves the following questions:

  • How can we be more transparent (about pricing, for example)?
  • How can we give people agency? How can we empower them? How can we help them achieve something bigger than themselves?
  • How can we make people feel more respected? How can we make sure that we’re respecting their data privacy?

Answering these questions will help you move towards a humanized – and ultimately, ethical – way of marketing. 

If you’d like to hear Jason dissect marketing moves by Audible, Kindle Direct Publishing and Walgreens, identifying efforts of transparency, agency, respect and lack thereof, watch the recording of the episode on YouTube!

If you haven’t yet, read the first part of our riveting conversation with Jason, too! 

Tune into the GoodTech vidcast LIVE every other Thursday at 6:00 pm CET!