How do we, as business leaders, become more human-centric in a world that often seems driven by the exploitation of – rather than the respect for – the customer? Mark Schaefer – globally recognized author, speaker, educator and marketing expert – joined us on the last GoodTech Vidcast to speak on this topic. 

The Marketing Rebellion

Earlier this year, Mark released his book “Marketing Rebellion – The Most Human Company Wins”. He was seeing a trend of marketing executives telling him that marketing isn’t what it used to be, and that it’s just a feeling of being overwhelmed and falling behind. He says, “When I started doing research, I realized that consumers have always been rebelling against us. In the early days of advertisement, during the first rebellion, marketing was very manipulative. It was lies. Lots of products were making crazy claims, and when the consumers rebelled, it finally had to be regulated. That’s an important lesson: every time these consumers speak out, they always win.”

Mark tells us that the second marketing rebellion is called “No More Secrets,” and was ushered in by the Internet. “All this information in our companies and governments moved down to the people. I remember being in business at that time, and it was absolutely terrifying. It disrupted marketing and businesses,” he says. He uses McDonald’s marketing as an example of the “No More Secrets” rebellion. “I really admire McDonald’s as a marketing company,” he says. “They’ve had some of the most memorable advertising slogans and jingles in history. I remember when they were in that terrifying period, where there were no more secrets on the Internet. People started asking questions like ‘What is in these hamburgers and milkshakes?’ and ‘How come the burger on the menu doesn’t look like the burger I just unwrapped?’” 

Because of all the rumours that were going around, McDonald’s decided they needed to come clean on everything. They set up a website where they answered thousands of customer questions. Mark explains that this ushered in a new age of transparency that we’re still seeing today. “A brand used to be what a company told you it was,” Mark says. “Today a brand is what people tell each other it is. This is the main message of my book, that today we have to reimagine what marketing is about. All the things that used to work for us, just don’t work like they used to. Today, the customer is the marketer.”

Is Technology the Enemy?

Mark sees technology as the enemy of great marketing, when it becomes the focus of the company, instead of the customer. “Technology is the enemy when it makes us become lazy, and when it is used to abuse people, to annoy people, or to cross the line with privacy,” Mark says. He continues by saying that trust is the heart and core of a brand. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a brand. He says that we need to get back to what marketing is about, which is trust. “Marketing, to some professionals, is all things tech. We’re obsessed with our tech stack, and our automation, and that’s the exact opposite of what we want,” he tells us. Instead, it’s important for a company to be human-centered. But is it possible to be human-centered while utilizing technology like AI? Mark says, “You can automate internal processes that free up time. That way the employees can actually see and talk to their customers. I think technology will advance to the point where a lot of this automation will be better able to serve our customers than even humans, and that’s fine. That would be a positive use of technology.”

Breaking Up Big Tech?

There’s been a lot of talk about Big Tech lately. We saw #BreakUpBigTech trend on Twitter earlier this week, and people everywhere are demanding that the leading tech companies dissolve. Mark has written an article on the opposite opinion: why breaking up Big Tech won’t work. We ask him what he means by that. “Philosophically, and maybe even from a legal basis, there could be a case for breaking up Big Tech, because of the monopolies and their power in the economy. I’m not trying to take a legal stand. However, it may end up being politically unpopular from both an advertisers perspective, and a consumer perspective,” he says. 

Traditional advertising is dying out, and there’s a big move toward digital ads. Close to 70% of all digital ads are on Google and Facebook. Mark believes that this is preferred for the advertiser, since it means they won’t have to go to a dozen networks to get their advertisement out. “They go to two places: Google and Facebook. It’s a very elegant solution, and companies love that simplicity.” Furthermore, Mark says that it’s preferable for the customer to stay put on the same platform. “It’s easier for people to move to a different city, than it is to move to a different social network. You’ve got to bring all your friends, all your candy crush stuff, all your Justin Bieber videos, right? People just don’t want to move. From a consumer standpoint, they want it to be easy.”

Even though he doesn’t see breaking up Big Tech working, he still agrees with the mayhem around Facebook right now. He says, “The company has no moral compass. They only do the right thing when they’re caught doing the wrong thing. That is no way to run a company, and we’re seeing the results of that now. Of course people are going to lash out at them.” 

People are lashing out, but what exactly is changing? What lead to the data protection laws (GDPR) in Europe, didn’t seem to make as big of a difference in the United States. To Mark, Americans attitude toward privacy is a mystery. “I often say thank god for Germany, because they’re always the one that sues Google. Germany, or a Scandinavian country, are the ones that say ‘Facebook, we’re not gonna let you do that to our citizens.’ In America, the attitude is generally ‘Oh, you’re giving it to me for free? Oh, cool, whatever.’ There is not a big push around privacy, and there’s not gonna be one until it really hurts people’s pocket books. I think Europe is leading the way, and the US will probably always be in catch-up mode.”

When it comes to regulation, Mark tells us that even industry insiders say we need it. People that used to work for Facebook, as well as Silicon Valley executives, are coming forward and saying that what is happening is dangerous to society and democracy. “They’re saying ‘We’ve got to be regulated, because these companies can’t regulate themselves’. So, I think regulation is inevitable and desirable.”

The Fourth Rebellion

Mark says he loves to dwell in what the next marketing rebellion will be. He enjoys thinking through where technology is going, and if it will be used for good or for bad. “It gets down to the intense, nearly infinite, amount of data that companies are going to have on us in the future,” he says. “What happens when we start integrating our DNA into marketing initiatives? Companies will be able to formulate special diets, food and medicine for us, based on our DNA and our physical composition. That’s an area that could be used for good or for bad in the future of technology.” 

Final Thoughts

In the end, in keeping with the core message of his book, Mark believes that the most human company will win. The company who will use a human-centered approach to marketing that is respectful, sensitive and authentic, will win. He says, “I’d like to encourage people to look around at what they’re doing in their own companies. If you’re doing things that people hate – stop it. That’s where the marketing rebellion starts. Stop abusing, interrupting, and intercepting your customer. And stop violating their privacy. Get out and see what your customers needs are. Get out, talk to them, and see what they’re really about.”

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