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How to balance humanity with digital communications

In a recent client meeting, a cross-functional group from a large B2B company discussed their favorite parts of the corporate culture. Almost all of the examples involved in-person events with real live human interaction. Imagine that! We heard about birthday celebrations, new product parties, family cook-outs and community involvement days. Nevertheless, the conversation eventually turned to technology. We covered how to leverage in-office video screens, take advantage of a new human resources information system (HRIS) and which employee communications apps to use. Can these seemingly opposite approaches (digital and human) co-exist? We believe they can – and must – co-exist for optimal internal and external communications.

As new technologies take off, the question of human interaction is a hot topic of debate. For example, these fascinating articles have popped up from across the globe in the last few weeks:

From the UK:  Can Digital Communications Ever Replace Human Interaction?

From South Africa:  Reaching the Tipping Point of Customer Interaction

From India:  Human Interaction is Key to Digital Marketing

We believe there are several reasons the topic is being discussed more and more:

  • Continued proliferation of automated telephone help desks
  • Increased use of automated chat bots on websites
  • Overwhelming volume of direct email campaigns masquerading as personal, custom notes
  • Broader adoption of retargeting where digital ads seem to follow us wherever we go
  • Real or imagined cases of mobile device microphones listening to conversations and then serving up ads associated with words it heard
  • Reduction of telephone use in lieu of texting
  • Explosion of social media communication
  • More remote working and less business travel

All of the above – and more – is happening and will continue to happen. By definition, technology is taking us down a road less personal. So, as marketing professionals, how can we take advantage of new ways to reach people while maintaining a real connection with people?

While there are no right or wrong answers, here are a few things to keep in mind as you pursue both the digital and human side of communications:

1.  Use Situational Communication: One company recently told me their office attire policy is called “situational dress.” They believe every individual knows what’s on their schedule any given day and will dress appropriately. Shouldn’t the same go for communications? If a circumstance calls for reaching 10,000 people with general information, an e-blast seems fine.  When a sensitive issue arises that benefits from a conversation, then take the time and effort to have that talk. One of the articles above describes studies showing consumers love automated systems when they’re happy and need a simple transaction, but can’t stand them when they’re angry and have a complaint. Design flexible systems that allow for options.  Ask customers how they’d like you to communicate with them.

2.  Intentionally Meet People: Getting out doesn’t usually happen by accident. It takes planning, time and often budget. But, there’s no substitute for personal conversations, learning about others’ business challenges and having an opportunity to describe what you really do and how you can help. Don’t underestimate the power of networking events, conferences or even lunch with friends. All can lead to unexpected outcomes.

3.  Apply Digital Intelligence: We use the term digital intelligence to describe an approach that involves strategic thinking coupled with the latest technologies. Being on the cutting edge can be the best thing (or the worst thing) depending on your target market, what you need to say and the actions you’re trying to elicit. Take time to properly roadmap your digital journey and curate your digital tools.  Plan first, then execute.

In conclusion, here’s another quick story about a recent meeting. A person in charge of information systems at a large insurance company told me about the hundreds of employees dedicated to technology. We talked about the virtues of collaboration software and the opaque nature of artificial intelligence. We also talked about the family nature of their business…as we dined in a large, communal cafeteria where she’d already said hello to a dozen people, touching on a few project updates along the way.

Effective communication needs both the latest technologies and good, old-fashioned human interaction. We think it’s possible to have both by keeping awareness high and by making a concerted effort to have in-person contact when it makes sense. If you agree – or disagree – I’d love to hear from you and talk about it more. Feel free to email me, call me at 216-241-3029, or better yet, just stop by the office!

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