Engagement in the Age of Automation, an HBR Insight

Marketers spend a lot of money on a lot of digital tools. In fact, according to a recent Gartner survey, CMOs report they’ll spend nearly 12 percent of revenue on new marketing technologies, a crowded landscape spanning more than 6,800 solutions, in 2018.

Such a trend suggests two things. First, that current solutions aren’t addressing underlying needs for marketers. Second, that marketers are hungry for something that finally works.

This is short-term, stop-gap thinking and it’s damaging both customer experiences and brands by turning interactions into interruptions and prioritizing tactics above strategy. This isn’t just idle chatter. A new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by ON24, surveyed the state of engagement and technology in marketing today and found the industry largely agrees. The problem, according to the survey, is that digital technology often gets in the way.

According to the report, four out of five marketers say they value human and personalized interactions over automated, but the digital tools they use make it difficult to realize genuine human interactions. And those interactions count. According to 80 percent of respondents, the human element in a customer experience gives their organization a distinct competitive edge and nearly 50 percent of organizations with high levels of customer loyalty say they are trying to maintain the same level of customer experience across live and automated channels.

The digital tools marketers use today to make human interactions a reality just aren’t built for human engagement. For example, email and social media are critical marketing channels for any organization, but 70 percent of survey respondents say they’re not using those tools effectively.

“Our marketing technologies target people,” says Laura Ramos, Vice President and Senior Analyst, Forrester Research. “But people often play a small role in designing what the systems deliver. Many executives believe they can just plug in the technology and it will magically improve business performance and customer engagement.”

It’s time for marketers to reverse the digital tool equation. They need to prioritize tools that boost genuine human interaction. It’s not that automation doesn’t play a part in marketing today, it’s that it represents a small role in the larger goal of connecting and enabling genuine human interactions online.

So how can marketers make better connections? By taking the time to think about the digital tools they use now and how those tools impact customer interactions and experiences over the long-term. By prioritizing tools that enable engagement, marketing teams can build better experiences that treat customers as humans, not figures in a database.

One opportunity for marketers to scale the impact of human-to-human interactions is through webinars. According to the marketing technology analyst firm SiriusDecisions, webinars continue to be the highest-rated human touchpoint throughout the buyer’s journey. We know a thing or two about webinars, and we know they can build engagement, build scale and build better experiences.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll share more insights from the HBR report, examining how marketers can build better interactions in today’s digital environments. If you’d like to see how you can scale human interactions online, click here. If you’d like to review the report yourself, click here.