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Marketing – Future of the sale is not in personalization

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I have a special love for making things work and then selling them. My first entrepreneurship journey began when I was 10 (circa 1974). That was also the first time I became a marketer.

At that time, the craze among some kids were 2 things – a commercialized brand of brine shrimp (that brand called it S** Mon****), and magic. I am sure you can guess that toy product. Instead of simply buying those products off the shelf and then reselling them, which I already knew meant no or low profit, I did my own research and development instead. I found out that brine shrimp were related to those commercialized variant, and given decent feed and water conditioning, kids like me could grow brine shrimp and enjoy pretty much the magical pet experience.

Likewise, I learned magic, performed on stage, but also created my own line of magic tricks with simple everyday objects. When my dad was not around, I borrowed the factory sealing machine, laminator, typewriter, mimeograph (the precursor to the photocopier), and packed my own products to sell. And yes, I was decently successful in packaging them, promoting them, and selling them to fellow students. My first foray of marketing began then.

The journey to digital

Fast forward to the 1980s, and I was the DTP (desktop publishing) for Apple, which was practically the inventor of the next-generation of empowered publishing, with a laser printer and a monochrome computer, the Macintosh. From there, I began the next lap of marketing, creating advertising and direct marketing campaigns, and even interactive media on 3.5-inch floppy discs that predated the Internet, for clients in enterprise networking and client-server computing.

Eventually, my marketing journey took me on the pioneering path of the Internet in 1996, launching information and engagement-rich websites for government, enterprise and FMCG clients, handcoding line by line, creating the cleanest and tightest code today’s platforms simply will not and cannot. And that journey never stopped, step by step till today, in a world of CMS (content management system), cybersecurity, e-commerce, and social media.

The tale of 2 views on personalization

So, it was interesting to read 2 commentaries that take on opposing views.

One, an earlier piece in June 2019, by one of the leading consulting firms, McKinsey, “The future of personalization – and how to get ready for it”. At that time, COVID-19 was nowhere in sight, and will only surface half a year later. And at that time and before, the world was crazed with data, analyses, big data, personalization, AI, marketing automation, and more. It was as if as long as there is a use for data in marketing, it would automagically trump any classical marketing campaign or program.

And a newer view on May 2022, way past the zenith of COVID-19, where pretty much of the world has settled on “living with the virus”, takes a more current view. Without giving the juicy bits away, I urge you to read their piece.

Never treat data or tech as more than mere tools

I was never a fan of data-only, or digital-only marketing, and this is a pioneer in all things digital speaking. I know what tech, data and digital can do for marketing and sales. They are tools. But they are NOT gods. To me, a good marketing campaign or program is one that entices the public, and then excites them to BUY. And there is no need for a basketful of marketing or business jargon to describe this – a sale is a sale.

The rise, and then fall of social media, was supposed to be the sign of sanity in marketing and sales. And yet, even today, where social media marketing is perhaps at its nadir, where low conversions, high adspend costs, drastically reduced content reach, and opaque and transient algorithms that are out of the control of customers (the marketers) abound. Social media are owned by some tech giants now, where “monetization” will be their only interest, since they are nothing more than just another profit-driven business. Emerging social media are also more likely not to rise to the surface, reducing their usefulness as marketing tools. The search engines are not any better, since search engines are also now flooded by ads, fueled by their need to, yes, make money. The good old altruistic days of simply providing content, is long gone.

Personalization as a marketing method was one of those “must do” for marketers for a while now.

However, just like social media, search engine optimization and marketing, or the “content is king” paradigm, personalization is just another TINY tool imagined to be far greater than it really is. And now, with data privacy laws biting hard around the world (got to thank Europe for taking the lead with GDPR), personalization is facing nails punched into its coffin.

So as a marketer, you may ask – what then?

Going back to the classics

Marketing is NOT just data, AI, social media, search, or personalization. It is a vast field run by veterans who have been at it since 1500 BC (the first logo use), and much more pervasively with the advent of the printing press, on 1450 AD. By the 1730s, print and outdoor advertising started.

These vehicles, together with event marketing, are NOT dead. They are very much alive.

During the easing up of COVID-19, once malls began to open and caged up people began to go shopping, we helped a client launch direct mail and mall events. And no surprise, both campaigns were exceedingly successful, with actual sales peaking on cash registers.

Our little case study is not unique. More and more people will demand face to face interactions. Customers will want to go places, relax over television or radio music, and yes, read a quality magazine. These are archaic to some new entrants to marketing, but are just as useful, if not more so, especially since media owners are now slashing rates to entice advertisers to bite. There is never a better time to get some quality and classical marketing done, and to get customers to BUY.