Brands need more empathy in the age of MarTech



Last week, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, and spent an hour unsubscribing to promotional emails.


For many people in today’s digital age, providing your email to companies is considered a relatively low-stakes quid pro quo exchange. I frequently gave out my email to unlock discounts, download a white paper, or simply complete the online registration process.


Although I had permitted these companies to email me, I did not anticipate that it would open the floodgates to endless sales solicitations. Over time, I realized the one-time 20% discount wasn’t worth the tolerating of such callous marketing practices. Instead of being delighted by the “personalized weekly savings” or “VIP membership card - just for you” offers in the emails; I just deleted them, unopened, whenever they arrived in my inbox.


What was once a fair exchange had turned into my trust being taken advantage of, something akin to waking up every morning to strangers crashing on my living room couch. The inundation of emails felt like an invasion of my personal time and space; it was difficult to accept that these brands valued customer relationships as opposed to making sales. The scales had tipped, making the barrage of emails too much to handle.


Today, waking up to a relatively empty inbox was a strange but welcomed sensation. However, my optimism was brief—throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer number of marketing disruptions popping up, from mandatory pre-rolls on Youtube, to screen takeovers on websites, to ads scattered on my social media feeds. Ads are everywhere, inescapable, and highly disruptive.


Being a consumer in today’s modern world is, frankly, a frustrating experience. Thanks to apathetic practices, we’ve been cued to be annoyed, resulting in a societal rebellion against marketers. The proliferation of ad blockers, subscription to ad-free platforms, and opening of email accounts reserved for promotional spam are all attempts by us to avoid marketing as much as possible.


When did companies learn to behave like this?


The boom of marketing technology in the past decade—from 150 companies in 2011 to over 5,000 today—has transformed the industry landscape. Ads are so accessible, cheap, and seemingly easy nowadays that it’s pushed companies towards the belief that marketing is just data and clicking buttons. This belief also plants a mindset in marketers that unless you keep up with the MarTech trends of AI, optimization, and targeting, you will be left behind.


There are many benefits of MarTech, such as the ability for brands to interact efficiently with customers or target specific demographics. However, marketers need to realize that they are losing the opportunity to connect humanly and develop lasting customer relationships with every robotic, transactional interaction.


Companies also need to understand and accept that investment in MarTech is just an investment into tools and utilities. Algorithms are only sets of data inputs put through a mathematical formula; it is statistics and probabilities. MarTech is not an investment in the art of marketing.


The result of overreliance on MarTech? Canned, bland, and uninteresting marketing. At worst, it has the effect of turning people away from your message because you have become merely an annoyance. And it’s a challenge to unwind the effects of alienating thousands of customers with uncreative, bothersome marketing that has eroded trust.


Once brands accept how customers are actively blocking marketing, they'll realize that to succeed, they'll need to consider what marketing should be and what their customers want. Brands don’t need more MarTech; they need empathy to complement the technology that augments marketing in making the customer experience faster, more personalized, and more efficient.


Being empathetic, at its most basic level, is about being attuned to what customers want, and telling compelling stories that reflect that. It’s not the brand’s why it’s our customer’s why.

More specifically, it’s about improving the customer experience by genuinely understanding their values, needs, and desires. You should be using digital tools to arm yourself with qualitative and quantitative insights on customers feel about your brand, and what they find meaningful and valuable in life. Then, you can customize customer journeys, whether it's through ad campaigns, social media, or experiential marketing efforts, that align with their identities and appeal to their desire for meaning.


Then, instead of alienating your customers with spam, lead funnels, and disruption, make your marketing values-based so your customers will actively seek out and enjoy the branded materials you’re delivering because it’s worthy of their time and attention. You now have the power to create content that makes your customers pause, think, and feel. And with that comes their trust in your brand.


Human artistry that delights us, entertains us, and moves us is yet to be imitable with technology; for now, it is still the human mind that will provide creative breakthroughs and reach people emotionally on a human-level. It is the human touch that is empathetic, and brands need to augment MarTech with an empathetic approach to be successful and stand out from the noise.