What Technology Can’t Change – And Why That Matters.

What Technology Can’t Change – And Why That Matters.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about our lives as expats. She was asking me about how I used technology to keep in touch with my friends and family back home, and whether I felt it was effective.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a prospective client about the PR and marketing channels he might use to help build his new business. Being an entrepreneur, he was most concerned about converting traffic into sales. We also discussed technology at length.

One conversation may have been considered “personal” and the other “business.” I use quotes because I want to emphasize the point that business is personal. My point to both of them was the same: Yes, technology effectively connects us to others and that can be a positive or a negative, depending on with whom and how you’re connecting. On the positive, technology has tremendous – and nearly immediate — power to connect, engage and inform us, and is also making amazing strides at solving some of the world’s pressing societal needs. The work IBM is doing using technology to help control China’s pollution crisis is a perfect example of this.

Conversely, technology – and particularly social media — both have the ability to create a great illusion. This is not just limited to the somewhat suspect, happy pictures and glam selfies we see streaming through our daily news feeds, but includes more serious issues such as the use of real pictures with fake captions, data, charts and quotes. Initially, these tricks may seem rather harmless. But often, such tactics have ‘duped’ people to such extents, they have created and furthered detrimental divides in race, religion, politics and cultures. This is often purposeful. Worse, it is dangerous.

From a marketing perspective, we get ourselves, and our businesses, in trouble when we start to depend on technology — and particularly social media — too heavily; when we start to believe too much in that illusion. When we let that illusion supercede an authentic relationship. The kind of relationship we need to thrive, in business and in life.

And to build those kinds of relationships – whether on a personal level or with your brand – you still need to do the work.

“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” Sydney J. Harris

In personal life, the reason one needs to build and maintain authentic relationships is understood. It is also a topic that we can discuss for days. I think I’ll save those thoughts for a different post.

It is business, however, that people ironically forget relationships need to be just as authentic. I would argue this to be true now more than ever – now, when we are suffocated with so much inauthenticity. Think about it: You’re asking someone – someone you don’t even know — to do something. Building an authentic relationship with that person isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity.

In recent years, marketing metrics have become extremely informative (Note: I purposefully use the word “informative” not necessarily “intelligent”). Typically, marketing professionals are able to pull an extensive amount of data on prospective customers. Profiling prospects – or more likely groups of prospects – used to include compiling basic demo and geographic information. Following the advancement of technology, and social media in particular, companies were able to quickly glean new amounts of information – including what sports teams their customers root for, how many children they have, what brand of dog food they buy, even their online porn habits. Today, particularly with the advancements in mobile communication, it is possible – and becoming easier — to nearly instantaneously track where prospects buy, bank, travel, and walk.

All of the above examples are real, by the way. I’ve advised dozens of companies that have collected a truly incredible amount of information (the above doesn’t even begin to cover it) about their potential customers. However, after reviewing the information, I often will pick one of those profiles and start asking questions like, “What inspires him? What does he fear? What keeps him up at night? What makes him laugh? I know what he does, but who does he really want to be?” In short, when I start asking the questions companies really need to ask in order to build authentic relationships, I more often than not hear the proverbial crickets in the background.

Thereafter, particularly if there are several people in the room, guesses are ventured based on the collected data. But the fact remains the same: No one has actually asked profile #3246 any real questions. So it is not a surprise they don’t have the answers. After all, technology doesn’t ask the right questions; people do.

But those questions are important. They are important because it is the answers to the questions that identify your customers’ emotional triggers. The emotional triggers that make the difference. The emotional triggers that make real connections. The emotional triggers that cause your potential customers to act. The emotional triggers that create the biggest return on your investments. The emotional triggers that create authentic relationships that we – and our businesses – need, to thrive.