My first job out of college was at a greeting card company. I was 23 years old and in charge of a third of the new product this $40 million company was producing. I was also single and without kids, so it was especially ironic when they asked me to launch a baby book line. You know, the books where you write down everything your child does, tape in clippings of hair and photos and generally track all of your baby’s first few years of life.
I didn’t know the first thing to do. So, I called all the women I knew who had young children, and asked them to bring their baby books and come talk to me. It was a revelation on two fronts. First, I learned everything I needed to know about how to make a better baby book, and second, I learned—by accidentally conducting a focus group—that getting to know your customers was a good thing.
Over the years, I learned about research and marketing. I became much more sophisticated about all of it. I learned the language of marketing. I learned its habits and rituals; and with digital marketing, I learned how to measure, monitor and optimize everything. It’s become more abstract, measured and scaled, but I don’t know that it’s yielded a better quality of work.
Right now, we live in the age of optimization and we are moving into the age of machine learning. In this era, the algorithms will get smarter and will learn to anticipate our preferences better than we can predict our own. We’ll be able to put 1,000 elements in and the system will optimize the combinations perfectly to the individual preferences of our audience.
But if our 1,000 elements are junk, then all we’ll get out is junk.
I do not think that we’ll get to the point where the machine can surprise us with something new. That leap of insight is an incredibly complex set of mental processes that seem to be one of the most fundamentally human of acts. We are also learning that it is a social act, which is upending centuries of mythology about lone inventors working for the “Eureka!” moment in their labs and studios.
There is perhaps no better way to get to these moments than sitting and talking to people; people from all walks of life; people we are trying to serve with our inventions and creations; people who like look us and nothing like us; people who do and don’t speak our language; people we like and dislike. We have to sit and listen and dialog with them all. Otherwise, we will not have the breakthroughs.
We like reading inspiring stories about the Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world, but the truth is that they were standing on the shoulders of others, having conversations, watching how people live and interact, and then testing and iterating furiously in order to make their leaps.
We have to do the same. We have to get to know the people we are making stuff for, and we have to get to know them personally. We’ve gotten too distanced, too removed, too professional. The challenges in business today are too big for a single message, and we’ve developed too much of an ‘us versus them’ stance going across multiple sectors of society.
It’s time for business to get personal again. It’s time for the C-Suite to know the names of their consumers. It’s time for corporate communication to be a “conversation with” instead of a “message to” people. It’s time to have a relationship that is not mediated by the media. We call this Personal Marketing, and it is our mission to help companies and people connect again in a more human way. We want to see the trust rebuilt, the cynicism diminish, and to help usher in a renaissance in relationships. We think conversations and stories are the keys to this.
We are unveiling a new site and new marketing products over the next weeks and months that take some significant steps in this direction. It is an exciting time to be in business, and it is an exciting time at SMACK. We are partnering with companies who are looking for a new and better way to connect with the people they serve. We are excited about these brands who are pioneering a new way together with us. We think Personal Marketing is the way forward.
Look for some new announcements in the next couple of weeks. We can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on with you.