Go to any marketing or advertising shindig these days, and it looks like martech community has invaded. Whereas marketers once worshipped at the altar of creativity, we’re now in thrall to technology. Data, AI, and algorithms are the tenets of this new religion, promising sure-fire ways to recruit customers.
Why this has happened is plain to see. Technology has made marketers jobs more complicated. Consumers are now hyper-connected and hyper-empowered, making them more elusive and less biddable. So marketers have rightly turned to technology and data to find and convert these customers. It feels rational, efficient, and scientific.
But something also feels amiss – like the industry has been taken over by Vulcans. Captain Kirk is absent without leave, and much of its humanity and emotion surgically removed.
The problem is best explored through the meaning of ‘conversion’. The more elusive consumers are, the more urgent it feels to convert any interaction into a sale, or something leading to it. This is what we normally mean by ‘conversion’, and what the martech Vulcans logically reason is the only thing that counts.
But is this conversion in the true sense, which involves changing minds by winning hearts, that Kirk would care about? Are we failing to deliver long-term value by encouraging ‘buying’ over ‘buy-in’? In short, in chasing sales, are we losing customers?
There is some evidence to suggest that we are. Consumers increasingly see conversion tactics in a transactional light. Our own research has shown that rational emails do indeed convert better. Consumers often wait for promotional codes before acting on a chaser email or retargeting ad. But this can be detrimental to building value over time.
What, then, to do? A clue lies in the other meaning of conversion – in the Pauline sense. What are converts to a faith actually buying in to? They’re buying into the story that lies at the heart of all great religions.
Storytelling has existed since the moment we became homo sapiens. Their drama, humour, jeopardy, and tragedy has kept us engaged for millennia, and still do – even hopelessly out-dated episodes of Star Trek. They are also fundamental to our culture. Indeed, stories are very basis of faith – after all, nothing ‘makes believe’ like make-believe.
This ‘belief effect’ should matter to marketers. People want to buy into a brand as much as buy from it. And it’s why marketers need to rediscover their calling as storytellers as much as technologists.
Indeed all marketers should ‘start with story’. Brands are much like stories: they have a core narrative and a distinct mental world that goes with it – a storyverse. A well-constructed one is readily recognisable: ‘beam me up, Scotty!’ Good brands function in a similar way – it’s clear what they stand for (and against), what we should feel, and what’s distinct about them. Everything that Kirk understands instinctively.
What’s more, a good brand ‘storyverse’ can also inform how to communicate. And this is where Kirk needs Spock by his side. Once a brand’s ‘storyverse’ is defined, data should be used to tell the right story, to the right people, in the right way – whether that’s through advertising, social media, entertainment, needs-based content, etc. Many brands struggle to maintain coherence across channels. A brand ‘storyverse’ helps pull everything together. It is tight enough to control activity, but loose enough for the story to be told in a way that suits each medium.
The result for marketers is better storytelling, better deployed data, and more joined up activity, leading to the sales against which we are ultimately judged.
So next time your accosted by the martech Vulcans, it worth bearing in mind that Spock was at his best when tempered by Kirk’s humanity: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end” is an insight Spock only comes to with the Captain’s help. So start with story, then harness technology, to truly win your audience.