Data can inform, but does not replace one-on-one exhanges

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Ten years ago, I had a great relationship with my bank teller. I knew her sons' names, noticed when she got her hair cut and told her about my efforts to save for a new car. Today, I visit 24-hour ATMs, use direct deposit, make automatic bill payments and receive automatic e-mail alerts if my balance hits below my preset limit — all without speaking to anyone.

While my days of free coffee and casual conversa­tion are gone, I'm giving the bank a lot more informa­tion about my financial goals and needs. In return, I expect them to contact me if a regular check hasn't been deposited, if the charges to my card start to follow a suspicious pattern or if they build a new ATM in my neighborhood. In fact, I — like most other consumers — now have much higher expectations for service. The availability of so much data has put the onus on marketers to respond quickly with compre­hensive solutions and appropriate messaging.

Financial institutions are not the only ones who have seen a radical shift in the level of regular com­munication that is expected between a brand and a consumer. Through personalized preference pages, any retailer or media outlet is able to customize the experience and monitor the behavior of users on their site. Membership to a rewards program or registration to an e-mail newsletter instantly triggers the expectation of regular dialogue.

The pace of these interactions is increasing as well. Watch a 16-year-old wait for a video game or Internet browser to respond to their click of a button, and you will get a sense of how accustomed the next generation has become to wanting instant, automated service.

But the industry still has some distance to cover. Marketing departments modify tone, launch user contests, send regular e-mails, build social network platforms and monitor the chatter across the blo­gosphere — all under the guise of “conversational marketing.” Even though the term conversational marketing has been applied to several practices in our industry, none of them actually resemble a true back-and-forth exchange with consumers.

Targeting is still an essential guessing game that uses mathematical algorithms to predict behavior. It creates the illusion of instant personalized response in every transaction. A consumer may get what they need out of this — marketers are missing the oppor­tunity to exchange ideas with the very people who are going to drive their brand forward and keep their businesses afloat by buying products.

Take a closer look at the demographics of your so-called brand ambassadors — your elite, preferred customers. Are they truly representative of your core audience? Do they also represent the people you want to do business with in 10 years? The last set of people is the most important one with which to schedule genuine chat.

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