In an era of algorithms, ideas are still the multiplier

As one of the original Mad Men on Madison Avenue, David Ogilvy once famously said, “You can’t bore people into buying your product.”

It’s a sentiment that remains true today whatever you’re selling. Whatever you may think of the political consequences, there’s little doubt that both Trump and Brexit have shown us that people are hungry for ideas more than facts.  Why?  Because while facts may be accurate or prove a point, they often do not inspire.

Storytelling and humanising ideas does inspire.

You can sense the excitement in the communications industry at the prospect of enhanced targeting. Programmatic media buying. Social CRM. Marketing automation. They are all radicalising how we find our audience.  I, for one, wholeheartedly agree.  The ability to accurately target based on a set of well-defined criteria and observable behaviours is literally what 1:1 marketing-dreams are made of.  Finally, we’re able to fulfil those ambitions of the 90’s and accurately target individual customers with highly relevant messages.

It is transforming the way we talk to existing customers. But more importantly, it’s revolutionising the way we target and talk to prospects.  The opening of data sets from Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and others means we have access to literally hundreds of data points to make audience selections.

Then add the possibilities of programmatic media buying – where we buy actual audiences, rather than guesstimates of who reads which media – and suddenly prospect marketing becomes extremely exciting.

Ironically, it means prospect data can now be more useful and accurate than customer data.

Truth is, existing customer data can be out of date, of poor quality or key fields can be left unfilled.  In contrast, prospect data supplied by DSPs and social media partners is well structured, fresh and with multiple fields to choose from.

Crucially, that has significant consequences for marketing strategy.

For years, brands with growth ambitions have set themselves the task of acquiring new customers.  Yet the long-learned wisdom of 1:1 marketing told us it was always cheaper to cross-sell to an existing customer than try to find a new one.  And that was true - particularly when you needed to buy lists, send expensive mail packs or were using telemarketing.

But now, acquiring new customers is easier and cheaper.

While the world of marketing automation is complex and jargon-tastic, there’s little doubt tools such as Adobe’s Audience Manager and Media Optimiser and Campaign can greatly improve prospecting. They’re external facing. They have a relatively low impact on existing IT infrastructure. And they are quick to deploy.  All of which means you can quickly recoup your investment by delivering more campaigns, faster, with more accurate targeting, and without relying on customer data.

So back to the quote from David Ogilvy.  If it’s now much easier to reach your audience, surely marketing success is a given? Well, no.

It’s easy to become seduced by technology.  Believing because we can find people more cost-effectively that the results should be guaranteed.  The fact we can measure everything online makes that even more tantalising. We finally know precisely which parts of our marketing are delivering.

But there’s one crucial missing piece. Insightful, meaningful creative.

Because finding people has only ever been part of the story.  You still need to win them over.  And, in world of constant marketing noise, that’s never been more important.  Programmatic marketing and Social CRM without engaging creative is akin to finding the hottest person at a party and standing by their side, hoping they’ll magically find you attractive.  From personal experience, I know that doesn’t work.

You need to start a conversation, build a rapport, a connection that fits your brand.  And in a way that fits the medium.

There’s no doubt this is a golden time for 1:1 marketing.  The vision of being able to talk to millions of people as individuals with targeted messages has never been more real.  And we’re able to deliver those messages quicker and more cost effectively than ever. Having found our audience, we still need great ideas so we can take advantage of that situation, talk to them in a human, engaging way.

But even as we do, it’s critical to remember still you can’t bore somebody into buying.  Today we call it humanising the algorithm. I’m pretty sure David would approve.

The writer is Jason Hill, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy & Mather Singapore.