Marketing & the human element

The world of marketing is abuzz with talk of metrics. A typical campaign might incorporate search-engine optimization (SEO), automated lead generation and a quantified return-on-investment. The thought of people – not computers – designing all the elements of a publicity push can start to sound like a dream of the Mad Men era.

But in this age of analytics, the human element is still vital to even the most high-tech marketing campaigns, according to experts at Southwest Washington creative agencies. Some are highlighting the role of human insight in their digital campaigns. Others maintain a low-tech approach, as they put long-term performance above the minute-by-minute data provided by digital tools.

Human, high-tech hybrid

“For 99.9 percent of companies, the website will be the core of a marketing campaign,” says Lynn Elyse, account manager at Vancouver-based Gravitate Design, which specializes in digital engagement. “Both a human element and an analytical element are necessary. The reality of the situation is that the two need to go hand in hand.”

To explain what she means, Elyse describes Gravitate’s approach to web design.

“We start out doing a great deal of research and strategy,” she says. “We’ll identify the audience that we anticipate coming to the website: Who they are, what is their demographic, how do they consume media. We look at their behavior, what we can generalize about.”

The goal is to identify the emotional needs of website visitors, Elyse says.

M2 Marketing People“Whether you’re going online to purchase your bridal gown, or you’re an engineer looking for the right components for your semiconductor, every decision has an emotional component,” she explains. “Otherwise, you would not be going to the web looking for a solution.”

This entire process – the work of understanding clients and developing solutions to meet their needs – requires insightful, experienced marketers, Elyse adds.

“To a degree, this is guess work,” she says. “Then the analytics confirm if our guess is right.”

Gravitate recently applied its methods to a portion of its own website. The company’s online portfolio highlighted projects that it had completed. But when potential clients visited, they seemed to come away with more questions than answers.

“We’d get a call from someone who’d seen this webpage and we’d spend an hour explaining our process to them,” Elyse says. “Yet for 9 out of 10 of these people, we were not the right fit.”

Last October, the company launched a month-long overhaul of its online portfolio.
“We poured about 400 hours of work just into that part of our website,” Elyse says. “That’s more than many companies will pay for their entire site.”

The overhaul was driven by human insight: Expert marketers working to understand how they could better meet their clients’ needs. But it took digital tools to show that the investment was well worth while.

“In November, after it launched, the analytics skyrocketed,” Elyse says. “The traffic that was coming to that page was huge. It put us into a new category. It took qualitative work to build the site, and that was the quantitative part – the part that made the president of the company happy. ‘I put X dollars into this project, and it generated this many leads.’”

Still, in an era of instant gratification, it’s important not to downplay the need for digital know-how, Elyse warns. Most people who turn to Google won’t look past the first few results when they want to solve a problem. It takes smart search-engine optimization to land on the first page of an online query.

“I would like to say that it’s all about humans, but if you are not on the first page of the search result, it’s difficult to get noticed,” she says.

Looking to the long-run

Aha!, a Vancouver creative agency that started 20 years as a copywriting firm, provides many of the digital tools that are popular these days, but marketing manager Drew Hall says his company does not obsess over short-term metrics and return on investment.

Aha! does some work in the digital space, with design and social media communication.

“But our DNA keeps the human element in,” Hall says. “We are happy to let other people play in that cutthroat environment. We want to do more storytelling.”

By ‘storytelling,’ Hall says he means communication efforts with lasting consequences. Analytics may serve up great short-term insights, but what about the long-term?

Charles Schwab Investment Management was not simply looking for more online hits when it approached Aha! A relative unknown within its field, the company wanted to boost its profile within the investment community.

Aha! worked with the business to identify its “core values and voice,” and developed brochures, a video, a convention booth and other marketing materials aimed at sharing Charles Schwab Investment Management’s story, according to a case study on the Vancouver business’ website.

Aha!’s decision to focus on stories and connections, instead of the minute-by-minute world of metrics, seems to be paying off.

The company is Southwest Washington’s largest marketing firm, with about 70 full-time workers, and a client list filled with companies including Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Comcast. They are, perhaps, evidence that even the most high-tech firms understand the importance of the human element.

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