Why tech cannot replace the human touch

The conversation at Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference was all about how technology can make marketers lives easier, from improving customer experience to better connecting with staff and customers, but as one marketer put it “technology follows everything else”.

“Whirlwind” might best describe the past week for attendees at Dreamforce, the annual conference held by cloud computing company Salesforce.

This year, the 171,000 people who descended on San Francisco for the event were joined by another 10 million who tuned in online. But beyond the sales pitches and back-slapping, what can the event tell us about the state of marketing and martech?

Tech will enhance human interaction, not replace it

How technology can improve the customer experience took centre stage at this year’s event. However, the idea that technology simply enhances human interaction, not replaces it was echoed by many.

Tom Lewand, CEO of luxury lifestyle brand Shinola, was the first to highlight this. He told Marketing Week that physical touch plays a huge role in the success of the business and that technology alone isn’t a sales driver.

Instead he believes that tech simply supports other aspects of the business.

Lewand said: “Nothing, including technology, should replace personal interaction. Not only is technology not a sales driver, technology follows everything else”.

Stephanie Linnartz, the global chief commercial officer of Marriott International was in agreement. Speaking at the opening keynote session, Linnartz said “technology coupled with a warm smile is a double win” for the company, noting that human interaction will always be a core part of the business.

However, while agreeing humans will always triumph over tech, Linnartz acknowledged technology can enhance the customer experience.

“The challenges are big right now and start at acquisition. We have millions of customer interactions every day. We believe the human experience will always be the heart of hospitality, but technology can certainly enhance it,” she added.

Technology can enable the ‘sustainability revolution’

Sustainability has been a hot topic not only at this week’s Dreamforce conference but in the marketing world in general as brands work harder to reduce their carbon footprint and become more eco-friendly.

Speaking at a keynote session, former US Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore said the ‘sustainability revolution’ is the “biggest business opportunity ever”.

“I’m here to recruit the Salesforce ecosystem to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis,” he added. “The sustainability revolution has the magnitude of the industrial revolution, with the speed of the digital revolution.”

Adding to this was Unilever’s chief information officer Jane Moran. Addressing the masses at Tuesday’s opening keynote, Moran highlighted that at the heart of Unilever’s strategy is building sustainable brands.

“To do this we need to adapt very quickly. We have 170,000 employees in 200 countries, over 400 brands, so you have to be able to scale quickly,” she added.

Unilever chief digital and growth officer, Peter ter Kulve, reiterated Moran’s view by saying the the aim is to reduce its impact on the environment while boosting social impact. This has seen the FMCG giant move from a project-based way of working to a platform approach, using technology to enable people across the business.

He added: “If you can marry your values and beliefs to that of the organisation you work for, you will be more successful and happier. Everyone wins.”

Building brands on the basis of trust

Trust is a number one value championed by many brands who spoke at Dreamforce. But according to one marketer, trust is more important now than ever.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Salesforce VP and chief strategy officer Jon Suarez-Davis said now is a fantastic time to be involved in marketing technology because “we consider trust to be our number one value”.

“Fundamentally, regulations like GDPR are handing the control back to the consumer,” he said. “Brands are built on a basis of trust.”

He added that GDPR has forced companies and brands to “take a long hard look at how they’re managing data”, as well as how they’re protecting data. Suarez-Davis went on to explain that the biggest challenges marketers face is internally, because they weren’t set up to ingest significant amounts of data.

Fundamentally. regulations like GDPR are putting the control back to the consumer. Brands are built on a basis of trust.

Jon Suarez-Davis, Salesforce

“Many companies don’t have native capabilities to handle data as they should, so GDPR is a wake-up call to the industry,” he said.

But building trust goes beyond being a nice-to-have for a business. Dropbox’s senior vice-president of engineering, product and design, Quentin Clark, suggested that “without trust, [brands] have no right to innovate”.

For Unilever, trust is key to building connections with consumers. “We want to make sustainable living commonplace,” said ter Kulve. “What do we have as a company? Trust. What is the opportunity new technology offers us? To truly connect with our people and customers.”

Offering a seamless customer experience

During a meet and greet at Pinterest’s HQ, the social networking platform highlighted how it is trying to help marketers in a different way.

The platform recently expanded its shopping ads, which enable advertisers to directly target Pinterest users who have already ‘pinned’ their products. And co-founder and chief product officer Evan Sharp said this taps into growing demand from users for the site to link more seamlessly with retailers.

“The top user complaint we receive is, ‘I want to buy everything I see on Pinterest but I can’t find a link to it’. This is a good problem to have as a business so we’re increasingly working on helping people buy the things they love,” Sharp explained.

Unilever also sees technology as a way to improve customer experience. Ter Kulve explains: “We previously did mass marketing, but that is talking at people. True friendships, true relationships, come when customers can talk back.”

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