Algorithms Are Not The Future Of Marketing, Humans Are

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Algorithms and automation have become the focus of marketing over the last few years, but fear not, marketers, it’s still the human touch that’s responsible for delivering great results for businesses.

Steve Hughes (pictured below) of Mood Media explains why.

Steve Hughes_Mood Media Australia_preview

Marketing tactics are increasingly becoming technology-driven, with algorithms, automation, and data driving a lot of decisions.

However, when it comes to customer experience design and sensory branding, the human touch still has the edge.

Take for example the design of music for retail – this is one area where professional curators outplay machines. More than four in five Australian shoppers (84 per cent) like hearing music when in a store.

According to a study by Curtin University Professor Adrian North, the right kind of music can direct shoppers to purchase.

North conducted research in a British bottle shop and found that playing discernibly French music led to consumers buying five times more French wine.

The music was not designed to promote French wine, but rather turn a 50/50 decision into a 51/49 decision in favour of French wine. Getting this right requires human experts, not machines.

So what does this teach marketers about music as an in-store sales tool that is designed by humans for humans?

Beyond data

It might be tempting to outsource music choice to an algorithm. Plenty of streaming services claim to have data on what your demographic enjoys listening to – and we can’t argue with that. What algorithms don’t do, however, is connect the listener with your brand. Data is a good starting point, but it should not be the lone factor informing your playlist.

Using algorithms and automation is marketing-by-numbers: it reflects your target market but does not optimise your brand.

And that rule applies to any marketing. The difference an expert music curator makes in this space is profound.

Not only can a professional human curator weed out inappropriate songs – whether they have strong language, depressing themes, innuendo or cultural references that algorithms will miss – they can also select music to set a mood.

And part of setting that mood is using the music selection to encourage shoppers to spend the optimum length of time in-store – whether you have a need for speed to increase turnover and keep revenue ticking, or want shoppers to browse at a relaxed pace so they have time to fall in love with something.

‘I’m with the brand’

Song selection is also incredibly important to align with a brand.

In a recent quantitative survey, 72 per cent of participants stated that if a store plays music they like, they feel it is a brand they can relate to and connect with; this figure sky-rockets to 87per cent for millennials.

Curators are not only the experts in music and audience, they also seek to understand the DNA of the brand. They start with the brand image and then select music to match.

To create a music strategy, they ask clients questions like:

  • What is the purpose of the music?
  • What is the ambience of the space?
  • What role does music take in terms of the customer experience?
  • How does the brand want to make their customers feel?
  • How will the music make a unique statement about that brand?
  • What are the demographics of the customers?
  • Is staff engagement a consideration? (Do we need to energise staff at 3pm?)

These questions are outcome focused, directed at setting a mood within the store to optimise the shoppers’ experience.

This can also be adjusted seasonally, for example in one season a clothing range might feature tropical prints, so the curators would introduce tracks which have a tropical feel to them.

As with the French wine example, it’s not a matter of directly selling a tropical trend but setting the mood for customers to be open to buying clothing with a tropical theme.

The current Country Road experience is a good example of that.

All Aboard combines a nautical theme with a weekend getaway vibe.

The soundtrack features the feelgood track ‘Across The Sea’ by the smooth-voiced Falqo, and ‘Take It Easy’ by Purple Disco Machine, both of which, in addition to having marine themes, pulses at a beat that dances the line between laidback and ‘open to adventure’.

Time for Change

The expertise of curators really comes to the fore when it comes to changing the mood throughout the day.

While Country Road has a particular market with a focused playlist, a department store like Myer caters for many different demographics at different times.

The energy needs to change throughout the day and week, as well as during sales periods. To match these changes in energy, we set the tempo and styles of music to change too.

A professional curator will also be able to judge the specific ratio of song to in-store messaging for each different retailer.

See why the human touch trumps marketing algorithms? Some marketing decisions need to be based on a deeper understanding than data alone can give.

So next time you turn to data to create a playlist, understand that data can give you information but it does not understand your brand and your intent.

Every track on your brand playlist should be reviewed multiple times by living, breathing human beings who go through and listen to the song and the lyrics.

An incredible amount of thought and insight goes into this marketing tool, and for it to truly deliver ROI you need the expertise of a professional human curator.

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    Latest comments
  • Craig Thomler 5 months ago

    I appreciate the specific example of music at retail, but think it’s a generalisation to stretch that across all forms of marketing.
    Even with in-store music, I can see ways to move from the ‘music for everyone’ model to allow each individual in the store to access a custom playlist, customised to their mood & selected based on influence on their buying behaviour – learnt over time via algorithmic (AI) learning.
    With everyone having mobile personal devices, why should anyone be stuck listening to the generic tracks broadcast by a retailer? Why not offer every individual the opportunity to listen to what they love – and tracking their purchase behaviour at the same time such that the numbers can be crunched to identify which combination of songs maximises purchase behaviour.
    BTW if you’re still using generic in-store music (the same track delivered to every customer at the same time) – AI can still contribute by crunching your purchase data to identify impacts (or on staff productivity) and is quite capable of screening tracks – or live talk-back – for inappropriate terms.

    Moving past in-store music – every organisation should be measuring all their marketing to the degree possible, and using AI to identify trends and associations that would take humans far longer to identify (if at all). Humans are used for the high-value work of understanding those trends and associations and defining how they should be used – at which point machines can take over much of the implementation process under human direction.

  • Steve Hughes 4 months ago

    Thanks for your comment Craig. You’re right – there are some marketing solutions that can have AI do the grunt work and humans do the in-depth understanding and strategy. But we see time and time again that some customer experience and branding solutions cannot rely on algorithms.

    I am all for using technology – that’s why we have beacon-technology retail solutions and digitised offerings – but don’t believe the outcomes are successful when human involvement is cut out. Only the human touch can perceive things, bring context to understanding, interpret innuendo, and interpret brands and audiences in detail. Technology can’t eliminate human expertise from any element of marketing.

    I completely agree that businesses need to move away from the ‘music for everyone’ model. And while the music needs to be something that a customer would enjoy listening to, the best playlists do more than that. They reflect the brand, represent the ideal customers, are the right pace to encourage the right length of time in store and also highlight products and create the best purchasing environment. That’s more than what an algorithm or personal song choice can do.

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