A case for handing the marketing script back to humans
A view from Craig Mawdsley

A case for handing the marketing script back to humans

Amid the relentless pursuit of uniformity and automation, some brands are recognising the value of human intelligence to their marketing.

I’ve realised that there are two ways to approach marketing these days.

Many bet on systems. And systems are good. They help you scale. If you’re delivering a service to millions of customers, or have a big organisation that does a lot of things, then you set up a system and get everyone to follow it.

The thing you need from your people is compliance. They learn the system, they stick to the system. This approach enables you to centralise your intelligence, investing in relatively few people whose big brains can devise and manage the right system.

Then you can hire lots of other people whose brains you don’t need to test very much. They follow the script in the call centre, or go through the right steps at the right speed at the checkout.

You can trust Amazon to have found you the best price. Systems work. But there’s another way. Less discussed. Less fashionable. But perhaps more compelling.

Training is just about how to follow the script. It’s great for your brand and for your customers, because you can eliminate variability.

The brand turns up in just the same way wherever and whenever it is encountered, which is kinda what brands are for, right? To give people the promise of predictability. People get their lunch from Greggs instead of the mom-and-pop sandwich bar next door because they know what they’re going to get, not because they think it’s better. Turns out Cilla Black’s TV success in the 1980s was a blip – people don’t actually like surprises.

And we all know the endgame. It has been discussed and written about endlessly. Your system becomes an algorithm and you don’t need people at all. The whole thing becomes automatic. You just give Amazon your bank account details and stuff turns up at your house. Books, groceries, takeaways, clothes, TV sets, furniture, anything. You don’t need to ask, because the system has learned what you want, when you want it. And you can trust Amazon to have found you the best price. Systems work.

But there’s another way. Less discussed. Less fashionable. But perhaps more compelling.

I visited one of my clients recently. They work in a category that their competitors are making ever-more systems-driven. But they have made a different decision. Instead of investing in systems, they’re investing in intelligence. Not the artificial kind. The human kind.

I listened in on calls that would have been scripted and systematic elsewhere but here were resolutely human and off-script. They took no longer than systems-driven calls. But they felt different. And the results were very different.

I spoke with their people about how they made decisions about what to do with the prospects and customers they spoke to. And they talked to me about teamwork and gut feel. The decision-making that comes from years of experience and an understanding of people as human beings, not as accounts or risks.

It wasn’t simple for them to get to this point. It involved boldness and risk-taking. But they’ve done what great human organisations do, by pushing decision-making as close to the customer as possible. They’ve recruited intelligent people and created a workplace where their intelligence is used.

Their training isn’t about compliance, their training is about flexibility. Great people come to work for them not because they pay them more (although they do pay a bit more), they work for them because they treat them as human beings, ask them to use their brains and involve them in the business.

As a result, their marginally higher cost base is more than offset by industry-beating customer loyalty, and profitability results.

Great people come to work for them not because they pay them more (although they do pay a bit more), they work for them because they treat them as human beings, ask them to use their brains and involve them in the business.

I’m not dumb or Canute in the face of technology. I know what’s possible and what could be made possible. It’s just that I’ve realised there is another way, which doesn’t get discussed enough.

So what kind of marketing do you want to do? Do you believe in systems and algorithms or do you believe in people and intelligence? Both work. It’s a choice. But when you make it, reflect on the fact that you’re creating a bit of the world through what you decide. I know what excites and inspires me more.

Craig Mawdsley is joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
@mawdsleycraig