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SearchChat Podcast: Making Companies More Human with Mark Schaefer

In this week’s episode of SearchChat, we interview Mark Schaefer, co-host of Marketing Companion Podcast, on what it means to make companies more human. What does he reveal? That the needs and expectations of our customers are seriously far off from where companies think they are. 

We don’t have the needed emotional connection to customers. The current trend is automation with no human relationships. Instead, we need to use technology to connect in a deeper way that is sensitive to the needs, time and privacy of our customers. For B2B, this is even more important: we tend to forget that people are people, not just “business buyers.” 

Mark discusses how going out and personally talking to customers and asking for feedback gave him insights to save his company he would never have discovered through a social dashboard. 

Lastly, we discuss what companies need to do to engage in consensual marketing. We’re all business people, but we’re also all customers. We know what we like, and when we’re being abused. Our world is full of millions of people with ad blockers, and they are sending a message. Join the rebellion. Let’s look at the consumer world today and get ahead of it. 

Mark Schaefer is the co-host of the Marketing Companion podcast, a consultant, an educator at Rutgers Business School, and the author of more than 6 best selling marketing books, including Known, the handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, and The Content Code: 6 essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing and your business. His latest book is Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins.

0:00 Intro

1:10 Mark’s introduction

2:35 Making companies more human

6:05 How can companies shift the mindset towards providing what customers actually want?

9:40 Listening to customers can change everything

14:00 What does this mean for B2B companies?

16:55 Consensual marketing

22:45 Outro

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Search Chat is SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search AI and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? We’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction and unlock revenue for your company. If you think we might have the answer to your conversion problems, feel free to connect with us.

Transcript

Tim Peter: Hi, I’m Tim Peter, and welcome to SearchChat, SoloSegment’s podcast dedicated to all things search, AI, and content marketing related. Who is SoloSegment? Well, we’re a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction, and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter. You can learn more at solosegment.com. In this episode of SearchChat, I have a conversation with Mark Schaefer, the author of the new book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, about how you can use Martech in a way that doesn’t feel artificial but instead creates deeper connections with your customers in a human way. All that and more on the latest SoloSegment SearchChat coming at you right about now.

Tim Peter: Well, hi, everyone, and welcome back to Solo Segment’s SearchChat. I’m here today with Mark Schaefer. Mark Schaefer is the cohost of The Marketing Companion podcast. He’s a consultant, an educator at Rutgers Business School, and the author of more than six best-selling marketing books, including KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age and The Content Code: Six Essential Strategies to Ignite Your Content, Your Marketing, and Your Business. His latest book is Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins. Mark, thanks for being here, and welcome to the show.

Mark Schaefer: I am delighted to be here. Been looking forward to it all day.

Tim Peter: Fantastic. So thrilled you’re here. You and I have known each other for a long time. We met at Rutgers quite a while ago, and the thesis of this new book has excited me ever since we first talked about it at a dinner I think one night last summer all around how you make your marketing more human.

Mark Schaefer: Yeah, I’ll never forget that dinner because you prevented me from making a huge mistake.

Tim Peter: Well, I’m happy to have played some small role in what is a phenomenal, phenomenal book if I could even claim that. But it was a great conversation, and I’ve always been thrilled to hear about how companies can make marketing more human. So can you talk a bit about what that means?

Mark Schaefer: The basic premise of the book is that the needs of our customers and where they are in the world with their expectations is dramatically different from what businesses realize. And I also want to emphasize too that, of course, this is not my opinion of the world. This is based on research. It’s based on data from take it to the bank kind of companies like Accenture and Deloitte and McKinsey and Harvard. And so the big idea is that number one, two thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. And this is a dramatic difference from what most companies think is really happening. And in fact, it’s a dramatic difference from the reality just 20 or 25 years ago.

Tim Peter: Sure.

Mark Schaefer: So a key idea is that the customer is in control here. They’re in control of the customer journey. They’re in control of the sales funnel. It’s just taking on weird new dimensions. The other, I think, keystone idea in the book is that our ability to really engender loyalty with our customers is in decline, and this has been in decline for some time. And again, this is well documented through a number of different research reports. And I mean, it’s just an undeniable fact that we live today in a shop around society. McKinsey did a report across 90 different industry verticals and showed that only 13% of the customers exhibited loyalty, and across 90% of those verticals, there was no loyalty at all.

Mark Schaefer: Now, there was a clue in this report, and I said the reason we’re in this mess is because we don’t have that emotional connection like we used to. Marketing over the last 20 years, in many cases, has turned into a glorified IT department where we’re automating, automating, automating, and we’ve lost sight of the humanistic roots of marketing and what we’re really supposed to be doing. So my book I think has served as a wake up call to say, “Look, let’s see where the world is today and see what we need to do to adjust.” And my strong recommendation is, is that we revisit what we’re doing and try to take a more human-centered approach to marketing.

Tim Peter: Makes tons of sense. Now obviously, we’re a marketing technology company, right? And when you’re talking about Martech, and I will admit when we first started having conversations, I was like, “Wait a second, he’s going to say don’t do the things that we tell people to do,” but I was thrilled by your comment in the book about done well, marketing automation is invisible and in service of the customer. Well, we crossed the line when we implement tactics based on what is statistically supposed to work instead of what we know customers really want, which makes so much sense to me. So the question I would have is, how can companies begin to navigate that shift in mindset? What do they need to do differently?

Mark Schaefer: Well, I think my two big complaints around technology, and I make the comment in the book that technology has become the enemy of good marketing, it’s not because technology is bad or Martech is bad. It’s because it’s so good, and it’s so easy, and it’s so intoxicating, and it’s made marketers lazy. So number one, we’re immersed in our dashboards. We’re just relying on these dashboards, and we’re becoming disconnected from the customer. So that’s number one.

Mark Schaefer: Number two, we’re using technology to set up barriers between us and our customers instead of taking down barriers. We’re using technology to abuse our customers and annoy our customers. Robo calls, who invented that? Since when did corruption like this become a marketing best practice? And so the idea is, and I think SoloSegment is a great example of this, is how do we use technology in a way to connect in an even deeper way, in a way that is sensitive to the needs of our customers and the time of our customers and the privacy of our customers? And that’s how we need to be using technology, in ways that will help reinforce those connections and also in ways that can free up time to be doing the human things we’re supposed to be doing.

Tim Peter: Right, it’s about getting out of the way of the customer or helping them get to what they need more quickly, not about how do you lower the operational costs necessarily of marketing to your customers, right?

Mark Schaefer: Yeah, I mean, I’m a realist, and I’ve worked in big companies. And I know that there’s pressures on cost, but we just cannot lose sight that we are in a new marketing world. And if we’re automating the heck out of our customers, and we’re spamming them, and we’re doing personalization, which is nothing more than slapping someone’s name on top of an email, we’re doing all the things they hate. And so you asked me what would be a first step to move toward this with technology, and I think it’s very simple. Look inside your company, and if you’re doing anything that customers hate, stop it. That’s the first step.

Tim Peter: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Is that what you’re saying?

Mark Schaefer: And then get out from behind those dashboards. Go out and talk to customers and find out what their real needs are, what they’re suffering with, and what you can help them with. And sometimes the things we need to do in marketing today, they don’t fit neatly in a dashboard. It’s going to take bold leadership to really move into this new area. We’re going to have to redefine our metrics in some ways too.

Tim Peter: I love it. No, that’s great. You tell a great story that I think is really interesting in the book. You used to work for a large packaging manufacturer, and you told this great story about listening to customers and how you changed packaging to be more responsive. But it was a very, very interesting story about how it all came about, and I would love to hear you elaborate. Not to give away the whole book, but I mean, it’s one story. I thought it was a good one.

Mark Schaefer: Well, and it’s also funny, Tim, because I’ve been doing quite a few interviews about the book, and everybody who interviews me has a different favorite story in the book.

Tim Peter: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sure.

Mark Schaefer: And the one that you bring up is also one of my favorites because it really taught me a life lesson, and I was very fortunate to work with a very great visionary quality assurance leader for our company. And one of the things he insisted on at great expense was a formal listen to the customer activity where once a year, we had a trained team of three people go out and visit some of our key packaging customers around the world. And these are huge beverage companies.

Mark Schaefer: So I think this year, maybe we did five visits in a short period of time. And we didn’t do all of our customers, and you don’t have to do all of your customers, but we tried to rotate it from year to year. And we were at the end of this long exhausting tour. And we’re wrapping up the last session of our last trip and our last customer. And we were literally starting to pack up our bags, and this scientist said, “By the way, have you seen this research report from the government? It’s saying that there’s this certain chemical that we use in our packaging that could cause health problems.” We said, “What? No, we haven’t heard anything about that.”

Mark Schaefer: And so we investigated it. It was a very early piece of research about we saw something there that… We had time because it was going to take probably five or six years to prove this concept, but if this was proved, it would literally bring our company to its knees. It would make everything we made obsolete because everything used this coating. So we started changing the coating, and some of our customers didn’t know why. They couldn’t understand why we were going to all this trouble, which is it’s a big deal to change something like that. It cost us millions and millions of dollars to make this change.

Mark Schaefer: But sure enough, five years later, there’s a story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that said, “This chemical has been found to cause these health problems,” and we had been two years out of that chemical. And so it literally saved our company. And the point that I tried to make with this story is that we never ever would have known about this through a social media dashboard. We never would have known this if all we did was surveys or we looked at customer sales trip reports or customer service complaints. And literally going out into the workplace with our customer and just being with them and talking to them, we learned so much that truly created an advantage. And that’s really part of being a human-centered marketing organization.

Tim Peter: Well, and it gets to the point of where technology can be beneficial in the sense of if you’re using tech for the things tech is good at, it then frees you up to do these other things, right? It allows you to get that out there. Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense. So what I also thought was really interesting and really I think hard for people to get their heads around, we obviously do tons of work in the B2B space, and you talk a lot about people having an emotional attachment to a brand. I’d love to hear you talk more about what that means for B2B companies. How can they get on board with this rebellion, right?

Mark Schaefer: Well, I think there’s a couple of high level points. Someone asked me the other day, “Well, what about people who are in B2B and B2C?” I said, “People are people. First of all, let’s just say people are people, all right? And we all kind of do the same things, and we all form connections in the same way, whether it’s B2B or B2C.” So that’s point number one.

Mark Schaefer: Point number two is relationships matter much, much more in the B2B setting. We have a much better opportunity to create real meaningful human relations when in a long sales cycle with contracts and commitments that go over years or, maybe in some cases, even decades. So that idea of reinserting emotion into the customer relationship is, I think, especially relevant for B2B. And I think the third high level point is, look, I live in B2B. That’s been my whole career.

Tim Peter: Right, I can’t imagine you’re selling packaging to just Joe Consumer on the street.

Mark Schaefer: Have some corrugated, Joe.

Tim Peter: Absolutely.

Mark Schaefer: So the other thing is that study after study shows that those relationships really do matter because especially if it’s a big contract with high stakes, you want to get into a relationship with someone who’s not going to let you down and someone that you trust. And so that buying relationship and that trust… Look, of course you’re going to have to look at the cost and the terms and the delivery and all those things that go into it. But at the end of the day, absolutely, relationships do matter there. They’ll always matter and perhaps in B2B more than ever.

Tim Peter: All right. Got it. Makes tons of sense. Makes tons of sense. Well, one of the things that I think is also really fascinating, and you know this is near and dear to my heart, this is something, if I can do a quick mini commercial for SoloSegment, we talk a lot about how we do personalization without PII, how we focus on protecting customer privacy because we think that’s where the world is going. You talk at length about this with regard to customers wanting more control of their data and this idea of consensual marketing, which is just a great way to phrase it. How can companies go about doing that? What do they need to do, or what do they need to start thinking about to put themselves in a position to market consensually?

Mark Schaefer: I think it’s a really simple idea because look, we’re all business people, but we’re also customers. We know what we want, we know what we like, and we know keenly when we’re being abused.

Tim Peter: Yep.

Mark Schaefer: And so I think it’s really that simple is… So let me back up a step and talk about, what is this rebellion? Why do I call this a rebellion? Someone asked me, “Mark, every rebellion has some end game, some destination. Why do you call this a rebellion?” In the beginning of the book, even before the title page, I’ve got a picture of this crowd of people. And there’s a woman standing up, and she’s holding this sign that says, “Respect me.” And I think that is in this image in my mind where our consumers have had it, and they want to be respected. They want us to respect their lives and their time and their data and their privacy. And so I trace the history of consumer rebellion. And I make the case that we’re in the third rebellion.

Mark Schaefer: But the important lesson in this little history that I give at the beginning of the book is that for 100 years, consumers have pushed back on the abuse of marketing, advertising, and companies and the manipulation and the lies and the control. And the customers always win. And today, there are 600 million mobile devices that have ad blockers on them in the world. It is the biggest civil rebellion in the history of the world. And they’re sending us a message there and guess what? They’re going to win.

Mark Schaefer: And so now, let’s get back to your original question about customers and their data. Look, we cannot keep violating… We can’t have be having these data breaches and these breaches of trust. You look at where Facebook is today. I saw a snippet of the congressional hearings, and one of the senators, oh, they were talking about Facebook and Libra, this new financial system, right? And the senator said, “Facebook has burned down the house.” All right. They’re done. There’s no trust, right, because of their arrogance, because they’ve just had this flippant and arrogant view of privacy and customers. And eventually, the customers will win, and those strategies will be overthrown in this rebellion.

Mark Schaefer: So my plea is look, join the rebellion. Let’s look at the truth. Let’s look at the reality of the consumer world today and get ahead of it because they’re going to win. And the companies that are ahead of this and start marketing in a more enlightened and compassionate way, they’re the ones who are going to thrive and survive.

Tim Peter: Makes total sense. Full disclosure, Mark, you’ve been an advisor to us for some time and a friend of the family. And I mean, I think you’re exactly right. So much of the way we think about privacy, so much of the way we think about what customers expect is based on that same idea that people want to know that their personal information is personal, right? So it makes tons of sense. I’ve said for some time that GDPR exists because marketers did the wrong thing. We did this to ourselves, right? We have no one to blame but ourselves. And so hearing you talk about it, hearing you rally people around this idea of making sure we’re thinking about when we’re doing personalization, we’re thinking about a person. And when we think about marketing, how do we make it more human is just such an important message.

Mark Schaefer: Thank you.

Tim Peter: And I really welcome it. So I really want to say thank you to you for being here today. If listeners want to find out more about you and The Marketing Rebellion and all the other great work you do, where can they do that?

Mark Schaefer: That’s quite easy since nobody’s going to remember how to spell Schaefer. You can remember businesses grow. If you can remember businessesgrow.com, that is me. And you can find my blog. You can find my podcast, The Marketing Companion, and you can find my books and all my social media connections. And I’d love to hear from your listeners and stay in touch with them.

Tim Peter: Fantastic. Mark, before I let you go, I have to say, you said no one will ever remember how to spell Schaefer. My last name is Peter, and you’d be amazed how many times people have trouble with that. They ask me, “How do I spell it?” I always say, “P as in Peter. E as in-

Mark Schaefer: Peter.

Tim Peter: … Peter. T as in Peter.” So yes, I imagine Schaefer might throw people for a loop from time to time. Well, Mark, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. You have a great rest of the day, and I’ll look forward to talking with you soon.

Mark Schaefer: Thank you, Tim.

Tim Peter: All right, bye now. SearchChat is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment is a technology company focused on site search analytics and AI driven content discovery to improve search results, increase customer satisfaction, and unlock revenue for your company. SoloSegment, make your search smarter and learn more at solosegment.com. If you like what you’ve heard today, click on the subscribe links you can find at solosegment.com/podcast, on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, or Spotify or wherever fine podcasts can be found. You can also find us on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/company/solosegment, on Facebook at facebook.com/SoloSegment, on Twitter using the Twitter handle @solosegment. Or you can drop us an email at info@solosegment.com. Again, that’s info@solosegment.com. For SearchChat, I’m Tim Peter. I hope you have a great rest of the week. Thanks so much for joining us, and we’ll look forward to chatting with you next time here on SearchChat. Until then, take care everybody.

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    Tim Peter is the Senior Advisor at SoloSegment. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. SoloSegment uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies. SoloSegment provides analytics that improve site search conversion and machine learning technologies that improve content effectiveness.