The Human API

The human application programming interface (API) – a marketer’s nirvana, enigma or simply too dangerous to even talk about?

Wouldn’t you love to know what an individual is reading and reacting to online? The irony lies in putting our resources into developing marketing technology that is more human-like and perceptive, when we already have the technology to tap the actual source, humans.

Maybe, we should be putting that money to work on developing Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) technology, commonly used in polygraph testing or psychological research, into a wearable with wrist sensors to measure human emotions. It does so by measuring the electrical conductance of the skin – i.e. how much micro-sweat is present and determines simple emotions such as whether you are calm or excited. What might that tell you if your test subject or more broadly, your segmented audience was watching one of your marketing videos?

My interest in the topic was peaked once again during our recent Adobe Summit EMEA conference, during which Brian Solis talked about the importance of marketing the customer and not the channel, and David Shing sharing why it’s important to tap into the behavior of humans in the wild. The common theme in those presentations is the focus on the customer, not brand products and services or the number of channels you’re trying to cover.

The human API is, theoretically, the ultimate data set that will disruptively innovate how we market people … well, in truth, how we make people the product of our efforts. The human body is your data set, not click through rates or impressions, or how long a visitor stays on your website. If you want to know the answer, get it from the source.

Make People The Product Of Our Efforts

All marketers know that the influence of family and friends is the most effective deciding factor in what people buy. Yet, we don’t market to capture that influence. We market to compete with it. The sober fact is that issue is the same from an entrepreneurship point of view as it is with a brand’s own employees.

The marketing of Millennials, every marketer’s current paradox, is a great example of the dilemma and was discussed at our recently concluded Summit. In #MillennialMarketer Live Chat With Brian Solis, Brian stated, “Marketers want to connect with Millennials, but this tech-savvy group is challenging many to question their approach, engagement methods and marketing strategies”. They are changing the game and we aren’t keeping up. We haven’t tapped the human API for the digital DNA i.e. data, of the Millennial to understand their expectations and reactions either as a customer or an employee.

The issue comes down to this: you have to build the customer product where the objective is to influence them to the point where they trust and value your advice, in the same way they do friends and family. Your employee advocates and evangelists must invite themselves into the inner circle of trusted family and friends, that the customer will listen to, and value the advice given. Then, you can sell brand products through the influence of your employee advocates and evangelists. However, that is only the first step and a relatively minor one at that.

The Customer Journey

The rest of the story lies in how we measure the progress we are making in building our customer product. Our leading edge marketing effort is bound up in defining the customer journey and performing touchpoint marketing, at each point and channel engagement opportunity. Today, we personalize and optimize by sending an email or an online offer/advertisement based on what we know of the journey they have taken in the past, coupled with the latest millisecond of data describing the extension of that journey today.

We are reacting and trying to make it effective by including that last millisecond of insight, that might convert them into a buying customer. We develop marketing tech that will let us gather, process and analyze more and more data of the customer’s online and offline behavior, so we can gain actionable insight into predicting where he/she might go next and what they might do.

We are in a tail chase with the customer looking for the breadcrumbs they leave to drive our marketing effort. The futility of that is incredible.

The good news is that there is a way to regain the upper hand at marketing the customer. That success lies in sharing the initiative with them. Let’s face it, they have the data and we want it. Right now, we take what we can get or what we can take without asking such as location tracking on the smartphones we sell them. Oh, we give the customer the ability to turn it on or off, we just don’t tell them it’s enabled when they buy it and then bury the setting under a stack of drop down menu options, so that it’s near impossible to find – that’s old school marketing.

The Human API Revisited

Why not make the customer one of your products and invest in them? You want their biometric data? Smartphones can already measure things like heartbeat, pulse, the number of steps you take every day and more. Every smartphone has a high definition camera from which you could see and evaluate facial expressions as they read one of your ads. You may not like the answer, but it’s the bottom line truth. It will certainly give you as the brand a clear direction to take in improving your marketing message, rather than iterating and testing message after message, until you achieve the web traffic you seek… which may or may not prove that your campaign is working.

The human API is a marketing technology marriage with the medical technology that already exists today. Brain scans reveal human emotional states, as well as brain stimulation in response to what is being observed. Heart, pulse rate and sweat on the body reveal truth or deception, along with facial expressions.

The enigma we create is one of invasion of privacy. The answer to that is to give control of the on/off switch to the customer, as well as incentivize and motivate the customer to become a brand product and pay them for the data.

The other lack of vision we have as marketers is the failure to educate the general public about wearable, medical and mobile technology, that could be used to collect data via an API with the human body. A recent eMarketer post poses the question, “Do Consumers Even Know What They Want from Wearables?” The percentages and statistics are quite revealing in how poor a marketing job we have done.

Yes, the human API is being exploited even today. Retail uses facial recognition and body scanning to provide personalized services in store. Near Field Communications (NFC) talk to your smartphone and present ads and offers or allow you to make wireless payments. However, note the irony here. We take what we want so we can sell products. We do not productize the consumer.

There is a veritable marketing goldmine in productizing the consumer and offering the service to the less visionary brands, in addition to building your own customer base with people that are loyal to you – because you treat them right, as they become the “friends and family” ambassadors of your brand to other people.

What do you think? In our new customer-centric strategies, are we truly trying to create a great customer experience, or do just enough to get the customer to buy a product or service? I say we need to go all in.