Behind the Scenes: Our Unprecedented Journey Into Making Marketing Human

Blog Post
August 31, 2017

I recently watched the film “Hidden Figures,” which tells the story of three brilliant African American women at NASA, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). These pioneering ladies were truly the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space.  They worked as “human computers” meticulously calculating—by hand­­—the complex equations that allowed space travel.  This unprecedented mission was a remarkable achievement, restoring the nation’s confidence and reclaiming a leading position in the space race with the Soviet Union. 

When computers (the size of the room) were brought into the picture, they were the furthest thing from user-friendly. Though they had extraordinary capabilities, no one knew how to make “the IBM” work. It had to be programmed—and programmed appropriately. That’s where these brilliant women came into the picture. They had to manually teach the computer how to function, and function correctly.

This story reminded me a lot of what The Boutique at Harte Hanks does on a daily basis. We’re on a bold new mission to be human in our marketing. We’re figuring out how to operationalize this mission into processes—and then program technology to help us scale the operations. Here’s what that looks like right now.

Who Is Visiting Our Site?

Much like the work of the women in “Hidden Figures” our current process in The Boutique is very manual. Each day, the team sorts through web traffic data using three different tools, all of which provide different pieces of data that contribute to identifying and understanding who is visiting our site.

Unlike the journey of a lone soul out into the cold, lonely recess of space, our final frontier is welcoming and personalizing the buyer’s journey for everyone who “walks into our store.” The first step toward this end is identifying our visitors (check out more about this mission in my last post, Introducing the Boutique: Why Our War Room Needed a New Name.)

With thousands of hits per day, we meet and look at the data collected and get to work trying to understand who is on our site and why:

  • Are they an investor looking at our financials?
  • Are they a competitor looking at what we offer?
  • Are they a company looking for a solution to a problem they have?
  • Who has a job to be done—and where are they in the buyer’s journey?

Following this, we have to determine why they are interacting with us. We sift through the companies whose visits look as though they have a business problem to solve. Based on the digital breadcrumbs they leave behind, we start to infer what stage of the buyer’s journey they are in:

  • Are they browsing through our leadership articles to get ideas on how to solve a problem?
  • Are they actively shopping for a solution by reading our “What We Do” pages and our case studies?
  • Or are they figuratively standing at our cash register with a product in hand ready to buy?

We are looking at what pages they looked at, time stamps, company size and location. It’s a good start, but only allows us to classify traditional personas. We still need more insight to the human behind the visit.

What Other Context Can We Gather?

Having a basic idea of who is visiting and what stage of the journey they’re likely in is a good start. But to have a contextual, personalized conversation with each visitor, we need to know more. Time to dig deeper and really seek out the “hidden figures” by reading the visiting companies’ press releases, the news and social media to answer questions like:

  • What is the company’s current standing in their market?
  • Did they just go through a merger or get acquired?
  • What are current trends in the specific industry?
  • Is there a new leader in the company?

Every piece of information is a signal we use to triangulate and piece together the human behind the interaction. No signal is too small to track because each signal brings us one step closer to understanding the human we are trying to help—allowing us to further personalize their interaction.

Now, It’s Our Turn In The Conversation

After we have determined—to the best of our ability—whether we are interacting with a browser, shopper or buyer, and in what context they are likely interacting with us, we find and research appropriate contacts within each company, usually on LinkedIn. We then pick two to three pieces from our content library we believe would complement their current conversation with us and send them to the recipients.

Since we are striving to bring the human back to marketing, we tailor each email to each contact personally—no mass emails allowed.

It’s a conversation, and we now have to ask what would we say if it was our turn to speak. The point of our outreach is to provide value to our customers the best way we can.

For example, we saw a company intently reading content around Tony Ulwick’s Jobs-To-Be-Done theory. The visitors read a few of our blog posts on back-to-back days. The logical progression in the conversation seemed like we should recommend Tony Ulwick’s Book, Jobs To Be Done. In this particular case, we did not send out our usual personalized e-mails. Instead, we sent physical copies of the book straight to their office. In another instance, we saw a company consistently viewing a direct mail case study—we therefore mailed out some examples of effective direct mail pieces.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

As we await response (the buyer’s next turn in our conversation), we turn our attention back to the next round of web activity coming in quick, and we start from the beginning again. We sift through more data, try to decipher more journeys, and send more content as appropriate in the conversation. The cycle continues.

Why don’t we automate this process? We will…once we know our process works. But right now, we are still in the learning phase.

An Unprecedented Journey

I know our task isn’t as monumentally important as landing a space craft going 17,000 mph in a 20-square-mile target with the life of an astronaut to consider. But the concept is similar. As NASA once embarked on an unprecedented journey to bring the human back to Earth, we are embarking on an unprecedented journey as well: bringing the human back to marketing. For now, this process is so manual because we are learning how to program our “IBM.” (By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie “Hidden Figures,” I definitely recommend it.)

Tune in next time to hear about the launch of our new channel of conversation. 

Very Humanly Yours,