hand reaching out of quicksand
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Once upon a time, I strayed too far into a digital-only marketing mindset. As a young product manager, I was completely seduced by the potential of analytics. I loved knowing where our buyers were and what they were doing at all times. I was a high-tech Santa Claus, delivering great customer experiences instead of toys.

It wasn’t until I stepped into my current role as a CSO that I realized I was missing the point — or at least part of it. While it’s true that marketers today have access to ever-better tools to understand the efficacy of their spend, numbers are only one part of the story.

For example, millennials are experience-driven B2C buyers. Seventy-eight percent would spend money on a desirable experience or event over a desirable product. Brands that create experiences around products effectively check both boxes. Meanwhile, today’s B2B buyers are influenced near-equally by online research, offline research and meetings with suppliers and buying groups. So why would marketers dump all their spend into one basket?

Marketers should never reach the point where they let algorithms do all the heavy lifting. Yes, data is a fantastic tool, and gives us more insight than ever before about what, when and where people are buying. But algorithms don’t have the intuition to understand how your overall brand experience affects human emotions. That kind of nuance comes only from pairing digital and non-digital intelligence.

Here’s how three brands are finding an effective balance between the digital and non-digital elements of customer experience.

Meeting You Where You’re at — Literally

As somewhat of a kitchen fiend, I spend a lot of time and an undisclosed amount of money shopping at Williams Sonoma. I find myself drawn to both its stores and website because the retailer does a fantastic job helping shoppers navigate fun seasons and holidays, and keeping them involved in the brand’s story. When I visited the site in late January, the hero marquee image showed citrus fruits, which were in prime season in California. On a snowy February day in Chicago, it featured a comforting chicken dish in the brand’s newest cookware.

If that marquee were programmed based on my past browsing, I would miss out on the emotion of the larger brand experience — I might as well shop at a big-box store. But Williams Sonoma loads its hero marquee with a variety of offers, governed by rules to optimize for individuals, campaigns and other, human-driven options.

Related Article: Data-Driven Decisions Need Context

Thinking Ahead About Your Needs

In an economy of choice, shoppers are driven toward brands whose stories align with their own priorities and interests. And when 95% of adults think sustainability is a worthwhile goal and 78% of millennials try to make sustainable lifestyle choices, eco-friendly brands like Patagonia don’t have to work terribly hard to attract shoppers.

But Patagonia also wants to support its shoppers once they arrive in-store or online. A recent search for rain jackets displayed the store’s entire suite of options, but nested among them was an ad for new spring arrivals. Patagonia doesn’t just want its shoppers to find what they’re looking for in the moment — it’s thinking ahead to other moments and parts of their lives.

Spring arrivals don’t just magically appear in the “rain jackets” search results. It’s the result of a human programmer overriding the algorithm to include an ad that’s relevant to Patagonia’s brand story and its shoppers’ longer-term needs. Any brand can capitalize on this ability to tinker with algorithms and results to include excess inventory, top sellers, items with a high profit margin and other story-driven products.

Related Article: Customer Loyalty: Understated and Overestimated

Becoming a Member of Your Community

Few people have strong emotional ties to their health insurance providers, and annual insurance enrollment periods are rarely seen as more than a cringeworthy experience. For more than a decade, Kaiser Permanente has worked to change that mindset.

The insurance provider’s Thrive campaign, based on the insight that people would much rather talk about “health” than “healthcare,” focuses on individuals thriving in their environments. More than 1 million new members have joined since the 2003 launch, and Kaiser was named “Most Innovative Company” by Fast Company.

Why has the campaign existed for nearly 20 years? New prospective customers move to Kaiser’s coverage area every day, and awareness is an ongoing effort that requires multiple channels and touchpoints. The provider does engage in location-based digital marketing, but it also meets people where they live — on billboards, at concerts and in parks via pop-up events. All the data-driven experiences in the world won’t create that personal touch.

If an insurance provider can inspire a sense of empathy and relatability among the public, your company can certainly apply similar strategies. Don’t throw your data analytics out the window — instead, consider the right balance for your brand and your valued customers.