Humans first in a digital world

Been in a meeting recently when the conversation turns to bots? How about IOT, AR/VR, and, of course, AI? McCann Worldgroup considers the importance of human-first tech

Sean MacDonald and Suzanne Powers (global chief digital officer and global chief strategy officer), McCann Worldgroup, on stage at MWC 2017
Sean MacDonald and Suzanne Powers (global chief digital officer and global chief strategy officer), McCann Worldgroup, on stage at MWC 2017

It is universally acknowledged that we are all hooked on technology and perpetually in digital transition. Certainly, as marketers, we need understanding and mastery of The Next Big Thing.

But our pursuit should not be a willy-nilly one, focused, wide-eyed, simply on "could we?". Rather we need to stand back and ask more analytically, "should we?". 

The questions we then need to ask are the ones that are fundamental to marketing regardless of technology: how do we help, inspire, and impact people? How do we make the transactions with brands more personalised, seamless and information-filled? How do we earn the right to be in people’s lives in the first place?

Following those questions, then, is determining what is the best technology available right now that helps us to do all of that? The answer is simple: the dialogue needs to shift decidedly closer to human-first and away from tech-first. We are all (at least as far as we know) humans first.

Our shared humanity serves as the base camp on the long climb to unlocking the ways that brand, products, and services can and should be able to earn a meaningful role in our lives.

Of course, in the Mad Men days of marketing, and even into the 1990s, we needed only to understand the relationship between two things: the brand, and the human. Today, we have to find that sweet spot in a new Venn diagram trifecta: Human, Brand, Technology.

People like technology but how does it affect them?

Obviously, the use of technology has gone from a trend to a core aspect of what we do, whereas our human-first approach starts with obsessing about people. Not consumers, or users or algorithms. 

People, and how human attitudes and behaviours evolve via technology.

In mining data from McCann Worldgroup’s Truth Central [our global thought leadership unit], we also learn to challenge people and their assumptions. For example, did you know that some teenagers who say, "I don’t really send texts" actually send up to 300 a day?

Along with the sizeable 85 percent of people who think that brands can make the world better, a full 41 percent think technology makes us sick. And 44 percent think that technology has distracted us from what matters most in life.

Certainly, in mining the data, we have learned to factor in the reality that each new technology can present a dark side. It’s both good and bad, positive and negative, dissonant and symbiotic.

People are – and ought to be – worried about privacy, security, and control. Some 68 percent think that the mobile internet is developing faster than the ability to keep us safe, and 55 percent say they would like to wipe all of their personal information off the Internet.

But let’s move from dark to light: Given this climate, brands now have an even bigger opportunity to help people by playing to the good, the positive, and the symbiotic.

To that end, we’ve created three key arenas where humans and technology tend to intersect in symbiotic ways to the benefit of brands. They are: control (in an-out-of-control world), curiosity (providing surprise, learning, and growth), and trust (the most transcendent part of building any relationship.)

Laura Simpson, global director, McCann Truth Central; Eman Kellam, YouTuber and TV presenter

Human-first technology is intuitive, of course

In terms of building control in an out-of-control world, take exercise as an example. If working out consistently seems overwhelming, there are wearable earphones with sensors that not only track all your real-time data to optimise your workouts, but also come with a (kindly and helpful) voice-interactive personal trainer to lead you, and manage, your progress. It democratises personal training without the major expense, and gives exercisers control over how and when they progress.

Speaking of human curiosity, and the possibility of artful surprises: Disney has had success with its MagicBands for guests at Disney World. The bands unlock the guests’ hotel rooms, store credit card info, enable park access and ride passes, and have a helpful road map. Also,by knowing the guests’ likes, dislikes and expectations, Disney can also enrich the visit in personalised ways. One example is sending Mickey Mouse himself to personally greet your kids at the gate as you enter the Magic Kingdom.

USPS’s iconic blue postal collection boxes get AI

Trust? Proteus Discover fits firmly in this category. It’s a digital pill that comprises ingestible sensors (each the size of a grain of sand) plus a small wearable sensor patch, and a mobile app and provider portal. 

Once activated in the body, it unlocks never-seen-before information about health patterns and the effects of medication, leading to more informed health awareness and subsequent decision-making. Imagine being able to avoid any surgery or further testing by swallowing a pill!

When it comes to trust, there’s a simple truth: the more data a company asks for, the more their users expect in return. We call this the hierarchy of compensation, and it’s the new value exchange that should help us model our relationships between humans, brands and tech. That’s what we’d call top of the pyramid; transcendent data.

Experiential McCann prototype experience

As we see our role in today’s technology-infused marketing world, we’re tracking the future and making it human-friendly – for people, brands, and technology.

Control, curiosity, and trust, delivered seamlessly in a digital world.  

Now, where’s my bot?

Sean MacDonald and Suzanne Powers (global chief digital officer and global chief strategy officer), McCann Worldgroup 

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