The CMO's Guide to "Her"

Posted by Ann Breckenkamp on February 27th, 2014 at 10:08 am

As marketers, we should all take lessons from Spike Jonze's "Best Picture" nominee, "Her," when crafting the strategy for our next campaign. This futuristic film features Joaquin Phoenix as Theo, a lonely soul who falls in love with his intelligent computer operating system (OS) named Samantha. Samantha is the embodiment of artificial intelligence—although she is just a piece of software, she adapts and evolves her behavior by synthesizing personal experiences and knowledge, building humanlike relationships along the way.

From the very beginning of the film, Samantha tries to learn Theo’s preferences, needs and desires so she can tailor her communication with him accordingly. She collects data from a variety of sources to inform her interactions: she reads his emails and other computer files, views the world around him through the lens of his mobile phone, and even converses with him about his feelings. Because Samantha is a sophisticated technology, she can quickly process these loads of data and immediately apply them to create very personalized and meaningful interactions with Theo.

Based on Theo’s past behavior, Samantha learns to anticipate his needs in her role as his personal assistant, friend and confidant. She knows when and how to most effectively offer encouragement, tell a joke, or support his uncertainty—and how to adjust her actions based on his response. Through these interactions, she builds and grows a romantic relationship with Theo, using the data available to simulate emotions so strong that Theo is drawn out of his solitude and falls in love with her.

In our role as marketers, these are the same principles around which we must shape every customer interaction we trigger. The capability to learn about each customer and to speak to him or her directly is the foundation of a successful customer engagement strategy.

As the case of Samantha so eloquently demonstrates, this ability is contingent upon aggregating the most up-to-date data from across the entire ecosystem. The ability to develop a personal relationship with each customer—as Samantha does with Theo—is paramount to establishing customer loyalty and ultimately achieving long-term profitability for your company.

'Her' teaches us the value of obtaining, synthesizing and continually updating data about a person to guide interactions with him or her. Samantha is driven to be Theo’s companion, and you are driven to engage your customers in a way that positively impacts your business. Understanding how to effectively adapt your interactions will affect the way customers feel about you, which will strongly influence whether their actions further your end goal or not.

Here’s where it gets more complicated. Not only does Samantha develop a relationship with Theo, but as we learn at the end of the movie, she was simultaneously talking with 8,316 other men; of those, 641 relationships had progressed to the same level of intimacy as with Theo. Samantha's experience with other men gave her access to a vast source of data that significantly enhanced the quality of her interactions with Theo.

Your marketing campaigns should embrace the same opportunity. Identifying historical behavior trends across all your customers will improve your interactions with any single customer. For example, the ability to leverage predictive signals to identify (and update) churn indicators allows you to identify when a customer is on the cusp of leaving your product or uninstalling your app so you can rope him or her back in. Similarly, awareness of big spender patterns lets you spot potential high value customers at the beginning of their lifecycle and cater to their needs much earlier.

Samantha also demonstrates the ease and seamlessness with which a solution must orchestrate personalized interactions on the scale of thousands, millions or more. Throughout the movie, we don’t suspect that Samantha is engaging with anyone besides Theo because her interactions are so on-point and genuine. That’s how each of your customers should feel, too.

Despite the movie’s futuristic setting, technologies actually exist today that can create and manage one-to-one messaging strategies across a large population. It is possible to aggregate data sets from across your ecosystem—profiles, transactions, usage, and so on—and make them actionable for segmenting your customers and communicating more personally. Although today’s marketing systems can’t compose original, ad hoc conversations like Samantha can, there are some systems on the market that can at least come close, by crafting unique, personalized messages from a combination of user-specific variables.

Based on a person’s past behavior, you can highlight specific content that he or she is likely to find interesting. You can also optimize the delivery schedule and communicate through each person’s preferred channels, orchestrating this same series of interactions automatically across your entire customer base. Although it’s not yet possible to have your own personal Samantha dedicated to your marketing operation, you can still make every one of your customers feel like he or she is communicating with someone who always knows the right thing to say at the right time.

Strive to make your customers fall in love with your product or service, in the same way Theo (and 641 other men) fell in love with their OS Samantha. Your love-struck customers will thank you, and so will your business’s bottom line.

What’s the most timely and personal message you’ve received from a company you love? Let’s take it to the comments below.

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