One of my favourite business quotations has to be “With great power comes great responsibility”

Okay okay I acknowledge that Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben isn’t Peter Drucker or Michael Porter but the core of that statement couldn’t be more true of today’s marketer.

An old friend breaks it down like this.

Marketers really have two tasks.

One, create a brand purpose with enough scale to make a business appealing to many and therefore profitable. Often that purpose is intended to humanize the brand. To create a deep connection and build a relationship. I’ve written previously about how critical brand purpose is.

And two, communicate and reinforce that purpose at every opportunity with each and every individual customer.

Essentially…scale AND hyper-personalization.

We’ve been doing the former for decades. It is only in recent years that the ability to do the latter has become possible.

And maybe its because the tools to deliver the latter are so new, bright and shiny that so many brands screw it up.

Here’s an example.

2 weeks ago a friend had a death in the family.

It meant dropping everything and getting the first plane home.

Now, as anyone living on the Eastern seaboard will tell you, this winter has been particularly torrid. Polar vortexes (who names these things anyway??), snow, ice, temperatures colder than a witches’ mammaries, airports shut down. The works.

Add the rollercoaster of a family in mourning and you have an emotional tinderbox.

My friend proceeded to call her favourite Canadian airline. One known for their friendly service and delivering Christmas miracles.

Explaining that she needed to travel urgently because of a death in the family, the operator put her on hold to check availabilities. All great. All uber-efficient and friendly.

And, here’s where the story takes a weird turn. A turn that, as a marketer, has me shaking my head and whispering “wtf”

She then spent the next 15 minutes on-hold listening to the same childish joke (“Why did the chicken fly across the road? Because it was too far to walk”) repeated over…and over…and over…and over

A small moment granted. But, through the lens of delivering both purpose and individual experiences simultaneously, a fail from this brand.

In this situation, the most human connection would have been to stay on the line with my friend. Talk to her. Human being to human being.

Not easy I grant you but for a brand recognized as Canada’s friendliest airline, keeping that human-to-human connection would’ve been an action entirely consistent with their brand purpose.

At the individual level, realizing that a tool like an IVR is not best suited for all client experiences is important too. Sadly airlines are often in the business of dealing with irate, scared, annoyed, pissed off customers. That’s just a reality. While an IVR is certainly a cost-effective way on managing operating costs, it’s a really poor tool for delivering the type of individual experiences that nurture customer affinity and loyalty.

This is not a knock against this particular brand. They do get it right way more often than their peers.

And I’m certainly not saying its’ easy either.

The world’s most valuable and loved brand created a social storm in 2013 by allowing their customers to personalize individual cans. A tactic consistent with their purpose to spread joy and happiness. And of course what could be more personalized than a Coke with your very own name on it.  Unfortunately, in recent weeks their South African operation has had to issue a public apologybecause the website driving the promotion wouldn’t allow gay customers to embolden “gay” on their cans…but it would let you write “straight”.

Certainly not a deliberate slight from Coca-Cola but an example that highlights just how much focus and diligence is required to drive truly individual experiences today.

So what’s the lesson here?

To deliver on your brand purpose requires making a real, authentic connection with your audience both at scale and at an individual level simultaneously. For many marketers the bright shiny tools of social media, marketing automation and customer-service give them the perception, (illusion?) they can do just that.

Sometimes though, the best tool for the task is a good old-fashioned analog human being.

I do want to thank Michelle for letting me use her personal story in this post. My thanks too to Ashley Konson. His review of an earlier draft of this post was invaluable. Thank you both.

Hilton Barbour: An insatiable curiosity is my defining characteristic. Which is probably why I got into advertising over 14 years ago. I know it aint a real job in comparison to say, a fireman or a nuclear physicist but hey. Anyway, along the way I’ve developed an opinion on a coupla things. This blog allows me to air a few of those opinions and thoughts. I thank you for your visit and welcome your feedback. Published with permission.


  1. Good article. Many a times, in the name of efficiency(in this case IVR) we lose the human touch. The challenge remains – managing the personalization while scaling up.


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