To create value in the digital era, diversity and soft skills are imperative

Ayman van Bregt is a digital strategist, founder of Ignite.cx and co-founder of the Dutch Social Media Academy. As a trainer and coach, he helps leaders and organisations take the next step in their digital evolution by teaching them how to generate insights from social and digital media and create value for their customers. Ayman has written numerous books on digital marketing and social media, and his knowledge is being applied at several business schools throughout Western Europe. He is a core lecturer for the RightBrains Digital Leadership Programme.

How is the rise of digital technology changing how the market interacts with its customers?

If you look at the industry at this moment, the focus is largely on making people obsolete. Everywhere you look, companies are digitalising products, services and customer care. In a way, this is very logical: it makes sense to digitise because we spend so much time on our mobile phones. However, as a result, human interaction is becoming scarcer and scarcer.

What intrigues me about this area is that as more of our interaction happens between screens, the need for empathy and meaningful human connection becomes imperative. Within this vacuum, organisations have a compelling opportunity to reconnect with customers in deeper and unexpected ways by creating real value for them. Customers still demand services, but the services are more diversified and spread across multiple channels and touch points.

In a world where everything is digital and human interaction is rare, it’s important for organisations to think about how they can show they care for their customers. To become valuable, organisations must place the behaviour of their target audience at the heart of their digital strategy. This is different from customer centricity, which focuses on putting the customer first.

As a consequence of these digital developments, how will the role of the marketer change over the coming years?

The World Economic Forum predicted that within the next decade, there will be an artificial intelligence (AI) machine sitting in the boardroom and participating as a member of the C-level team. That’s a very intriguing picture. As human beings, we feel anxiety over whether we can trust these data and these technologies, but we know that we must evolve and invest heavily in AI because we cannot move forward without machines.

These technologies are already everywhere around us. Cars feature augmented reality displays that blend digital and physical spaces. Robots are everyday features of our lives – if not in their physical form, then in the form of chat-bots, smart-home technologies and recommendation engines.

Ten years from now, a marketer won’t have to read any data because a machine will provide it. As a marketer, this means you will be able to make better choices. The trial-and-error part can be skipped to a certain degree, which means that if you manage your data well, then you can accurately predict which groups will behave in what ways. You can therefore anticipate their needs and better service them. From a business perspective, this will likely enable organisations to achieve higher profits with lower marketing budgets.

As machines take over the data side, it will be our job to focus on the human side. Empathy will be a critical competence for the marketers of the future, as their job will be to create a human feeling within digital interaction. This shift demands a different view of skills development. Soft skills are becoming more and more important in order for people to keep up with the demanding change that organisations are forced to undergo.

What role does diversity play in organisations’ ability to meet the challenges of marketing in the digital age?

In the 80s and 90s, we used to segment our target groups. We’ve moved far beyond that. Online, who is anyone to decide who should use or purchase a product? We live in a globalised world – one where anyone who wants to can compete and where customers can emerge from any space. Consumer behaviour has also changed: we live in an instant gratification economy in which people demand products that suit them.

If the way to create value is to develop a thorough and wide understanding of what your users demand and expect of you, then diversity – not only in gender but also in race, religion and culture – will be a critical part of organisations’ ability to reach their customers.

Diversity enables organisations to meet their consumers’ diverse demands and continuously changing behaviour. Instead of mass markets, we will see the development of niche markets. Companies that can meet the demand of multiple niche markets can then build mass demand. This brings us back to the need for soft skills.