The Human Touch

Blame it on Hollywood. So many people have seen science-fiction movies about robots taking over the world that they’ve started to believe it’s happening. Many workers are worried that automated systems will soon take over their jobs — and leave them no role in a tech-driven economy.

This kind of hysteria is best reserved for the big screen. Humans have nothing to fear from machines.

Automation and algorithms are impressive, but computers can’t compete with the human ability to think creatively or empathize. Plus, using technology to streamline tasks and improve efficiency can help workers offload mundane tasks and focus on more creative endeavors.

For those of us old enough to remember, just think about how long it once took to create mix tapes and burn CDs. Thanks to music streaming services like Spotify, we now have access to personalized mixes at the touch of a button, 24/7.

We also live in a world where smart fridges remind us to go on grocery runs. Thanks to General Electric’s Milky Weigh, a programmable scale sends users updates when milk is running low.

Automation has given us more time — and mental energy — to spend on family, friends and our careers. It’s the same in the workplace.

Technological advances have always produced concerns among workers about their continued relevance.

Consider the electronic spreadsheet. When it was first introduced in 1979, accountants panicked. People were scared of losing their jobs to software that could complete calculations almost instantaneously.

Their fears were unfounded. From 1979 to 1989, the number of jobs in the accounting industry nearly doubled. With technology speeding up bookkeeping, firms developed new services to offer their clients.

Other industries have gone through similar transformations. Companies like RetailNext and ShopperTrak are measuring customer preferences through cell phones by recording how long consumers stop and look at particular displays.

Automation is also helping companies retain their customers. Thanks to textual analysis software, for example, companies can study chat logs from their service representatives to identify customer feelings — and then build systems to keep them happy.

The art of people-pleasing can’t be achieved without people.

None of these services are replacing humans. Quite the opposite, in fact. Automation has allowed marketing companies to develop more content in less time and for less money.

As mundane tasks increasingly get automated, demand for real humans grows. Any company that sees automation as a replacement for human beings rather than a facilitator for human creativity and empathy will ultimately fail.

The secret to success remains the human touch. Modern consumers crave creative, personalized experiences that matter. Only humans have the social and cultural context to make machine data sing.

The companies that succeed in an increasingly globalized environment are the ones that blend complex data sets with human intuition. For example, energy supplement MiO’s creative team leveraged its knowledge about young males to turn humorous clickbait into actual purchases of the product. MiO layered six funny videos on top of each other, luring prospective buyers to click, click, click until they purchased. This tactic helped the brand attain a 77 percent market share.

Snickers’ “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign issued a condoling message to every Google user who typed in one of the 25,000 most often misspelled words. “We aren’t our best when hungry,” the brand empathized. In just three days, the company locked down more than half a million ad impressions.

With the right mix of automation and humanity, marketers can thrive in today’s global economy. Rather than fight the machines, companies should leave the data to automation and use their brainpower where it matters — creativity.

Once humans realize that the art of people-pleasing can’t be achieved without people, the story of automation has a happy ending.