Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital.

One of the things that distinguishes me in the world of social media blogging is that I am old … at least old enough to remember how things used to be before we were digitally tracked, sliced, diced, priced, immersed, consumed, and tethered to these social platforms.

I was working in sales and marketing before Facebook … before email … even before computers. And you know it wasn’t THAT long ago that business relationships were built through a firm handshake, a trusting friendship, mutually-shared experiences, and trust.

And then, sometime in the late 1990s, your company probably took all its order forms, sales brochures, and customer service policies to a strange person called a web developer and said, “turn this into a website.”

We could have hardly realized it at the time but we were creating a layer of digital distance between ourselves and our customers that would only become more tangled as layer upon layer of technology was wedged between us.  And it was a one-way ticket.

Sure, it was efficient. Administrative costs went down and customers had the convenience of placing orders through our new machines at any time of day or night.

And yet, something was missing. The soul of business was reduced to computer keystrokes.

Robert Cialdini

I thought a lot about this as I was writing my upcoming book.  As I was working on it, I had a chance to ask Dr. Robert Cialdini, the celebrated author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (and one of my academic heroes!), what he thought it took to stand out in this increasingly bloodless, dense, and competitive digital world.

His reply was simple.

“Be more human.”

Doesn’t that seem ironic?

Being human, simply being ourselves, can create competitive advantage!

“One of the things I advise when I’m consulting in corporate environments is to accentuate certain features that may be deemed attractive and include them in personal bios — the about us categories and so on,” Dr. Cialdini told me. “We should be including hobbies and how many kids we have, whether we’re hockey fans or runners, and so on so people can register a connection that they wouldn’t necessarily get online, but is typical of face-to-face contacts. Why not infuse those online contacts with the type of information that humanizes them more and leads to cooperation and rapport?”

Dr. Cialdini pointed to research at Stanford that revealed the importance of human connection:

“Participants were told they were going to negotiate through a problem as part of an exercise, but they were told that if no agreement could be reached, both sides would lose and neither side would receive credit for even  in the exercise.  When they had participants only negotiate via e-mail, 30 percent of the negotiations remained dead-locked and people walked away with nothing.

“However, in the instances where they had the participants exchange some personal information about themselves via e-mail prior to the negotiations the dead-locks dropped to 6 percent.  So the general human tendency is to respond positively when we know something about them, when we see something similar to us, when we see humanizing features of that person’s persona available to us. Those things still work – even over the Internet or e-mail — but we have to do something to infuse those technologies with the same sort of information we might get in face-to-face interactions.”

Behind the Twitter avatars and Facebook updates, the text messages and the Skype conferences, people are the same.  They still want to be acknowledged. They want to be heard. They want to cut through that digital distance and get to know you as a person.

Personally, I often struggle with infusing a whole lot of personal stuff into my content, but I do recognize the power of that.  How are you doing it?  Any ideas or best practices you would like to share?

The link to Dr. Cialdini’s book is an affiliate link.

All posts

  • Hi, Mark.

    I am not much into sharing my personal life into what I write as well. In fact, I do not use my Facebook account for business. I already have a Facebook page for Omnific Design, so I didn’t see the point of including my personal account into the marketing equation.

    I am also not into social media right now. Oh, there was a time when I was blog commenting, blog hopping and Twittering like crazy but later on I realized that they were not effective alternatives to really seeing my clients personally. So, I took a step back, slowed down and spent more time in meeting my clients face to face. This meant that I got to know not just what they want of me as a graphic and web designer, but I also learned about their pets, their favorite holidays and their birthdays, among other personal stuff, which made me connect to them on a deeper level. By asking about how the recital of their son went, I am able to tell my clients that I care about them not just as paying customers but as human beings.

    Thanks for sharing this post, mate. Business people should all realize that if you forget to care because you went all digital, things won’t go your way that easily.

  • I find Dr. Cialdini’s remark quite ironic and very on point. With my business it is the relationships that I’ve formed with people that keep the clients coming, not because I tweet or blog or all the other stuff I do. The purpose of that is to reach people so that I can create those personal connections.

    At the end of the day, as you say, people are people and the psychology applies.

    The way I keep it personal is that I don’t view myself as a “brand” per say or to put on airs. I realized with the failure of my first business 11 years ago that trying to be all things to all people means you aren’t anything to anyone. And when it comes down to it, are people doing business with your company or are they doing business with you?

    In the small business and entrepreneur space in which I work it comes down to people doing business with people. And that means you’ll attract some and repel others. When people can understand and internalize that that is okay, things get much easier.

    Great post Mark. Looking forward to your next book.

  • That is such a valuable lesson Wes!  Thanks so much for sharing it. I’m really grateful you continue to include {grow} in your non-digital strategy.  That’s kind of the ultimate compliment I think.  Thank you! 

  • There is an incredible amount of wisdom packed in that comment Robert. A word that sums it up for me is humility. You’re not making yourself the star. You make your customers the star.

    This has been a weird journey for me. Because of the blog and other social media platforms, people do get a glimpse into my life. And I have customers say “Well, I can see how busy you are and I don;t want to bother you but …”  And I stop them and say, “No, I am here for you. I am here to serve you. Forget about the blog and stuff. Let’s just connect right here, right now and let me help you.”  We need to stay centered in that way despite all the distractions and head games associated with the social web.

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. « ABC Marketing Direct()

  • Hello Mark.
    This post cracks the shell of the egg! and points to the content inside all of us that we need to fry.I think that the most important book available right now to supplement you bang on target idea here is: The Likeability Factor by Tim Sanders. All my life I have been successfully likeable! I didn’t know why or how it worked until I read this great book.Everything I do is about being able to like other people, in real life. The digital results are born from that.On my about page at Social-Tango I put things into it that tell a story about my journey on this earth, and I hope this invites people to connect. So far, I am told people loveit, it is unusual, refreshing and other such things.I look for this likeability on their sites about page and in digital exchanges. Often I don’t find it.Today the digital marketing world is, too often, unlikeable!I’d rather meet you in a digital exchange first, before you send me 23 twitter secrets. The digital stream is awash with fleshless facts; but where’s the person behind it all?You certainly meet people who have shaped the stage we all want to shine upon, now that is interesting about you.Billy

  • This is interesting to me because when I recently started my own blog and was writing out my bio, I was advised to remove things like the fact that I have a bunny named Martini, I live at and love the beach and the types of books I enjoy getting lost in. As others have said already, people buy from people. With the growing number of choices that we have increasing daily, we are no longer competing on a capabilities level, it’s all about the relationships we build.

  • What a super smart and on-target comment Billy. Maybe we’re on the cusp of a likeability revolution. I actually cover this quite a bit in the new book. This has always been an important aspect of effectiveness in the offline world but it does not translate as well to the online world when we are behind these little avatars!  Thanks for the brilliant comment.

  • Mark, I love this post.

    The question I find interesting is how will this change in 15 years, what is the real core human truth in this?

    I believe being human is based on how we naturally interact with people, and people entering the workforce today interact digitally. It isn’t a wall that distances them, but a bridge that connects across the distance.

    Communicating, not reading or watching, is how we form relationships. This is what I believe businesses have missed. They are trying to bring out the human side of their leaders and experts, but they do it by sharing “humanizing” details.

    Sharing these details isn’t what connects us to them. Instead, it attracts us to them as individuals, as people, and gives them the opportunity to connect with us, to form a relationship.

    Long-term, I don’t know that digital is the problem, it is taking the time to act like a person in our relationships with others and forge relationships.

  • I think there has to be a balance between personal and professional. I have one friend who blogs and his whole site is kind of an inside joke. He’s amusing himself, but he’s also not presenting himself as a serious business resource. It limits his options. I probably need to push myslef MORE in that direction!  As for me though, I would definitely subscribe to t ablof that includes a bunny named Martini!

  • I am really blown away by your comment. This is incredibly insightful Eric.  If you look at the trends, certainly we are raising a generation that is being condtioned to manage relationships through text messaging. The implications for leading, recruiting and connecting is vast!

  • Mark, I find sharing the stress issues I’m working on personally in my life powerful content for the digital relationship world I find myself these days.  Thanks for asking!

  • It’s so hard, because you do want to be personal, but if you go overboard, it can end up sounding like a bad personal ad. We’ve all seen it … I’m not saying that’s where you were going, but I’d bet the people advising you were thinking of those examples?

  • Mark, great article!

    The art of sales and of all business will be to be efficient using the digital tools while staying personal to be effective.

    Talking about old history…I will never forget taking over a sales desk in Hong Kong, twelve hours away from the analysts and traders in NY and being told by IT staff that I was not permitted to have email – it was limited to NY offices! (1993)

    Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    – Gary

  • Mark,

    i’m not sure you are alone in this. I think people are still afraid to really express themselves. But I’ll never forget the article you wrote where you said that “social media amplifies your competitive advantage.” In todays world your personality is that competitive advantage. In my opinion the lines between personal and professional are really starting to blur. As far as how to be more human I have a few suggestions

    1) Tell stories: I try to put myself in the position of a storyteller for every article  I write. Many of us writing about similar subjects, but when you can tie it to a personal story that makes a huge difference

    2) Multimedia: I think that video is in its infancy. It gives you an opportunity to show people a far more in-depth view into who you are. When people see your face and hear your voice you tap into that 95% of communication that is non-verbale 

    3) Take Chances: Too many people play it safe with their content. When you let yourself be vulnerable people can relate and it makes you far more real. 

    Great article. 

  • Gosh I struggle with this Eleanor!  How to connect and be personal without being an ass. A delicate balance. 

  • A very powerful strategy!

  • Ha!  Welcome to my club!!

  • You are really a role model in this area Srini. I know that when I do take chances I am usually rewarded, so I’m learning!!  Thanks for the outstanding comment!

  • My mother always said that, “Meeting, physically, face-to-face, is THE best way to interact hands down. It cannot replace a conversation on the phone.” She said this when cell phones started to catch on – HA, back in the AirTouch days! Good times. Back on track, her underlying message to me was that you can FEEL the energy exchange occuring when in close proximity to another person. Even if two people in the same room are not talking, messages are still relayed through body language and other ‘forces’, if I may call it that.
    I love your example of the e-mail vs face-to-face negotiations. However predictable the results, the numbers are still very astounding!

  • I’ve been thinking about the relationship between website design and communication lately and in many respects I wonder if the current crop of  website designs out there create distance between people. 

    Is so much emphasis put on the visual that the word, the person communicating with words, gets lost ? 

    I can see that video and audio are great communication platforms in the digital space, but what about good old text? How can we make text more communicative, more accessible to visitors to a website ?

  • Anonymous

    So many great comments here. Just want to add… the Web added a “layer of digital distance,” but then social media came along and offered new ways to span that distance by creating real human connections in the context of electronic interactions. Like the moths whose patterns and coloring evolved over time to support survival in a changing environment, we’re adapting to a new digital reality. And I think it’s exciting to see and experience the changes!

  • How very kind of you to say Mark, thank you for your support!

  • Thank you Jon for your support!

  • Thank you Jon for your support!

  • Mark, I’m going to eco what Eric Wittlake started with and say I love this post

    And the line I loved most “Being human, simply being ourselves, can create competitive advantage!”

    This statement is so ironically true its scary. As we all try to be the next Apple, Google or whatever, it is ironic that we don’t see by being ourselves is the only chance we have at having a true competitive advantage. You and I both know that this ever growing world of “online marketing” is quickly filling with people who are saying what everyone else is saying, and the only way to step up and out of this large dime a dozen group is to have your own Voice…

    Excellent post, looking forward to the book.

  • Very interesting connection Derek. I know this might sound weird but I also think there is a rhythm and pulse to the social web. There is a “force” there too. Something maybe I will explore in an upcoming post. Thanks! 

  • This is a fascinating topic. I wish we were back at that cafe in Stockholm for a couple of hours so we could hash this out together. I think your ideas here also blend well with my interest in this idea of transferring this “viral” content strategy to the offline world. How do we make that content connect in a way that makes it go viral in a human organization?  So much to think about!  Thanks for the thought-provoking comment! 

  • Ironically, I give a speech on this very topic. The website is the first layer of digital distance, the social web is the second and then there are actually four more!  I have a blog post in the works on this. Thanks Carmen! 

  • … and that take courage, doesn’t it?  At least for me it did, especially when i was starting out. But we have no choice. We have to be ourselves to differentiate our personal brands! Thanks Josh.

  • Craig Lindberg

    Great advice Mark. To paraphrase the old SNL skit, “I’m just a caveman marketer,” but I’ve found nothing beats having a real human conversation if for nothing else than the sheer novelty. How refreshing in the midst of a desert of digital, multi-channel corporate speak. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving!

  • We should not forget the ‘Social’ in ‘Social Media’, being active in social media platforms is great and is a very good marketing tool. But it is not the only one, or the one tool to put all your efforts into.

    Trust and credibility are build from face to face relationships, business experiences and networking with your peers. 

    Every time that we organise a vernissage or networking event at our Studio we build stronger relationships in a faster, more durable way.

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. | All about Digital and Mobile Marketing |

  • Thanks for the laugh. Love SNL!! 

  • it has to lead to that face-to-face connection. Nothing beats that. Thanks Luis! 

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. | The Content Strategist |

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. | Modèles et typologies du débat. La médiation de conflits. |

  • I was thinking about this same issue, after a day of presentations at a workshop on customer service. We covered topics as diverse as crowd sourcing, electronic word of mouth, social media segmentation or home working and their impact on customer service. One common thread to all the presentations was the human element – for instance, how people may participate in crowd sourcing because of social validation or how customers appreciate firms who try to engage with them online (rather than selling).

    My conclusion was that, to succeed on social, we really need to master psychology and sociology, over and above technology.

    Then, I came home, checked my reader… and found this post. Perfect.

    As for my own research on best practice in handling online customer feedback, emerging findings are that users value message that are not stuffy or corporate – when they feel like they are interacting with another human being, rather than an abstract entity. From the organisations perspective, it seems that video really helps reaching out to users, particularly in crisis management – the rationale here is that not many people will read 2 or more pages of text, yet they will happily watch 3-4 minutes of video. Moreover, face and voice convey emotion much more easily than black ink on white paper (or whatever colour, for that matter). I certainly enjoy your short videos on the blog – not just the content of the interview, but seeing you and the interviewee get excited about a particular point, look concerned, etc…

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. | Marketing Scoop |

  • Pingback: Best of B2B Marketing Zone for November 22, 2011 « Sales and Marketing Jobs()

  • Lots of wonderful ideas here! Experimenting with video has been good for me. I’m not real comfortable with it but I concur that it certainly makes a new kind of personal connection. I am trying to do more! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that it validated some of your won conclusions. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Anonymous

    Mark, your statement: “Being human, simply being ourselves, can create competitive advantage!” is powerful.

    When I first left sales management to do my own thing as an independent sales professional I was really nervous even though I been the boss for 12 years.

    The hands sweated and the voice cracked when making calls..

    My wife’s advice: “just be who you are” was the best…

    Over the years I have learned to work on being a better version of myself. Not only is the purpose to attract the right people in to my life for business or friendship… but because I just enjoy meeting new people for who they are too…

    The best part is that the digital age gives us all more opportunity to connect… but you are right… I can always improve the connection by just being me and enjoying them…

  • Anonymous

    Mark, your blog really resonated with me, too.  As another “old-timer” who started out in the days before cell phones & computers, I enjoy & embrace new tools, but have found that my ability & comfort speaking one-on-one with people has been a real advantage for me.  I wonder though, like others have mentioned here, if in a decade or so if it will matter.  I’ve noticed at times younger people seem almost irritated when put in the position of dealing face-to-face in business situations.  I believe those who will be the most successful will be those who can integrate technology into their interactions while maintaining the human touch. 

  • Becoming a better vision of who you are. I love that. Sounds like you are on your way. And you have an awesome wife! Thanks!

  • This is a fascinating issue. As much as I hate to admit it, I think that to prepare for the new world, it means digital, digital, digital. Texting, Facebook and gaming is not gong to go away. Mastering some of these platforms will be mainstream expectations. It is fog to be awhile ride. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment Liz.

  • Yet another thought provoking post. Technology continues to digitize almost every single thing and it is here to stay. I really won’t be surprised if cars one day come with buttons to “Tweet this” or “Share this” on-the-go. Having that said the challenge is really “how to be human” despite all these automation and those that rise above the challenge succeeds. 

  • Pingback: Mind Sieve 11/24/11 « Gloria Oliver()

  • Anonymous

    Be less digital, be more human.  Insightful post.  People still like to do business with those they know, like and trust. Having a heart-beat helps too.

  • It will be there for sure. Probably become part of the Facebook Timeline!!  Thanks Jan! 

  • That will always make a difference, or so I hope!  Thanks, Carla.

  • I think the early days of social media misguided some folks regarding what “being human” means. I always come back to the “Colonoscopy Principle” ™. Just kidding, it’s not trademarked. Yet. But the idea is this. Being human as a blogger does not mean posting pictures of your colonoscopy or describing the preparation process in detail. It doesn’t mean gushing about the most painful day of your life necessarily. It doesn’t mean using your blog to show that you are human as in weak, or human as in emotional.

    Instead of human, I prefer the word personable. Even the dichotomy – personal versus personable. I can talk about things I have experienced just by skimming the surface – just enough to meet a reader where he or she experienced something similar. It may not have been the exact same thing, but the emotional results and the lessons in the end are parallel. 

    To me, that is the ticket. That delicate dance of showing that you’re a person, but not delving into stuff that makes your readers want to poke their eyes out.

    You’re a master at this, by the way. 

  • Pingback: Key to digital marketing success? Be less digital. | digitalNow |

  • I too remember the times of the circular dial on a phone that never left the wall, and thinking my alpha pager was “the bomb”.  But, the human touch is KEY.  That was what made me interested in your blog even before I knew you personally.  Make it real, make it human, make it connect to me…love that.

  • I sent @wittlake:disqus a private message about a week ago that I was really impressed by his online presence. He’s one of the most organic, natural, REAL folks I interact with online. Via SM, chats, his blog – the quality of his content, his comments and his interactions with others – it. just. works. Except I’ve struggled to articulate the what and how of why I’ve been impressed. 

    And then, our mutual friend @cuferg:disqus tweets about your post, Mark, and as I started to read it I thought YES! This is precisely why Eric is so good at what he does and TRA LA – Eric also posted the first comment.

    Thanks for the great post, Mark. Bravo.

  • Business is still built on relationships. The cool thing is the social web can LEAD us to those new relationships but it is up to all of us to ACT on it. Thanks for the great comment Holly! 

  • I dare you to write a blog post called the Colonoscopy Principle. With illustrations. I eagerly await your response : ) 

    Thanks for the great comment and your very kind and generous praise Margie. Your comments are always such a gift! 

  • I have also really enjoyed getting to know @wittlake:disqus and learn something from every comment he makes. He is really a special intellect.

  • Alright. I’ll do it just for you 🙂 But if I get any trolls or extra gross spam, I’m coming after ya 🙂

  • Pingback: The Colonoscopy Principle()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend