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Marketing has always been about psychology. We anticipate what will create the environment to make a person take a unique action and we strategize accordingly with tactics to get the result we want. Now, with AI tools, this process has become sophisticated to the point of scariness; algorithms seem to know all about us. Which, of course, they do. The big tech companies collect millions of data points on all of our online actions, and we mean ALL of them, and then compile unique messages, offers, pathways, experiences and so forth that are highly customized to our desires and that expertly use our own psychology against us. And this has become standard practice for marketers that are using big tech platforms like Facebook or Google to advertise. Everyone is trying to get maximum eyeball time on their product or service and get people to act. And the algorithms support this. Their goal is to keep you hooked on a particular platform.
How do we then, as marketers, think about this situation ethically? There is so much research out there on the negative effects of this level of manipulation. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use these platforms. However, we must be aware of how these processes work so that we can treat our potential customers as humans rather than as products off of which we make money.
Our ad messaging can reflect our desire to keep our marketing human. We can avoid using bait and switch tactics that say one thing and deliver another. Our website can reflect principles of design for agency, that is, designing with the human in mind. This means we don’t use dark patterns on our website to trick people or back them into a corner where they can’t get out except by taking our prescribed action. We don’t use sneaky or ambivalent language that can be interpreted in different ways. Mostly, we are just up front about what we are doing and we give plenty of opportunities for people to back out of a situation. We are transparent about any data we are collecting or any potential privacy issues.
People spend their time on the big tech platforms, and as marketers, that’s where we have to be too, if we want to be successful. And we certainly have to take human psychology into account. But we can do it in a non-creepy, above-board way. Though we can’t change the way these companies collect data and use algorithms, we can at least treat people like humans in our ad content and when they click through to our websites.
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