I’m now going to give my brain an airing and clear out all the assembled clutter in its Communications and Marketing department, things like being ‘data-driven’.
With my bid for a blast of fresh air, I’m beaming myself back to a time when my online shop for vegan dog food didn’t yet know me and my needs better than I did myself. I’ll admit it, I miss those days. A world without data traces, where the man who sold me dog food was still reliant on face-to-face conversations to find out what kind of dog I had and what I thought about the world so that he could draw his own conclusions, both personal and professional, about the right dog food. Why all this nostalgia? Firstly, because – sticking with dog food for the moment – there might exist some completely different dog food that would throw into disarray everything I’d known up to that point and that no algorithm in the world had yet discovered. And, secondly, because I like to be surprised, and sometimes I like to see something other than what algorithms think I’m like everywhere I go, I look so that I’m confronted with it so often that even I soon begin to think I’m like how they think I am.
Wouldn’t it be more exciting if we were taken seriously rather than being ‘captured’ as a target? For this dream form of communication, which is a lot of things, just not data-driven, my brain hits on the term ‘people-driven’ midway through its airing. It doesn’t require an awful lot. We just need to zoom out a bit, at least mentally, from the data-driven universe of algorithms that feeds itself and only needs me and you as ‘somethings’ that leave behind data traces and shell out money: a snail that leaves everlasting traces from now until the end of time. In the olden days, this snail was a customer, who we courteously called our ‘king’. But this particular monarchy fell victim to the digital revolution, and the king is now in exile or, at most, is merely one snail among many.
Is that what I want? As a self-confessed man of nostalgia, not really. Sometimes, I wish I could go back to a world in which people weren’t always hot on my heels like a stalker in the shadows and using every single trace I left behind for targeting and profiling like a digital Miss Marple. A time in which you could still rely on being forgotten about sooner or later. But now forgetting is a thing of the past, and every single pack of dog food that’s ever been bought is ruthlessly preserved for posterity like Stonehenge.
What do I want apart from forgetfulness? I’d like brands and companies that want to sell me something to keep a respectful distance, not ambush me at every turn, not make demands on me immediately or excessively, like drinking from a fire hose just because I happen to be a bit thirsty at the moment. This endless quickening of the pace that pretends to be a journey but that ultimately ends up going nowhere fast is too stressful in the long run. Give me a bit of peace, some open-ended tedium, in which anything can happen and nothing is set in stone. Something that fits into my life rather than fitting me into a life that’s only how you perceive it to be. As any couples’ therapist will tell you, relationships that follow this pattern are toxic in the long term. That’s where you can grab me, that’s where you can surprise me, because I’m not yet the person that your data has reduced me to. With this sense of worth, we’d be people-driven, close to people, even when it’s only dog food that’s involved.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to be shocked any more by the realization that I’ve just spent another two hours surfing Instagram – and that, while I don’t remember a thing, you’ll have clocked everything, and I no longer have any idea why I was even looking at what you’ll have noted down.
➝ OPEN NOTE Eckhard Sohns is Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Prodir.