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Embrace the Human Element During Digital Transformations

Tim Rickards

Tim Rickards

Marketing Director of Activation and Engagement at Charles Schwab

Tim Rickards, Charles Schwab

When marketing teams are hyper focused on numbers and results, it can be easy to lose touch with the human element. But by understanding the needs of your customers while utilizing technology to enhance your outreach, you can achieve better results.

Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Tim Rickards, Marketing Director, Activation & Engagement at Charles Schwab to discuss how to stay human and thrive through a digital transformation.

Tim shares ways to:

  • Market with empathy to be receptive of customer’s needs
  • Find a balance between automation and the stress of constant optimization
  • Reap the benefits of a digital transformation

Quartz Events: Can you share some background about yourself in your current role?

Tim Rickards: I’ve been involved in the marketing financial services sectors for longer than I will admit. I have an agency background and a creative background. I have moved into general managing and marketing positions.

Right now, at Schwab, my team does client communications. We handle client engagement for a specific segment of our audience that we call the mass affluent. That includes getting people onboarded, up and running, and then developing their experience over time as they deepen their relationships with the firm.

Quartz Events: Why is it so important to retain that human element when it comes to marketing?

Tim Rickards: It’s the most basic thing we can do, because after all we are human. If you think about the last 10 years, we live our lives increasingly through digital technology. Even when we’re outside, even when we’re free of the physical constraints of buildings, a lot of us remain connected to a screen and have a connection with software, or an algorithm that’s going to tell us a story or play some music or give us directions.

And we’re involved with documenting our every move. I laugh. I’m like, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one tweets about it, did it actually make a sound? Did it actually happen?

And while there are huge advantages to that, this constant being monitored, digitize, optimize, it brings a lot of stress. You could go out and do an exercise where you try and buy a pair of running shorts or toothbrush and start with a simple web search. I did that for running shorts once for a presentation. I had 4 billion links for a pair of shorts.

It has created a situation where even the most basic activity can become an exercise in triangulation and even doubt. Am I making the right decision? How long is it going take me to buy this stupid toothbrush. And I think in general, we’re just not built for that kind of frequency of information processing.

So, for me, this idea of staying human, it’s just a double down or even triple down on understanding what our audiences are experiencing in their lives, outside of what we build. We have a lot of cool words, and I’m using some mental air quotes for funnel journeys and experience optimizations.

But what are people doing outside of that? They’re living their lives, and their lives are stressed. Their lives are increasingly mediated by digital experiences. Try and think about it. They may be only receptive for a small moment in time. How can we be there when they’re receptive and in need? How can we bring them some relief or a moment of joy?

It’s compassion, knowing what people are going through and then responding to that in the most helpful way possible. Sometimes compassion is a bit of a loaded word. It seems to be often used like having empathy for people who are in difficult circumstances, but I also see it as a positive. It’s just the ability to think about what people are going through, and then respond in the way that’s best for them.

Quartz Events: Is marketing with empathy something that you encourage your team to do?

Tim Rickards: Absolutely. We’ve been really fortunate in our vertical to have some forward-thinking leaders that have pushed us in that direction over the last five years. We’ve dug into empathy-based thinking in general, but also design thinking methodologies. We’ve had some in-house courses on that.

It’s an interesting push and pull right now. On one side, you’ve got all the data. So much data. I have data coming out of my ears. I need good data, but I’m not sure. And that’s very zeros and ones. Supposed to be objective, right?

We’re trying to get objectively probable results. Statistical significance. Flipside is we’re dealing with humans. And there’s this move to use empathy and those types of analysis techniques to figure out what people are really going through in order to be more effective.

It’s kind of a strange spot to be in. You’re sort of torn between two very different disciplines at the same time. Even pre-COVID we needed to understand what people are going through in the moment as we create an experience, a purchasing journey, or a product. Because all actions are actually emotional in nature. So how can we dive in and figure things out? It’s really just basic human action, to dig into someone’s mindset and see things or walk a mile in their shoes. We’ve known about empathy, and how to do it for as long as we’ve been around as humans. Now it’s just a more focused and structured way to do it.

Quartz Events: What are some pros and cons you’ve seen with digital transformations?

Tim Rickards: I think that we net out much more on the pros side. We are able to develop campaigns or concepts in a much more thoughtful way. We still haven’t hacked the code on how to help everyone think and be creative faster, but we have the ability to build campaigns much more quickly. I see the huge advantages in targeting and delivery and in the ability to use more precise segments, or segmentation.

Whether you’re talking about your acquisition efforts, or even or your customer engagement, for example, the ability to dive into smaller and smaller audiences is really, really helpful. You can learn a lot more about those specific groups and get better results, and that’s a huge plus.

Then there’s the concept of being able to automate much more efficiently. So install an automated program so you have a multiple contact journey and let that run and then optimize. To me, those are huge positives.

Using old school ways it’s so exhausting to get your campaign done that it’s tiring to think about doing the next one. Now we can implement a journey through these systems and let it run and analyze it and optimize it. I think that’s all incredibly valuable.

It’s been nice to see agile methodologies flow over to marketing out of development. Some firms are completely agile in their marketing department. We’ve done experiments and we’re very pragmatic about it. We’ll use certain parts of the methodology just to help us get our work done. But I think that’s been a big positive too, because there’s a focus on everyone understanding where their partners are headed.

The idea is to be able to quickly build a prototype, the minimum viable product, versus the perfect campaign, the pristine campaign that you released in the wild. It’s much better now to release something that’s good enough and see what happens. That’s all super positive.

For the cons – and I don’t think there’s any bottom line, negative things out of all of this – but there are some stresses that come with it. That consistent need to be fast and optimize and personalize and automate. That’s stressful and I think you can get lost in that stress.

The other thing that can be a bit of a con is that there’s a tendency for us as human beings to want to use the new shiny object versus something that’s right. So tool blindness. Let’s not do that thing that can waste time. It also can be very difficult to get up and running.

Then the third thing that can be dangerous or difficult with digital transformation, is there’s the focus on your metrics base. Success or efficiency. That’s great. You can get a lot of numbers real fast, but it’s really difficult to know what the right numbers are.

In the acquisition space it’s a little more clear. When you are talking about your built-in customer or client network, it can be more difficult. What is the value or how do you measure a deepened relationship? That could be an extra product or an extra account. But those events may be less frequent than you would like. So you have to figure out a way to measure the value of, in essence, having an ongoing relationship with a client. And that can be a tricky thing. So, it’s an opportunity.

We can actually even develop those relationships in this way and measure them, but be careful what you measure. Because what we what we measure will affect everything we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we will totally get twisted the wrong way and go in a direction that maybe isn’t desired.

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