Marketers from around the world convened in New Orleans this week for &THEN 2017, the DMA Annual Event. While data and innovative, emerging technology were the hot topics for keynote speakers and the breakout sessions alike, there were some powerful reminders that marketers should remain focused on humans and their emotions. Whether addressing artificial intelligence (AI), mobile app engagement, social media, or knowing what to do with the escalating amount of customer data being collected, speakers emphasized the emotion and human behavior at their core.

Here, we share four major takeaways from the show that address not only the best practices and implications of emerging technology, but innovative thinking around how marketers can use social media to refine omni-channel strategy.

1. Customer experience is the new ‘brand’

Multiple sessions focused on how emerging technology is already impacting the customer experience. A common question was how to merge the virtual or digital experience with a physical one. From demonstrations of American Airlines’ augmented reality airport mapping to Charlotte Russe putting a soundtrack to shopping with curated in-app playlists, brands have found ways for digital tools to enhance the customer experience rather than replace it.

2. Customer satisfaction hinges on voice-activated UI

Doug Robinson, CEO of Fresh Digital Group, spoke to the myriad of challenges and implications of integrating voice-activated customer experiences through Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and other virtual assistants. Most interesting was his description of how as consumers get used to voice-based technology, their expectations for what is possible will increase. Brands should consider any customer action as something that can be done using a virtual assistant.

3. Followers are your focus group

Roger Phelps, Corporate Communications Manager at STIHL, described how his team uses social media to test messaging and ‘get’ the voice of the customer. After posting content to social platforms, STIHL pays close attention to what followers are saying about a product, and use the feedback to hone messaging, which can then be expanded to other channels.

4. The human element is paramount

In Robert Scoble’s keynote he shared a list of futuristic innovations that already exist and discussed how technology will be a disruptive force in consumer behavior, needs, consumption, and therefore marketing. Yet, other speakers still stressed that the human behind the purchase decision will always be there. For all the data and technology at their disposal, marketers must remember that purchase decisions are driven by emotions, which require human understanding and a personal connection.

Eric Fahey is a Research Manager at Mintel Comperemedia, where he specializes in email and digital marketing, consumer trends, and competitive intelligence.

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