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Artificial Intelligence Will Only Get You So Far
Money (and AI) can’t buy you love
“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.” — C.S. Lewis, 1960
The world could do with a little less technology.
I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon like Dr. Conrad Gessner. It’s just that every now and then, it’s helpful to put down the device and talk to a real human being.
And yes, I recognize the irony of me saying this to you over the Internet.
We’ve reached a point where people are pleasantly surprised when they’re referred to by name or when they receive a handwritten letter.
To me, the spirit of personalization and the power of analog are alive and well. They incubate in the inkwell on my desk and are brought to life by my fountain pen collection and stationery.
I make a habit of sending real physical notes to people every week.
That level of effort and personal touch speaks volumes to those who receive it. It’s not only out of the ordinary, but it tells them that they matter.
If I can’t send you a written handwritten letter every week, the next best thing is to send you Timeless & Timely every week.
The Power of the Personal
This photo is one of my favorites. It’s from over a decade ago, and it represents a gesture that I didn’t think much of at the time, but that meant a great deal to the recipient.
I met Robbin Phillips at an event in Minneapolis, and she noticed my Ford lapel pin. During our conversation, she said she'd like one too, so I took her card, slipped it into my pocket, and continued the conversation.
When I arrived back in Detroit, I wrote Robbin a short note, including a pin in the envelope, and sent it to her. That's pretty much where I thought the story would end.
Well, it turns out that the interaction and simple gesture meant a great deal to Robbin — so much so that she took a photo of the letter and wrote up her impressions on her site:
Okay. It’s official. I am a Scott Monty groupie. Have been from our very first conversation. Yeah. Yeah. It was twitter talk.
Now stop. Before you roll your eyes again, this is a really good story.
Back in August, I had the chance to meet Scott in person. There he was in his white bucks with a blue Ford logo neatly pinned to his lapel and well, I said what any good groupie would say:
“I want a Ford pin.”
He asked for my card, slipped it into his pocket and we talked briefly.
Scott asked me what I drove. I told him (not a Ford). There was laughter. (I am a frustrated wanna be race car driver.) Then he asked the big question, “Would you ever consider buying a Ford?”
And you know what – here’s is the truth. I would.
Something about “knowing” someone at Ford has made me a sincere fan. I’ve even found myself defending them on occasion, in one on one conversations and even to large groups. I have just grown – well — fond of them.
And I can’t for the life of me figure out what changed other than the fact that there is this very real, very approachable “social butterfly” type of guy named Scott in the mix. Would my feelings for Ford change if he went away?
Dangerously, the answer might be yes.
I applaud Ford for putting a person front and center. So many brands are just jumping on the social media bandwagon without a strategy. But Ford has one and in my humble opinion they are being pretty true to it: Ford simply wants to “humanize the brand”. Second time I have repeated that here because, I love the simplicity of that. And because I know this; people trust people. People who make and keep promises.
So a pin (and a sweet story) today, a car tomorrow?
In the meantime, I will wear my pin proudly and create a little Ford “visual buzz” along the way…
Thanks. Scott. Oh. And you too, Ford.
“Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price.” — St. Jerome, c. 400
The Value of Affection
While it’s possible to give customers deep discounts or to put contracts in place with expensive influencers, these tactical marketing efforts are tenuous and temporary.
Because they’re transactions. You’ve purchased a behavior — and likely a temporary one at that.
But what is affection?
Typically, it’s the way a parent feels toward a child, or perhaps the way an owner feels toward a pet. It signifies security, protection, and comfort for the receiver of the affection. It also allows the recipient to learn, grow, and feel.
What’s behind the absence of affection, then? Since affection is unilateral—that is, there’s no expectation that the affection is returned—the absence of it can be viewed as selfish.
When brands are simply seeking a transaction, it can feel as if they’re withholding affection as a condition of a customer’s action.
A simple gesture will have a greater impact precisely when customers, employees, friends, and colleagues don’t expect to hear from you.
Databases, algorithms, and other systems can help you remember when someone’s birthday or anniversary is. And now we have systems like ChatGPT that can help you write a note to them.
But affection? That comes from the heart.
It begins with understanding how you’ll make someone else feel by thinking about them, and then acting on it, ideally with some kind of personal gesture or reference that means something to them.
We can teach machines how to learn, how to respond to questions, how to perform mail merges, and how to anticipate our needs.
But we can’t teach them to do what it takes to be truly human. That is, to feel affection for people.
That’s entirely on you.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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