I recently stum­bled on an excel­lent blog post in which futur­ist Gerd Leon­hard let loose with a few thoughts about how mar­ket­ing will develop over the next decade. Among the many points he made, Leon­hard stated:

“Com­pa­nies are going to try to pre­dict how peo­ple feel about their brand, and then adjust in real time by chang­ing fea­tures, and start­ing new con­ver­sa­tions with cus­tomers in real time. All of the com­pa­nies of the future will have one big job: to make sure that the cus­tomer feels cher­ished and safe­guarded. As Ama­zon calls it, ‘cus­tomer delight,’ will be the num­ber one mis­sion. If you screw that up, every­one will leave.”

This quote is spot-on when it comes to using real-time data to steer the con­ver­sa­tion you’re hav­ing with cus­tomers, but in it, Leon­hard also repeats a big mis­un­der­stand­ing regard­ing the pur­pose of the pre­dic­tive mod­els he cites.

Pre­dic­tive mod­els aren’t designed to mea­sure ambigu­ous plat­i­tudes such as how peo­ple feel about a brand. Pre­dic­tive mod­els use past cus­tomer responses to pre­cisely inform future cus­tomer interactions—a point best exem­pli­fied by look­ing at pub­lish­ing in the social sphere, where cre­at­ing cus­tomer delight is much less impor­tant than cre­at­ing cus­tomer under­stand­ing.

What’s Wrong with Cus­tomer Delight?

Chas­ing delight can lead to shal­low social mes­sag­ing. Just ask any mar­keter who posts overly gen­eral sta­tus updates along the lines of “Sunny days sure are great, aren’t they?!” That sort of delight­ful mes­sage may get a lot of “likes,” but it won’t con­vert cus­tomers into tak­ing mean­ing­ful actions.

Using pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing to chase cus­tomer delight won’t fix this prob­lem. Instead of rely­ing on gut feel­ings to tell you what peo­ple will “like,” pre­dic­tive mod­els will let you use the data to put imme­di­ate social respon­sive­ness over real mar­ket­ing impact. As a mar­keter, you aren’t look­ing for atten­tion; you’re seek­ing ROI on your actions. Using a more effi­cient process to super-charge a faulty approach won’t mag­i­cally fix your cam­paign; it will just mag­nify your use­less results.

Cus­tomer Under­stand­ing Beats Cus­tomer Delight

But just as pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing will mag­nify use­less results when improp­erly applied, it will also mag­nify mean­ing­ful results when set to a worth­while task. Leon­hard hints at the real pur­pose behind pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing in the above quote. Aside from “delight,” Leon­hard also uti­lizes the word “con­ver­sa­tion” when he talks about pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing, and “con­ver­sa­tion” is a much more accu­rate word to use when you’re talk­ing about pre­dic­tive publishing’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion enabling capabilities.

You see, pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing oper­ates con­ver­sa­tion­ally at its core, run­ning data on your customer’s pre­vi­ous social actions (likes, shares, text-based responses, tim­ing, etc.) and uses this data to cre­ate pre­dic­tive mod­els that help you deter­mine the best way to com­mu­ni­cate with them in the future. Once you pub­lish another social action using these pre­dic­tive mod­els, you will accu­mu­late more cus­tomer data, and this data will focus your next action even fur­ther, cre­at­ing a feed­back loop that teaches you how to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively with your customers.

In this way, pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing mir­rors the dynam­ics of a one-on-one real-world con­ver­sa­tion. When you speak with another indi­vid­ual, you take in and eval­u­ate inter­per­sonal data (body lan­guage, ver­bal cues, etc.) to assess their engage­ment and whether or not what you’re say­ing lands with them. Once again we’re talk­ing about social feed­back loops here, where you’re tak­ing in data, eval­u­at­ing it, and adjust­ing your posi­tion accord­ingly in an effort to reach shared under­stand­ing. The only real dif­fer­ence between the way pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing works and the way a real-world con­ver­sa­tion unfolds is that pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing lets you hold an inti­mate con­ver­sa­tion with count­less peo­ple, all at once.

Tac­ti­cal Applications

Of course, all this is a lit­tle aca­d­e­mic and high-minded, so let’s get to the meat of the ques­tion here: How can you use pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing to cre­ate such a social conversation?

Well, let’s say you have your social action wrapped up and ready to go. You want to make sure it reaches the largest audi­ence pos­si­ble. Based on responses to pre­vi­ous posts, pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing can tell you the best date and time to put up your social action to max­i­mize the eye­balls that land on it.

Or, maybe you have some infor­ma­tion you want to impart but you aren’t sure whether it should come across as neu­tral, light-hearted, or seri­ous. Pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing can help you find out what tone your cus­tomers respond best to and whether it’s appro­pri­ate for your cur­rent message.

And here’s the big one: You know what you want to say, you know the tone you want to use, and you know when you’re say­ing it, and when you’re just about good to go, pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing can help you fine-tune the word­ing on that mes­sage to ensure it really hits. Fine-tuning may sound like a small thing, but any mar­keter with a back­ground in split test­ing under­stands the poten­tially mas­sive impact of chang­ing just one word in a field of copy.

With these com­mon and pow­er­ful appli­ca­tions of the tech­nol­ogy, it’s obvi­ous pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing has more to do with telling you how to com­mu­ni­cate with your cus­tomers than telling you what to tell them. And while you’ll expe­ri­ence a cer­tain amount of delight in being heard, I would argue pre­dic­tive pub­lish­ing ulti­mately offers some­thing much deeper than that.