Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What happens to the strategic planner with the advent of data and marketing automation?

Second day in the digital summit and I swear that I've met agency groups who see Strategic Planners as an endangered breed.  And they rejoice to hear from one.

Strategic planners - a dying breed?  Well, that depends on where you come from.  In Malaysia, and specifically Malaysian strategic planners - yes, they're high on the list of extinction.  And if data intelligence is going to drive the client's business from now on, then how do we survive?

On the contrary, this. Is. Our. Moment.

Was reading Superforecasting on the plane and came across this very interesting paragraph:

"When the scientist tells you he does not know the answer, he is an ignorant man.  When he tells you he has a hunch about how it is going to work, he is uncertain about it.  When he is pretty sure of how it is going to work, and he tells you, " This is the way it's going to work, I'll bet, " he still is in some doubt.  And it is of paramount importance, in order to make progress, that we recognize this ignorance and this doubt.  Because we have the doubt, we then propose looking in new directions for new ideas.  The rate of the development of science is not the rate at which you make observations alone but, much more important, the rate at which you create new things to test."

Take that principle, apply it in planning. Ever come across a planner who struts in and is cocksure that his idea was going to work and everybody else's is going to fail?  Well, that's not a planner.  That's just plain bossy.  Jokes aside, it is true that we must be able to differentiate ignorance and doubt.  And it's always good to have a pinch of doubt in everything we work on because before we are planners, we are human and we must recognize that as humans, our knowledge will always be limited.  Hence, why there are always new ways to be tested, novel ways to do things.  Data, interestingly will help us to reach there and get our answers faster.  Because data does not only show historical behavior, it can also be a rich base for predictive modeling.  And that's essentially what we do isn't it?  We evaluate where the brand is today and project the highest potential of where it can be in one year, 3 years, 5 years time.  And then we work out the kinks on how to get there, considering everything good and bad that could possibly happen under the sun between now and 5 years later.  Predictive modeling helps us to close our doubtful gaps, even if not 100% and advise plans which are a lot more grounded and risk-proof in such a fast paced environment.

Account planning was half strategy and half creative - there was always something subjective albeit calculated in our proposal.  Because we were weavers of culture and we understood the fabric of people.  So we have and will always stand proudly to represent the consumer's voice in the parliament of marketing.  That human intuition will and should never go away.  It can only be made more powerful with data analytics and machine learning.  To quote Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, "To reframe the man-versus-machine dichotomy, combinations of Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue may prove more robust than pure-human or pure-machine approaches".  The computer learns patterns and can probably spew a million positions in a few seconds, while the human mind can only project to as far as 10 steps ahead. But the computer will never be able to understand context as well as a human and there's where we trump. Honda said it right, Man Maximum, Machine Minimum when it comes to their engineering philosophy, because at the end of the day it is about the 'human taste'.  And THAT, was coined in the 40s.  Likewise, the machine might have hundreds of best variations but it still lacks our God-given creativity - the nature to start fresh without the burden of history. The even better news is, they will help us to be faster and more efficient as a planner.  In levels never before - we can make decisions overnight or in a blink of an eye.  Ten years ago, if you wanted a complete brief in 3 days, you must be out of your mind!  But today, 24 hours is possible with the right tools. But don't you dare test it on me.

Machine will never replace us. They're our friends. And they will help us to reconcile our client's brand and/or category back into the world where it happily belongs, in speed we've never been able to before. We shouldn't just wait and embrace it.  We should create it.

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