At the Collision conference, an annual explosion of tech talk, future chatter, investor wrangling and start-up flogging, it’s easy to feel as though you are lost in the machine.
Machines are everywhere, if not physically then narratively in talks about robot ethics, the computational future, and “DIY VR,” which is “do-it-yourself virtually reality,” which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like reality reality.
And no doubt, the machines are key to the continuing digital revolution. The machines are synonymous with the future, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, smart homes, smart cars, smartphones, natural language processing and data-driven decisions.
Paddy Cosgrave, the founder of Collision, which is holding its third U.S. gathering in New Orleans this week, even warmly embraced the machine in a blog post, which explained how data-driven the hyper-socializing and networking is at Collision. In fact, even the lanyards that the 11,000 expected this year are wearing were born of data-driven design, he wrote.
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But if you listen closely, you will hear the sound of human voices and see the results of human effort. The world, it turns out, is not black or white, 0s or 1s, humans or machines. The world works best when it turns to human+machines — systems that take the best of both and combine them into a powerful force.
The idea took center stage, literally, during a Collision conversation between Brandon Berger, of marketing giant Ogilvy and Wired magazine’s Spencer Reiss. Berger had tons of examples of how the machines (and data more specifically) had upended the world of advertising and marketing again and again. And I’ll get to some.
But then Reiss gave him a little nudge and asked about storytelling. (“When you’re trying to do the touchy feely emotional marketing things, how the hell do you scale it?” is how he put it. With that, Berger agreed that creating the stories that become the ads or the promotions or multi-faceted campaigns really need the human touch.
Yes, he explained an agency like Ogilvy leans on technology to determine what platforms to use, to understand where to reach audiences, to determine what resonates with them. But someone has to plant the seed, to have the idea, to create the content.
“I mean, creating the lightning in a bottle of a brilliant idea that goes viral, we are much more in tune with what’s going to work now with data,” Berger said. “But that’s not going to happen all the time, and I think, for us, extending a message and telling a great story on many platforms, it really is a lot of work in terms of creating and refining that story.”
Implicit in Berger’s comments is the existence of the mixture of art and science that all kinds of enterprises — including advertisers, retailers, sports teams — have embraced.
+Aziz Ali, a New Orleans musician and marketing strategist, speaking at Collision later this week, told me that many musicians feel the internal struggle of following their muse while following their metrics.
“Reality is, that for musicians, we’re living in an increasingly DIY-oriented world,” said Ali, a 32-year-old guitar player. “And what you sort of realize over time is, especially as your career kind of moves forward, is that the creative artistic endeavors, sitting with your instrument, the performing, that part of it, it shrinks. So much of your time ends up being, figuring out what you’re doing on different social platforms, assessing why you should be there and more importantly, how you’re doing on there and how you should be measuring yourself.”
But it’s part of the gig now, he says, if you want to meet your fans where they are. (Read more about Ali’s music+marketing life in this post.)
Musicians, of course, are hardly alone in recognizing the evolution from a time when humans drove business decisions to a time when the machines are picking up more of the workload. Let’s pick back up with Berger talking about marketing and advertising campaigns.
“Back in the day of ‘Mad Men,’ there were planners and strategists who took qualitative insights and came up with a theory of how those things would move markets and sell products,” Berger said.
That’s changed — a lot.
“Now what is so amazing is that technology and data is so accessible,” he added, “that we can look at insights like search, or human behavior or social behaviors and take those ideas and, in real time, create content to then help our brands infiltrate a market.”
Berger’s proof point: diaper cakes. No, seriously. Diaper cakes. Ogilvy, which apparently represents a diaper company, found that people by the thousands were using the search term “diaper cake,” which are cakes made of diapers, meant to be given as a baby shower gift, not eaten. Anyway, it was instant campaign fodder.
But still, it took people to figure out what to do with this diaper cake information — and presumably to have the good sense to know not only that such a cake was inedible, but also highly unappetizing.
So, despite the rise of the machines and all the good that’s done us, humans will remain a vital part of the equation and a significant part of the conversation at Collision.
Certainly, as long as we have diaper cakes.
Photo of Reiss and Berger by Mike Cassidy. Robot illustration from BloomReach archive.
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.