Hey planners: you’re fired

I recently spoke at an event where media planners were in attendance. Apparently, I said something that upset someone enough to complain that I was wrong or stupid or offensive – or probably all the above.

What’s new? That’s my job.

My argument was this: in a world of exponential complexity, planners are bringing a linear model that belongs to another, simpler age. And they’ll soon be redundant as a species.

Perhaps a picture says it better. Here’s a picture of how we want customer acquisition to occur. It’s a linear, sensible journey that starts with the customer becoming aware of your brand through awareness, then making their way to consideration and acquisition and finally reaching a happy landing at Planet Retention.

In reality, the journey is much like this: a chaotic, unscripted, unpredictable path through a universe of choices. What’s more, the journey is traceable only after it has happened.

The complexity of this journey is a direct result of the three d’s of media: disintegration, disintermediation and disruption. Again, two pictures say a thousand words. Before the 1990s, media planning was a simple task of booking five channels. As my friend Mike Hutcheson says, by running a TVC, a radio campaign and an ad in The Listener you could reach anyone who wasn’t in a coma.

Now, the media world looks more like my shirt after a spaghetti Bolognese. Messy. 

It gets worse. This picture was made over a year ago and is already out of date. The speed of change is profound: new media channels, new planning tools and the rise of artificial intelligence is challenging marketers and planners like never before.

As Forrest Research said in 2103: “The traditional planning routine is ripe for extinction, as 69 percent of our marketing leaders say that conditions change too quickly to keep marketing plans current.” 

Part of the problem is that planners are bringing human-scale thinking to quantum-scale problems. In his book Exponential Organisations, Salim Ismail argues that we are now experiencing business growth at the same rate as technology, that is, at exponential rates. Take Facebook, Uber or AirBnB: these companies didn’t exist a few years ago but have grown to become overnight behemoths.

It’s all the result of Moore’s Law which states the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This has grown computing power exponentially – and accounts for the fact that you’re reading this fantastic article on a device with more IT power than Apollo 11.

That same power is now driving the complexity of our media landscape, including the number of channels, timeliness, quality and impact of interactions with consumers.

The only planner capable of handling complexity of this kind is a machine.

It’s why IBM expects its artificial intelligence engine, Watson, to become IBM’s media planner and buyer. According to the UK version of StopPress, The Drum, “Watson over time learns how effectively a campaign is performing for different audiences at different times, locations, devices and browser … In the US, IBM claims this has reduced its cost per click by as much as 71 percent, although the average hovers around the 31 percent mark”.

My message to media planners and buyers is simple: if you think that your job is important, wake up. Media planning and buying is fast becoming redundant; the age of complexity has arrived and you’re being replaced by a machine.

That’s pretty offensive, I guess.

Vincent Heeringa is the co-founder of StopPress.

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