The Rise of the
Ashton Carter. Ever heard of him? Nope, me neither. We should’ve though. As US Deputy Defense Secretary, he has just signed a new policy directive aimed at ensuring, in a world of increasing numbers and reliance on military drones, robots aren’t able to decide themselves whether to pull the trigger on humans. This is something we should all be thankful for because, although they might be the works of fiction, Terminator, The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrate just what could go wrong if you hand over autonomy and all decision making to the machines.
In a past life I used to sell cars for a living. I can say, without doubt, that it was the best introduction to selling I could have ever have had. Cars are a very emotional purchase and everyone’s reason for buying one is different. To be successful you have to truly understand the humanity of their reasoning and decision making process and, as a sales person, that is something you just have to have inside you. Yes, you can learn the fundamentals, but you can’t teach empathy and it stands to reason, getting back to the message in this article, this is something that cannot be automated.
Like the majority of people in our industry, I love technology. However, as fact, fiction and experience has taught me, technology and automation have to be part of the process, not all of it: to remove the human element courts failure and disaster, and therein lie my concerns about our current thinking. Whilst it is right to embrace technology, take advantage of the efficiencies and time saving improvements it offers and support the changes it could herald in the future, this shouldn’t be at the expense of having a top-notch sales team, selling who you are to market with passion, power and presence.
Too many publishers seem to have tunnel vision for the future of their business, based around fully automating the sales process. They seem hell bent on ridding themselves of expensive carbon and replacing it with petabytes of cheap silicon, and I fear that in our thinking, if not in our actual actions, we have gone too far. Automation, machine-based learning and technology should help make sales people, and the process of advertising (sales, fulfillment, optimisation, billing, etc.) as efficient as it can be, but crucially, also retain the humanity of the sale process, keeping the ‘soul in the sale’.
Facebook is a really good example of doing this well. The processes they have for buying/selling ads are pretty much all self-serve, so why, in this automated, machine-led world, do they have sales people? Mere speculation on my part, but I suspect Facebook understands that ‘making it easy to buy my inventory doesn’t guarantee that it will get bought’ – they still need sales people to get advertisers to understand what it’s going to feel like advertising on Facebook, bring to life the personality of the site and explain the intangible value it will bring to their campaigns. Every time I speak to someone at an agency, this human element of the Facebook sale is what they rate the most.
This isn’t an argument against tech or the abolition of technology-supported ROI and success metrics in favour of people-heavy brand-led campaigns and ‘it just feels like it should work’ campaign planning. It’s more a statement of fact: take the human out of the process and hand control completely over to the machines and you lose the one thing machines can never have – a sense of humanity and everything that comes with that – reasoning, judgement, gut feeling, passion, power and life. To lose the human element from advertising – an industry built on the desire to speak to people and where people are the centre of its thinking – is possibly to lose advertising itself.Global Desk Editor