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Technology & Human Insight working in harmony

Written by Matt | 18-Jul-2014 15:29:00

Literature and movies are littered with stories about over-reliance on technology and the long term effects it can have on our lives. One theme that is often displayed is that we become so reliant on technology that the human race becomes lazy and enamoured with the idea that everything is automated for us, as in the wonderful /wp-content/uploads/film Wall-e. However, this overly reliant attitude in the digital media buying industry can be quite dangerous.

Image source here.

Here at equimedia, we love technology. Whether we are typing it, swiping it or wearing it, we are forever immersing ourselves in all things digital to enhance both our work and social environments to, generally speaking, make our lives better.

Our digital media team have embraced technology to its fullest to become well versed and experienced in real-time advertising (RTA) via our agency trading desk, Kaizen Platform. RTA, or programmatic media buying which it is also commonly known as, is grounded in complex algorithms that run continuously, evaluating cookies within milliseconds to determine whether a display ad should be shown to a user, in a given space, at a certain time.

Working with such technologies continuously brings us into contact with similar providers who like to wax lyrical about how their technology works faster than anybody else’s and was built by former NASA scientists who sent missions to Mars. Their algorithm can monitor and evaluate billions of data points in quick succession, optimising itself to get the most from the campaign it is running. The algorithm ‘knows’ when to bid in an auction and when not to and is continuously ‘learning’ from the data it is evaluating.

It all sounds very impressive, but once you delve deeper into the service these technology platforms provide, you often find that they are missing one key ingredient. The campaign manager’s response to questions around optimisation, campaign set-up, day parting and knowing which creative to serve is usually answered along the lines of, “well we need to give the algorithm time to learn before it can make any optimisations to the campaign”. But where are the humans in this process? Can they not overlay learnings from other campaigns which were reaching similar audiences? Does every campaign start from square one with no sense of shared learnings or insights?

Whenever I am faced with a situation such as this, I always visualise a scenario where our ‘campaign manager’ is waiting for the algorithm to ‘learn’, unable to pull any levers that would, undoubtedly, improve the performance of the campaign. Like the passengers on the ship in Wall-e, they have closed themselves off from the outside universe and have become completely reliant on the machines that surround them. But why wait for a machine, when human insight can put us 10 steps ahead of where the machine insists we begin from?

So, how does the algorithm ‘learn’? Well, it needs data and lots of it. Recently, our COO, Louise, wrote a thoughtful article about the relationship between technology and human insight for PPC campaigns. In it, Louise uses a lovely analogy of giving the team fishing rods to explain how this relationship can work effectively. To take the fish theme further, I would liken a learning algorithm to a fishing trawler (void of a captain) sifting along the ocean floor picking up all manner of fish.

When you are only looking for a certain type of fish, this strategy undoubtedly leads to finding what you are looking for, but in amongst immeasurable wastage at significant cost. Trawlers are expensive and only after it has mowed its way through the oceans does it ‘know’ the best places to fish!

With Kaizen, the human insight element allows us to steer the trawler and find the best fishing spots quickly through research, discussion and shared insight both within the team itself and with other departments in the company, like PPC for instance. This role that humans can play in the programmatic world can help gain access to the best fishing spots faster and more cheaply to ensure we (and our clients’ ads) are always in the right place at the right time, without the need for big, expensive trawlers (or huge budget and time to waste a significant proportion of the budget learning from scratch).

The emergence of RTA technology has transformed digital marketing for the better and offers an almost infinite opportunity to enhance, develop and continuously optimise client campaigns. The algorithms give us buying power and reach beyond anything we have experienced before, but the role of the human is to harness insight and data whilst taking into account wider market forces that an algorithm cannot comprehend by itself, to help drive a campaign forwards.

It would be easy to sit back and let the technology do everything for us but it is the synergy between people, technology and data that is the root cause of our most successful campaigns.

To find out more about Kaizen and our digital display media offering please contact the equimedia team….