The single most important factor for transformation might surprise you
A view from Sue Unerman

The single most important factor for transformation might surprise you

When it comes to achieving transformation, there is one route to it that carves through all others, says MediaCom's chief transformation officer.

Which is the most important factor for transformation?

At the beginning of 2018 we asked our clients a big question. Of all the issues facing our industry (including GAFAM, Brexit, millennials, voice, purpose and so on), all of which are on marketers’ minds, which is the most important?

I can reveal here that the top four issues are:

  • creativity

  • artificial intelligence

  • data

  • agility

At our opening session at Advertising Week Europe, we invited four speakers to each champion one of the topics and let the audience vote on which was most crucial.

That transformation is essential for business is unarguable. Most businesses have path-dependence baked into their ways of working. Keeping up with the pace of change in the world is essential, but it isn’t enough simply to buy in a new head of digital or data. If you staple on a new product to the edge of the business, but don’t change how the organisation operates, then it won’t deliver.

As one of the greatest thinkers of this century, Stephen Hawking, said: "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change."

As another great (in this case a fictional one), Optimus Prime, said: "There’s a thin line between being a hero and being a memory."

Without transformation, without change, there’s no chance of being a hero.

Without the right kind of transformation there’s just the Gartner "Trough of disillusionment".

So, what did our speakers say and who won?

Victoria White, editorial director of Hearst Made, championed creativity. She talked about the importance of human editorial judgement: "If we only went with what the data said, then we would not have created such amazing products such as Esquire Townhouse and House Beautiful Sofas."

She pointed to the need for bravery in knowing what the audience want before they know they want it, and acting on that insight, calling her editors "walking algorithms". She concluded by saying: "Without a passionate human being with an idea, there is no creativity."

Jim Kelly, vice-president R+D at Quantcast, was up next, championing the supremacy of data. He pointed out the step-change in media, from making a few decisions every quarter in the last century to making a few million media decisions every second now. He said that, because of this, it is crucial to get "comfortable with machines digesting data on your behalf".

Culturally, this is a big change, too. Kelly believes that many organisations are focused on too many so-called key performance indicators because too many metrics are measurable. In a reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he challenged that many are "drowning in data, like the ancient mariner surrounded by water, but dying of thirst". (Remember the lines: "Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink"). The solution? Sort out your metrics, and data will drive business success.

Hannah Mirza, global head of partnerships at MediaCom, talked about AI being crucial. She said: "When humans think of problem-solving, we follow decision-making trees to arrive at answers. AI has the ability to comprehend many more decision trees than a human can by contrast."

Mirza pointed out that we are reaching a point where AI and reality-matching is as close as 95%. It is, she said, improving, to the extent that we are not able to discernibly differentiate between humans and machine, and she showed how you can benefit at every stage of the consumer decision journey with best-practice AI.

Lastly, Tony Fogett, chief executive and owner of Code Computerlove, championed agility. Agile processes differ from traditional ways of working by valuing Individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and responding to change over slavishly following a plan.

His business is built on agile practices and he eloquently argued that his philosophy of "point, fire, aim" led to better decisions and more empowered staff. In a world where change will never be this slow again, agility is essential for transformation.

After all the speakers had argued their point, we had a vote. The Advertising Week Europe 2018 audience said, conclusively, that creativity was key.

What do you think?

Sue Unerman is the chief transformation officer of MediaCom