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Why 2018 Will Be the Year of Real Intelligence

The Influencers 246 Add to collection

INFLUENCER: Barkley's David Gutting on how agencies can compete with the onslaught of consultancies invading their turf

Why 2018 Will Be the Year of Real Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is all the rage, and justifiably so. It offers marketers all sorts of fascinating possibilities. 

But here’s a prediction: 2018 will be the year in which ‘real’ intelligence takes a deeper hold than AI in planning and strategy departments around the world.

This prediction is rooted in two things, one macro and one micro. The macro has to do with a colossal change in how we understand the way brands work today. The micro has to do with the evolution in the sacred nomenclature of planning and strategy.

Let’s take the macro first, and I’ll advance a simple argument: the best way to think of the modern brand is as an intelligence operation. 

Traditional brands developed in an old world of top-down media and in a management system of command and control. As the Greek poet Archilochus wrote, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Isaiah Berlin built out this idea in his popular essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’. Hedgehogs follow one organising principle and foxes juggle many. In the old world, the strongest brands did one thing and they did it well.

A new world brand is different. Brands might be driven by a central purpose, but the best ones - from Amazon to Nike - are constantly tuning into their customers, their markets, and their cultures. They are able to shift, change, and innovate almost in real time. They’re not hedgehogs that know one big thing; they’re foxes that know every big thing and small ones, too.

These fox brands are really intelligence operations. 

Think about it. In an MI6 or CIA intelligence operation, intelligence analysts make sense of massive amounts of information - much of it contradictory, incomplete, or unclear. The knowledge they provide leads to action. This isn’t big data, though that can play a part. It’s applied knowledge. 

In a competitive marketplace, brands with real intelligence are able to examine any situation, from the smallest LTO to a brand transformation, make an assessment that says, “this is what we must do”, and do it.

Then there’s the micro explanation - the shifting language of planning and strategy. In recent years, especially in the US, the term ‘planning’ has become outmoded. ‘Strategy’ took its place. For some reason, starting around 2010 or so, planners wanted to be known as strategists. Maybe it’s because young planners would tell people their job title and no one understood what it meant. ‘Strategist’ sounds both clear and imposing. 

Strategists have had to put up with all kinds of other people also taking on the title. Now we have media, digital, experience and social strategists. No longer are strategists merely writing strategy briefs based on a compelling insight. They’re planning entire brand system strategies based on an application of intelligence.

At our agency in Kansas City, Barkley, we’ve added a significant intelligence team to our strategy group. I’m seeing intelligence groups popping up at other agencies too, complementing strategy teams and sometimes replacing traditional research departments. I expect this trend to accelerate in 2018.

If agencies want to compete with the onslaught of consultants invading our turf, if we want to be playing at the level of the foxes, we need an intelligence discipline. Yes, we can beat the consultants because we make magic and they don’t, but the more we know, the better our spells.


David Gutting is SVP/Director of Intelligence on the Barkley strategy team

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Barkley, Fri, 19 Jan 2018 11:18:57 GMT