Pick your Platform: Sasha Grujicic on missing the most important platform of them all

The Dentsu Aegis Network CSO says in the race for data, innovation and commercialization, the industry is losing sight of human nature.
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What is the most innovative media platform in market today? That is the question MiC is posing to the industry, with Sasha Grujicic, CSO at Dentsu Aegis Network choosing the human platform. Grujicic, who has been with Dentsu in the role since 2013 was recently named as one 31 top agency innovators globally by The Internationalist.

In the race for data, technology, innovation and commercialization there is one media platform that has fallen by the wayside. This platform, without question, is by far the most important of them all. And the sad truth is we’re losing sight of how to work with it in a meaningful way. This platform is the human media platform.

The human media platform, call it our hearts and minds, cannot be reduced to bits, bytes or some arbitrary process. It is a highly networked, highly efficient, fallible operating system that uses natural language and imagery to guide our actions. Human media is rich with texture and extraordinarily adaptive. It grows, learns and changes over time.

But our human media platform is also filled with many flaws. It can be fooled, manipulated and really stubborn. These features alone make the human media platform amongst the most challenging platforms to work with. Just ask the artificial intelligence community. But by returning to our industry’s roots, understanding people in culture, we may just find a way to salvage our industry from the lunacy, and inevitability, of neuromarketing and ceaseless optimization.

Rebuilding from the ground up

We have chopped and minced ourselves into the smallest pieces of communication. Our minds are networked, so when we’re presented with micro-marketing and small, frequent interactions, it always leaves us missing the whole picture. Our worlds have become a decontextualized, fragmented mess that our minds are ill-suited to deal with. No wonder we ignore more than we see.

The answer is for agencies to create work that thinks, thinks social (not media), and thinks culturally. People need stimulus from media that can draw them out from within and into the world together. We, as an industry, need to bring these ideas back to the table.

Belief and Meaning

Data marketing always prefers rational choices and with that preference we tend to invest in it to an excess. We see behaviours in data and immediately rationalize the information. The loss we experience in this rationalization is the irrational, the fallible and the non-understandable piece of human nature. The unfortunate side effect is that in those areas lies what it means to believe, have faith and derive meaning.

People want more from their companies and their media because their minds need it. Whether its leaders or causes, our clients are being asked to fulfill our collective need for belief and meaning. We need to learn from our history of what it means to create belief in meaning in companies again. We need to re-integrate meaning into what we do, what we say and how we say it in media.

Open and Reflexive

We live in a world that is overwhelmed with openness. The days of command and control marketing are long gone and we cannot pretend that we know exactly how campaigns are going to turn out anymore. While things are not pure chaos, they are much more open now and require us to develop our work slightly differently. The cycle of putting media out into the world and waiting for a response in the format we provide doesn’t work anymore. We need to be much more inclusive in what we get back. In other words, the yes/no question always carries with it more than what you asked for. The response will always be “yes and” or “no but.”

Media needs to listen not just for the answer to the direct question but also to the space around it. This challenges us from an insight and research point of view but also from a performance media perspective. People carry a lot of baggage in the decisions they make. Our media needs to measure and report on the responses we ask for, but we should always do so with context. What may seem unpredictable may indeed be very predictable if we listen more closely.

Aim for Dissonance and Ambiguity

Our instincts, as marketers, is to try and capture, control and convert. We build media campaigns and platforms that are closed, logical and solutions-based. See, search, click and check out. These transactional functions, while super valuable, take advantage of a business’ legacy and a position in culture.

People want to solve problems and also to answer questions. They look to businesses in media to try and help them articulate what those questions are. But people also want to ask questions and create problems. They want to buy into things that answer part of the question but not all of it. Ambiguity allows room for people to put themselves into the solution. ‘I want to tackle poverty with my purchase but I want to have my spin on it!’ With communications in media we need to champion the questions our clients are trying to solve but leave enough ambiguity so people can find themselves in the problem and the solution.

While it’s fun to look at technology and its disruptive facets we cannot forget that our own human media doesn’t operate in the same way. If we are to survive we have to resist the temptation to reduce and reduce and reduce into binary choices, because humans left binaries behind a long time ago. Even though we’re flawed, our minds are far more rich than any supercomputer or server farm in world.

So let’s leave the easy problems of technology aside for a while and return to the human platform that desperately need our attention. Surely it’ll be much more fun anyway.