We didn't know the answer to that, so we asked 100 of London’s top media planners to a #FutureofData event at Google HQ to find out.

April 2015

We were surprised to find that 80% believed real-time data was having an influence on planning but it could be doing more. Meanwhile, 40% of attendees said the biggest challenge for agency planners hoping to embrace data was that old habits die hard. The consensus was that planners have always lived in a data-centric environment, but we encountered serious discussion about the true nature of this growing tidal wave of real-time data.

A question of vocabulary

Our first debate centred on terminology: real-time. Real-time data influences delivery, optimisation and automation, but planning is longer term, more strategic. A plan involves more than just the present ‘real’ time; by definition, it looks into the future.

This debate threw light on the frustration planners feel as they drown in interfaces, dashboards and reports. This ‘data noise’ is a massive problem, making it hard to build insights from the raw information. In some cases, planners are forced to ignore the data, trust their initial instincts and retreat within their own world where people – and not machines – understand people.

Technology will beat you at chess, but it won't know why

Empathy was a word we heard from several attendees and speakers. Technology and platforms will never have empathy, they told us. A computer will beat you at chess, register your purchasing habits, understand where you go, but it will not grasp why. Although we shouldn’t ignore the where, what and when, the why is the most important element in the puzzle.

Planners need to collaborate more with implementation teams

“We are the planning community; let’s take an action to establish a culture of collaboration,” said one agency planner. Along with frustrations around ‘data noise’, participants voiced acknowledgement that they must change. Planners have access to the most strategic business problems. The first step must be taken by planners to collaborate and communicate with their search, display, ad ops, insights, analytics and tech teams.

Don't forget people

“The people you hire must be comfortable in a messy environment,” said one agency planner. In addition to making many bearded planners feel comfortable about their living arrangements, this highlighted the fact that ‘data noise’ will only increase. Employees – both planning and activation teams – need to feel comfortable challenging right and wrong data, and employers need to create a culture that values the sharing of insights.

So, is real-time data really influencing planning? Yes it is, but not as much as it could. It will take a shift in culture to allow better collaboration and better use of data.

It was clear that there is a need for agencies to develop a process to help them reduce their ‘data noise’. Google has a number of platforms (such as AdWords, DoubleClick and YouTube) to provide great data points for planners to discover the valuable insights in a complex landscape. Google technology allows for a better source of truth and reduction in ‘data noise’.