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The Jidoka Principle: A Talent-Led Tech Approach

While technology is essential to our industry, talent is equally essential to the tech.

The Jidoka Principle: A Talent-Led Tech Approach

Look inside any advertising agency today, and the landscape of talent and skillsets has evolved far beyond media. Data analysts, technologists, measurement specialists, strategists, and yes, still media buyers and planners. Just over two years ago, we surmised that agencies of the future may, in fact, be unrecognizable, and rather than be troubled by this fact, we’ve navigated through and embraced it with open arms.

At the heart of this – for some – tumultuous change, is technology.

Technology and automation rapidly permeated the industry, changing the shape of agency business and altering our roles as marketers. It’s given us scale, speed, and analysis capabilities that have enabled greater effectiveness, not only in media, but also across many teams and functions, further strengthening and validating the connection between marketing and business growth.

But as we reflect on the benefits, we can also recognize where the reliance on technology has gone too far. Some agencies have fallen into the trap of commoditizing their own capabilities and joining a race to the bottom, effectively turning talented marketing people into…button pushers. The industry’s biggest platforms and media partners continue to push the automation agenda, leaning into a narrative that more of it is the only path forward – that it’s meant to enhance and enrich our capabilities as strategic marketers. Unfortunately, that same narrative also marches to a drum beat of scale, scale, and more scale, which often leads to decisions made for cost reasons to protect margin, rather than thinking about the value agencies can and should be providing.  

Technology is not meant to replace marketing talent.  

While technology is essential to our industry, talent is equally essential to the tech. In building our own technology, STAGE, we were inspired by the old Toyota concept of autonomation, or jidoka – automation with a human touch. We’ve designed the Assembly business on this idea, developing our own technology to automate the predictable and allow our teams to focus on tasks with strategic value to better support our clients and their marketing and business challenges. For us, it’s always been about teaching our people to build solutions, not simply use them.

Automation today is about navigating complexity in ways that a human never could, but it doesn’t rule out human intervention altogether. Technology alone wouldn’t be able to answer nuanced business challenges or apply social, market, and client context. Decisions around adjusting investment or creative messaging or making the connections between media and any number of other business units are not merely numeric calculations we should use an algorithm for, but human decisions that balance rational and emotional considerations.

Whether it’s tying profitability to media investment, or reaching higher-value customers, or simply (or not so simply) developing a stronger, more connected ecosystem for first-party data ingestion and analysis – talent + tech continues to be the answer.

The jidoka principle is even further validated in scenarios of strategic technology consulting. How often do we see clients invest in large, sophisticated tech solutions, designed to be catch-alls for the perfect martech infrastructure – “set it and forget it” engines for foolproof customer and business growth? The reality is, more than half the time, deciphering the benefits of the tech is like trying to master the world’s most complex Rubik’s cube. Another scenario where marketing talent is crucial.  

The harmony that can and should exist between talent and technology is a state where they are empowering one another – smart uses of technology applied by smart people. Automation of the predictble, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks to create the space for deeper thinking. Democratizing data across an organization to fuel innovation in teams. Real-time access to this data to uncover insights for the most challenging questions, then translated to solutions powered by brilliant marketers and creative minds.  

If we go back to our “agencies of the future” vision, it’s true, the talent will look different. Career paths will continue to change, and some old ways of media will be long gone (though of course, some are already making a comeback and will stick around). What won’t change? The marketing industry will always need talent with strong marketing fundamentals, and it will also need technically minded problem solvers with a selection of best-in-class technology at their disposal, to solve the challenges and fuel growth to businesses.