LONDON: Technological developments will dramatically change the role of agency strategists as they move from a free-associating, subjective approach to a more empirical, objective and advisory role, a leading industry figure has said.

Writing in the current issue of Admap, Mark Holden, Worldwide Strategy and Planning Director at PHD, outlines the future direction of strategy that will start to emerge once attribution modelling and demand-side platforms come together.

Currently, users log in to the former to pull out insights and then log in to the latter to execute their strategies.

"When they are finally joined up, this will create the first closed system our industry has ever experienced," Holden says, "with this the basis into which we can drop a reinforcement learning algorithm."

The point about reinforcement learning – an emerging area of artificial intelligence – is that it requires a closed system, where action and outcome are inextricably linked, in order to further develop.

Within five years, Holden expects that such algorithms will become self-optimising systems, capable of making hundreds of thousands of incremental improvements every second.

And when other forms of advanced marketing technology are plugged into this closed system, marketing activity can become self-implementing as well, creating what will feel like a marketing central nervous system.

"We will be witnessing media strategies, creativity and CRM initiatives being created before our very eyes: strategies and ads will be an epiphenomenon of the system – as in, they will emerge from it," says Holden.

Strategists should not necessarily be alarmed by this prospect, however, which simply marks the latest stage in the evolution of the discipline, as they become, in Holden's metaphor, gardeners.

Just as a gardener designs the layout of the garden, plants it and tends it, so the strategist "will design the marketing technology stack, plugging in/out new technologies as they develop, feeding in new data sources gained through strategic second-party data deals, and so on".

These strategists will need to know about data and marketing technology, and its interoperability, as much as, today, they know about media.

But not everything can be plugged into the central nervous system: brand-building activity, for example, will still require human judgement, and strategists operating in this field will utilise another area of artificial intelligence – deep learning – to inform their decisions.

"They will construct their recommendations with reference to meta-studies that have teased out law-like relationships on how the physics of marketing actually works," says Holden.

So while future strategists will come in two different forms, both will be working in what Holden expects will be a "more solid, empirical, tangible and business-centric discipline".

Data sourced from Admap