CANNES: Planners need to embrace emerging data opportunities such as artificial intelligence (AI), but must also stick to tried and true research techniques, and consider the ever-present need to prove their value to clients, Warc's 2016 'Future of Strategy' debate has suggested.

The panel session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity included Sandy Thompson, global planning director at Y&R, Chris Stephenson, APAC head of strategy at PHD Singapore, and Debbie Weinstein, managing director of brand solutions and innovation at Google. It was moderated by Adam Ferrier, the global CSO of Cummins&Partners.

"There are a lot more analytics and statistics involved in strategy," said Weinstein. "In the future, it might be robots and AI, [though] right now it's a data scientist looking at the data."

Stephenson agreed: "Your number one investment should be AI, because we are entering an arms race for structuring data – and developing smart ways of accessing data. If you don't do it, you're going to be outsourcing it to the two companies that can currently do it – Google and Facebook."

Thompson, on the other hand, argued that planners still need to embrace what they have been doing since the inception of the discipline: finding real human insights through face-to-face research. "We are inundated by quant data which doesn't really give you a sense of where you need to go," she argued.

"We need to get out there in the real world. That offers value to clients – and a true understanding of what consumers need, not what they say they need."

The question of how strategists can offer tangible value for clients was a point of contention for the panel – with Thompson arguing that strategists should aim to bill for their services so that the client recognises the worth of their insights, and others saying that clients are hard to persuade on this point.

"Our problem is that we give it away for free, so they don't value it," Thompson said. "I would charge for strategy [and] pay the strategists more."

"A lot of very good agencies argue for paying for it, but clients refuse," said Stephenson. "Clients need to start coming to the table on this." Ferrier agreed, adding: "The onus is completely on the agency on the issue, as clients will always try to get as much for as little as they can."

But the panel was united on one other big issue facing planners - junk metrics. "I get nervous about all this conversion and click data - it's dangerous," Stephenson said. "And there are so many shit briefs saying 'Do something and get awareness'. It helps nobody."

"Digital has been good on the short-term measures," Weinstein added. "But when it comes to brand building with digital, we have been much less good on that. We haven't conquered the next generation [of metrics]."

Rather than getting overexcited about the "silver bullet" of proper digital measurement, though, planners should still be sticking to the tried and true. "Knowledge and understanding are different," Thompson said.

"Strategists need to put some comfortable shoes on and hit the streets."

Data sourced from Warc