Even in a data economy, it’s still all about people

I’ve spent this week at a Google SMB (small to medium business) partnership event in Miami, connecting
with the teams at Google that will help me build my business and learning about the ways in which Google is willing and able to help small businesses tackle the fireswamp that is digital advertising.  They do so indirectly, by supporting their channel sales partners with training, strategy, data analysis, marketing events, and a not-insignificant measure of scotch whiskey.

Amidst the torrential summer rains of Miami Beach in August Google has showcased what a large adwordsinvestment they’ve made in people – both their own and those working for their channel sales partners.  As we’ve spent these last few days ensconced in the beautiful (and historic, as guests are constantly reminded) Fontainebleau Hotel it struck me that even a company who has basically all the data in the world that there is to have, and arguably (or perhaps not) the most significant investment in algorithmic data manipulation, optimization and machine learning in the history of our brainy little species, even Google is still powered by people – by their relationships, their trust, their passions, their fears.  None of their data would be sought after if it weren’t organized in a way that makes sense to people – even though that often means organizing it in a way that is inefficient for the machines.  None of their revenue juggernaut of the past 20 years would have been possible had they not been able to convince advertisers – also people – that the best way to transmit their message to their customers – nearly all of which are people – was through Google’s data-driven means, and that meant a great deal of marketing, communicating, hand-shaking, and (most likely) cocktails, all of which are very people-centric practices.  Practices that are laced with data, no doubt – measuring success, analyzing costs, predicting outcomes – but which to execute still require a human with a Google badge to commence the shaking of those hands.

So for those worried that the machines are taking over, take heart knowing that even in the places most dominated by data-fueled artificial intelligence and algorithmic forecasting of even the tiniest of human behaviors, the whole study is still really an exercise in understanding people better and even – perhaps, especially – at Google the role of humans has never been more important.