The human touch

Notable economists have projected the loss of one third of all jobs to automation by mid-2020, a daunting concept. Here in Africa we are fully part of this global revolution. We’re a connected continent full of bright young people. In most of our economies most of them are unemployed or underemployed. Will AI deny or create opportunities for them?

I hope it will create them, and with some reason. As automation continues to develop over the next few years, these technological advances should assist organisations to complete process tasks faster. That means we humans can spend more time serving customers better.

I also believe that it is impossible to synthesise humanity, and especially so in Africa.  Although Western societies have actively suppressed intuition since The Enlightenment championed Reason, here in Africa we still place great value on how things make us feel. That handshake that wasn’t quite right, the eye contact that flickered, the empathy that cracked a little too soon.

Our brains are hard-wired to protect us. They examine our surroundings and make thousands of pattern-matches for us every minute. Looking for the mismatches that alert us to trouble; and the matches that signal security.  Consumer brains do this when they are examining brands, choosing products from the shelf. Client brains do it when they evaluate professional services: It’s not what you’ll do for them, it’s how.

Property developers and architects use AI to demonstrate new concepts. But the involvement of people who can discuss properties, help negotiate deals and work through buyer issues will be difficult to replace.Healthcare providers use technology, yet at this point don’t see robots replacing nurses or physicians.

Tourism businesses are debating everything from AI concierges to electronic butlers to fully robotic hotels. Many of them believe that automation can complement the human touch. But few think it can replace it.

Modern garment making use of the latest in design technology and software. But human hands are still involved in everything from cutting to sewing to quality control.

And will automation eventually replace the Brand Manager? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint so many of my friends in the Ad Agency world but … I think not. Branding and marketing both require persuasion. Data and insights are essential preparation, but a successful brand needs to match functional delivery with an emotional charge that is calibrated to a specific target audience. Brand acceptance is all about ‘feels right for me’. That’s intuitive, and while it can be prompted by investment in the right channels the fundamental argument must be nuanced correctly. In tonality, empathy, and emotional resonance we may indeed see renewed opportunities for the human workers of the future.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa




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