Last week, I participated in AdExchanger’s first-ever conference, which focused on the overall theme of “human-centered automation.” As a human who’s spent the past five years of her life calling for a future rife with smart humans using smart tools to run better digital media programs, “human-centeredness” was refreshing. Here are a few key things I heard for those of you who couldn’t attend in person, wrapped around three themes:

Humans: I loved the consistency of message on the importance of humans – in this case, your customers, current and future – amidst our race to progress. As Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, so aptly put it, “Give a damn about your users. Give lots of damns about your users.” John Mellor, Vice President of Strategy and Biz Dev at Adobe, told us, “I expect a personal experience,” and talked about how decisions made in “the last milliseconds” before message delivery – be it a text, banner ad, email, site experience – are what separate the winning brands from the losing ones. His story about how American Express delivered on that, using reams of data processed in real time to help John out of a potential bind in a foreign country, was a salute to human-centered automation (great job, AmEx). His wife, at the time, simply said, “Wow, that’s cool.” Yep, pretty much. Dan Salmon, Equity Research Analyst for BMO Capital, wore his analyst hat to the conference, asking us to think about ad spend patterns in a totally new – and great – way: “How about looking at ad spending by human behavior?” rather than channel, he asked. I love that. What could be better to get out of our channel silo thinking? After all, human consumers don’t give a crap about channel silos.

Marketing: Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at VivaKi, sternly reminded us that, “The world class brands create desire through storytelling.” And Robert Brunner, the awesomely smart and interesting founder of Ammunition and co-creator of Beats by Dr. Dre, told us, “A brand is a gut feeling that lives in your heart,” while Gokul Rajaram, Product Director for Ads at Facebook, talked about how, “marketing impact is cumulative over time.” I loved all of these thoughts, and they’re all, of course, right. It’s about storytelling, connecting, and, frankly, building that connection over time. Daniel Sheinberg, Senior Director, Display Marketplaces at Microsoft Advertising, was right when he said, “Marketers are in a battle for consumer attention,” but I have to say, I immediately thought to myself: Do you think all those people still buying TV on GRPs are really thinking long and hard about that?

Technology: My favorite quote of the day on the subject of technology (at least that’s how I chose to interpret it) came from the whip-smart and funny Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: “The question is not can it be built, but should it be built.” To build or not to build: that SHOULD BE the question. Both sell-sider Michael Barrett, newly minted CRO of Yahoo, and buy-sider Rishad had strong words for the ad tech crowd in that regard: “Don’t sell me crap I don’t need.” OK, I am taking significant artistic license here, yes, but you get my point (and for the record, Mr. Barrett definitely did note, “With limited resources and capacity, end-to-end solutions aren’t the worst thing in the world.”) Even more importantly, on the subject of technology, is how consumers are using technology. We know that the world is increasingly populated by always addressable customers with increasingly high expectations of brands (if Forrester is to be believed), and The New York Times’ Michael Zimbalist gave a prescient "the future is now" look at how the digital and physical worlds are increasingly influencing one another – “the democratization of atoms”, he called it – it struck me how tools like the MakerBot are literally shifting the power to create from the hands of brands to the hands of users.

And on the subject of what it all means within the context of digital media and audience buying and selling, today and in the future? To quote Michael Barrett just one more time: “It’s not an evolution; it’s a revolution.” Amen.

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