Planners need to re-think their discipline. An individual’s exposure to a brand is now more or less completely mediated by technology. It is insufficient to understand demographic or attitudinal information about a target audience. Who the individual is, what they want and are interested in, how they receive communications, and how they buy must all be viewed through the prism of the individual’s understanding and use of technology.
How tech-savvy are they? Do they use Google or MSN? Do they have a PVR? Do they listen to podcasts? Have they opted-in to email? Do they write or read blogs? How will they react to a new delivery format, product or service? Will they adopt it quickly? Will it appeal to several audiences? An understanding of the individual and their attitude now requires a sophisticated appreciation of current technical capabilities in the marketplace and audience engagement with, and understanding of, technology.
In addition to increasing their knowledge of technology and its impact on media, planners will have to be predictive in their application of this knowledge. Planners will have to lift their eyes above the concept of the traditional ad campaign within a set of static media. The discipline will necessarily become more consultative — delivering recommendations not just on what message a customer engagement should convey, but what means will most effectively meet the client’s business objectives, be it through communications, the creation of a new online service, the delivery of a new digital product, a new viral activity, engagement in a community, or whatever else is relevant.
Without a detailed understanding of the capabilities presented by new technologies, and the flexibility and reflexivity of different media, planners are ill-equipped to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by digital. Sometimes, of course, an old fashioned ad campaign is still the right thing to do, but these days, that is something that must be proven, not assumed.
The planner’s role, in understanding what consumers will want and how they will want it, is now not only about writing a “single minded proposition” or formulating campaign “messaging” — it is just as much about identifying an opportunity to relevantly enable customers to do new things, and then translating this into a set of functionality, delivery vectors and messaging that collectively realize the opportunity. Media planning and communications planning are part of the broader “User Experience” planning. The planner will have to bring this all together by seeing through the eyes of the customer.
Planners will also play an important role in bringing digital experiences to life. “Creatives,” “Techies” and Media types habitually “talk past” each other. At the moment, creatives are wrapped up the message, media folks in ad placements, and techies in the function. They are collectively ill-equipped to cope with the broader engagement possibilities enabled by the digitization of media.
Having to understand both the attitudes and behaviors of customers with respect to Brands, messages and technologies, planners should be in a position to understand the “creative,” “media” and “technical” teams, and provide a means to translate communications between them. Planners will broker the ideation process, using customer insight as the effective means of exchange.
In addition, having formulated the desired end of the activity, the planner will be in an ideal position to validate that the proposed solution is relevant, actionable and on message. The planner will play a more active part in the “creative” process, guiding the delivery of all teams to ensure that the overall project objectives are met in a way that the consumer will understand and engage with.
The Rousing Finale
No doubt about it, “planning” is a bit of a slippery fish at the moment. The bad news is that you planners are becoming obsolete along with the rest of the old ad agency model. (If that’s a surprise, by the way, you should reconsider your job title at the very least.) The good news is, that if you get all your digital ducks in a row, and you’re very lucky, you might just be the answer to those awkward questions clients are asking about the point of ad agencies.