Over the last year people have been increasingly talking about the “craft” of media planning. Back in February 2019, Gideon Spanier the media editor of Campaign wrote, “the craft of media planing needs to make a comeback” and he further opined that “media planning has declined in importance in recent years – with serious consequences”. More recently, Steve Gladdis, CSO at Mediacom has argued that the “craft [of media planning] will become more important as a driver of growth”.

So why are we talking about media planning again, what does it really mean and why is it set to become more important?

The media landscape has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifteen years. Since Google became mainstream around 2005, we have seen huge growth in digital media consumption and corresponding growth in digital media budgets. Because of its high measurability and its proximity to the purchase, there has been increased focus on using digital media to convert consumer demand into purchases.

But there is a critical distinction to be made between channels that convert demand and channels that create and grow demand. Whilst lower funnel channels convert pre-existing demand, mid and upper funnel channels deliver the brand preference that is essential to create and grow brand demand.

Many of the world’s biggest digital businesses recognise the ability of traditional media to deliver growth at scale; Amazon, Booking.com, eBay, Facebook, Google, HomeAway, Hotels.com and Microsoft are all huge users of traditional media and especially TV.

LinkedIn Case Study

A good example of a pure play digital brand using traditional media to grow is the recent campaign activity from LinkedIn.

Across 2019 it has continued to invest in offline media at scale – utilising print media – especially newspapers and outdoor.

Example LinkedIn tube ad October 2019

So why, given the perfect target audience reach of LinkedIn, and its own heavily used subscriber platform why would it wish to communicate in traditional media?

There are four key reasons for this:

First, consumers still spend a lot of time in environments where offline media will reach and influence them. They spend almost 3 hours per day watching TV. The reach of outdoor advertising remains undiminished, and the gradually declining medium of press still reaches over 11m adults every day in the U.K. (Newsbrands 2019). This ability deliver high scale reach, physical presence and mental availability is vitally important to the health of brands (see Sharp, How Brands Grow).

Second, these channels deliver strong visual or aural impact; it’s difficult to ignore or “Adblock” TV, press, radio or outdoor. This cut-through presence helps marketers communicate key aspects of brand personality quickly and effectively and drives memory building in consumers’ minds.

Thirdly, communicating in paid channels confers brand status, authenticity and trust – increasingly important characteristics in the current low-trust media environment of fraud and fake news.

And last but not least, traditional media is low cost on a CPM basis – TV, print, outdoor and radio all have CPMs that are typically below the CPMs you might see in search engines.

These four points are some of the reasons why the world’s largest digital superbrands still pile billions of pounds or dollars into traditional media channels.

So what is the craft of media planning?

The most effective campaigns combine both mass, segment and individual communications across both digital performance and high reach traditional media. But making investments across these multiple channels requires deep levels of audience insight combined with high levels of media knowledge plus experience in planning and evaluating all media channels and the experience of knowing how to orchestrate the selected channels into a single cohesive plan. And deploying this skillset is what we call media planning.

The craft of media planning is knowing how to use media to grow demand for brands rather than simply harvesting sales from within the current demand pool.

The toolkit required to use media to grow brand demand has the following component parts:

  1. Understanding the business, marketing and campaign objectives of the brand
  2. Understanding how the consumer sees the brand and relate to it, what they like about it and why they buy it.
  3. Understanding the relative position of the brand in the category and how it is different from competitors
  4. Understanding the purchase and usage patterns of the brand
  5. Understanding how the category behaves – from seasonality to competition
  6. Knowing all the different types of data and research that will help build understanding of consumer behaviour and media channel performance
  7. Understanding which audiences, segments, behaviours, regions, towns, cities or postcodes are most likely to yield the target audience being sought.
  8. Having a strong understanding of how all media media channels work, their cost structures and the type of business outcomes they can deliver
  9. Having a strong understanding of the communications task capabilities of each channel – do they build awareness, increase consideration or drive sales conversions?
  10. Having an understanding of how media channels can synergise to identify where different combinations can have a 2+2=5 effect
  11. Understanding how media channels can be used creatively to engage consumers
  12. Knowing how media channels are sold, bought, traded and managed
  13. Be able to identify and define the type of campaign that is likely to deliver the marketing and campaign objectives most effectively and efficiently
  14. Being able to organise the audience insights and media channel capabilities and costs into a cohesive plan of action which details of what each channel will contribute, how channels will be used, and how they will be measured and controlled.
Is media planning art, science or craft?

Producing an effective media plan is not an art and it’s not a science. But – it has the characteristics of both; good media planning requires logical data analysis and it also requires intuitive and innovative thinking.

The best media planners serve a professional apprenticeship followed up by practical experience – learning through experience – which makes media planning a craft.

So why do we need the craft of media planning more now than ever before?

Fifteen years ago everything looked like it was going to go digital. And it also looked like traditional media was going to decline terminally. But the reality is neither have happened. Yes, digital has grown enormously but it hasn’t moved so far up the marketing funnel as to displace traditional media – if anything digital has hovered around the lower funnel zone. Meanwhile, traditional media has declined but it still completely dominates the upper funnel.

All this means planning consumer and B2B communications has got a whole lot more complicated. Advertisers need specialists who can navigate through this complexity on their behalf, find the opportunities and produce integrated plans to deliver business objectives and commercial outcomes.

In short, the need for high quality media planning has never been greater or more pressing than it is now.

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