Right now is an exciting time to be a planner. Problems are increasingly complex and technology empowers us to create solutions that can be brilliantly creative and ridiculously relevant. But it’s certainly not comfortable.
These are five (of several) ebbs and flows actively redefining our function as planners. One can easily continue to write a full piece about each, but I’ve tried keeping it as concise as possible:
1. It’s Not Just the Tools That Have Changed
No doubt the tools have changed considerably and that in itself is a pretty big deal. But if it were only for the addition of new media, innovative ways of targeting, lower production costs etc. then this change would simply be quantitative. Quantitative because it’s incremental - more tools, additional targeting metrics, more channels, bigger, smaller and so forth. But the new tools have inspired qualitative change, fundamentally different solutions to interconnected new challenges.
New tools also require new measurement. As problems become more linked to the increasing complexity of the context in which they are created, solutions must be more tailored. The efficacy of tailored solutions can only be accurately judged by customised criteria, relevant to the context. Defining relevancy objectives through traditional tools like ARs or threshold measures alone will only deliver blanket reports. We need macro perspective built from granular thinking, and behavioural data is the catalyst to facilitating this.
2. Adapt Or Die
Flexibility and creativity should be intrinsic in planning today. The fixed 2 - 3 year plan of yesteryear has become academic. Brands should rather assume a lean position and develop a series of agile ideas connected through an authentic brand proposition.
This is particularly true for brands engaged in youth culture - where media is as fluid and expressive as the culture itself and your brands relevance is determined in single moments of attention. Gareth Kay asks, "what if we stitched smaller ideas together to make a longer idea?” More ideas mean more moments of attention. After all, a diverse system is more robust than one that is uniform. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially when the weaving is in fluid movement.
3.The Shifting Role of the Big Idea
One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is the importance of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Proliferation of choice and content, coupled with people's diminishing attention span has amplified the importance of an authentic USP.
So what’s this got to do with the big idea? Well, currently the two are interconnected and complementary, yet separate. But if we value the importance of agility then one could ask whether there is room for both? What if the big idea is the USP? A brand proposition and creative direction to inspire and focus a series of more nimble ideas. Today, not everything needs to be conceived of and crafted from scratch all the time; especially when brand propositions are moving away from traditional campaigns to longer term platforms that present value across and eco-system of related products, focused by a brand essence or USP.
4. Big Data
We have always used data to fuel and support creative, but now information is shaping the nature of ideas. Especially within digital, social data enables us to glean behavioural understanding and target tighter (less wastage) than ever before, resulting in the ability to reach pockets of people who are easier to convert. Being able to accurately target pockets of people together with more predictable Return on Investment (ROI) assists us in understanding ’which half’ of marketing spend is working. Previously advertisers mostly relied on the entertainment value of the creative. Through a better understanding of reach and behaviour we can more accurately predict ROI and hedge risk accordingly, to avoid the ‘spray and pray’ mentality.
Consider these developments coupled with our economic environment, it’s no surprise that more spend is being allocated to more predictable ROI and ideas supported by big data. These are just two ways in which data is shaping the fruition of ideas. No doubt the arms race for future planners (and creatives) will be in data interpretation - best we get to iTunes University and get some of that stuff!
5. Planners Should Be Pacemakers Not Relay Runners
Typically your capacity as a planner starts with initiating thinking and setting the tone for a project. Traditionally, strategy then does a handover to creative in the form of a brief. Creatives then do their thing, hand over to media and media hands over to production, and strategy joins the team at the end of the line. This linear, compartmentalised process doesn’t fit the dynamic context that we’re planning for or the adaptable work we should be producing. Planners now require perspective on the holistic process, especially creative. We need to let creatives into our world and we need to step into theirs. I don’t believe you can plan for brilliant creative if you don’t rigorously value creativity yourself.
In retrospect, it's easy to connect the dots. But we’re often challenged to recognise change as it happens and develop solutions between dots before they join. Let’s break out of static templates, and draw on the priceless understanding and imagination our absorbing trade has acquired over the last hundred years to write new rules, in collaboration with our good friend technology.
As always I would thoroughly enjoy feedback, questions, disagreements or any other contribution.