In a flash, things we've simply "known to be true" all our lives are turned upside down. Take the assumed theories in psychology that were disrupted with the technological leaps forward in 1990s brain science. Or assumptions about disease or heredity before the Human Genome Project was completed. In an instant we had to rethink what we thought we knew. With digital media now creeping up to near 50 percent of our eye and mindshare time, it's more important than ever to do a double-take with some tried and true media planning "absolutes."
"Invest significant time in annual media planning."
If your business (or your client's business) relies on annual budget planning, there is no way to relieve yourself from all annual planning. That said, you can and should significantly lighten the load. Think about the various disruptive, significant emerging properties that have launched in the past 10 years. Facebook, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, and the list goes on. Not only could you not have planned for their launch, but it was next to impossible to plan for their acculturation point, or the time at which it became a "had to have" on a media plan. What if a tipping point occurs in March? Do you wait until next year to include it in your plan? No way. The same goes for ad tech, whether fighting fraud or implementing a newly available creative format.
Determine annual goals? Yes. Determine annual strategies? Yes. Determine your tactics once per year? No. And certainly don't buy publishers annually. In fact, I'd urge you to not even be as rigid as quarterly. If a publisher or vendor is a pain to work with, and you feel there is a better alternative, why wait until the end of the quarter? If a new property bursts onto the scene in April after your Q2 plan is done, you may need to rearrange your budget. Media consumption is fluid, and our plans need to match.
"Make sure you carefully plan your digital media to match your target audience."
You may remember the case study from years ago that showed a big screen TV campaign's best converting audience was "military." This is because the time of year the client was advertising was a time when military bonuses were paid. The client originally targeted sports and technology enthusiasts but later shifted to include this newly discovered audience and the campaign performance improved.
As carefully as you plan your audience using case studies and research tools, each campaign you launch will tell you more about your audience than you could have planned for. That's because every campaign you launch likely has different creative, seasonality characteristics, and other factors. This isn't to say it's best to run pure RON or ROS and just "see what happens." There are certainly very good tools to help you pre-optimize your buy. The key is not to go beyond the point of diminishing return in spending your time honing and refining your audience, or to plan so narrowly that there is no room for audience discovery either.
"Take a meeting with almost any digital media vendor. You could be missing something."
Taking a 5-minute phone call with any digital media vendor who calls is reasonable. Every vendor should be able to establish a point of difference in that amount of time that enables you to decide whether or not a meeting is beneficial. If there is no chance you're going to work with a vendor, it's wasting both your time and the vendor's. As much as salespeople don't like hearing "no," good salespeople will tell you they'd rather hear "no" than "maybe" because it allows them to spend time with clients and prospects who become an important part of their business.
This extends to RFPs. The most efficient RFP process tells a vendor exactly what criteria to meet to get on the plan. Demanding specific criteria on an RFP that is extended to fewer vendors allows for greater, deeper interaction between the agency and those vendors throughout the RFP process. This leads to better ideas, better plans, and better results for clients.
"Create buckets for media vendors."
I was talking with an agency person at an event last night. We were talking about heritage and ethnicity and she said, "It's like when I filled out college applications. They asked me to fill in the circle next to the race I was, but there was no 'mixed' option." Similarly, in ad tech, the answer is now more often "it's complicated" than a straight up, well-defined, bucketable category. On one hand, it behooves media vendors to bucket themselves so agencies quickly and easily understand how they might work with that vendor. On the other hand, advertisers want their agencies to demonstrate greater mental elasticity when evaluating a new vendor, taking the time to understand gray area and overall value rather than requiring a neat fit.
"Be focused on your ultimate objective."
We can file "awareness and sales" under the "If I had a dollar every time..." category when asking clients about their campaign objectives. Don't get me wrong. Those are perfectly fine objectives as long as there is a specific and identified method for measurement. Usually, though, measuring awareness (brand studies) or sales (match back against a control) takes months. In the meantime, why not take advantage of the dimensional depth digital media offers?
If you're a hospital, "heads in beds" is your goal, but pixeling the "locate a doc" page is a good mid-funnel metric to guide your efforts. Car dealership? "Hours and directions" is a great mid-funnel guidepost. These exist in nearly every industry. Take the time to plan with dimension and you'll be rewarded with richer metrics and better end results.
"Keep it to standard display with small budgets."
I wouldn't have thought this was a rule that even needed breaking! After hearing this from a number of different agencies it merited inclusion. Online display may be the oldest digital media ad unit but that doesn't mean it's foundational. The foundation of any media plan is your audience's media consumption and receptivity within those media consumption windows. If your audience is best connected with mobile, use mobile. It might be mobile search, banners, or video. These decisions depend on the complexity of your message, how well established your brand is, and the length of the consideration cycle for your product.
Breaking these six rules requires two things. The first is reconsidering how we approach media planning in the first place. The second is thinking about our plans in many more dimensions than just "I have money. I need to spend it efficiently." Change is hard, but those who want to be better than their peers and win in the market will find a way and inspire those around them to join in.
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