July signals summer vacations (or staycations) for most U.S. consumers. For marketers, it also kicks off the second half of the year.

Empower MediaMarketing is preparing for an unpredictable year ahead with a Presidential election, continued uncertainty in Europe and a minimal increase in consumer spending. Add to this the constant changes in media, as well as media technology, and there are several steps brands can take today to prepare for a smooth 2013 media planning process.

Review 2012 Business to Date: Evaluate strengths and opportunities going into 2013. Take a look at data that can help inform this process. Be sure to ask questions, like:  what is working, what can work harder, what am I measuring now and how could I enhance this to learn more?

Set Realistic Goals: The best marketing plans start with clear business goals that are aspirational but attainable. This ensures the marketing objectives and media objectives will both ladder up to the same goal and align with key metrics that the entire company will understand.

Refocus On Audience In Your Communications Strategy: Make sure the communications strategy is focused on a current picture of the consumer to ensure alignment between media options and audience consumption habits. Building an audience-based communications plan capitalizes on the “where”, “how” and “how much” a brand’s marketing is speaking to and with consumers.

Evaluate How to Best Leverage the Market & Media: The constant stream of technology innovations ensures new opportunities to consider each year. Here are a few important trends to embrace while looking ahead.

  • Leverage paid, earned and owned media.  Convergence of the three areas is accelerating at a rapid pace, and we need to think about each piece of the puzzle and how they can work together to bring our campaigns to life and deliver on the brand promise.
  • Acknowledge traditional is going digital.  Include video and audio strategies as traditional TV and Radio plans don’t always leverage new technology like social media and mobile. With multiple devices to carry the right content, think cross-device for the best engagement opportunities.  As mobile, online video and social media continue to grow, online opportunities will increase year over year in many plan recommendations.
  • Embrace content as media. If the right opportunity to engage with a target consumer doesn’t exist, brands can now create their own content and credibly connect with the consumer as a publisher that informs, appeals and helps drive purchase.
  • Build test and learn into every plan. Whether it’s testing new media technology or more well-established opportunities for the first time, marketers understand the need to test and learn with a portion of their budget to get beyond incremental increases in results.

Avoid Habitual Marketing: Marketing out of habit is when a brand does something simply because it was done the year before. Empower’s mantra is to take the best approach. This means new and established opportunities are always under scrutiny.

As a result, the media mix may need to be tweaked to ensure proper coverage of all consumer touch points.  Consumers are multitasking more than ever- it even impacts their purchase decision and their media choices. A media mix must always be able to grow with audiences and delight them with products and services they discover because media was in the right place.

Anticipate Barriers: Planning ahead for the consumer experience is a key to whether consumers will embrace, ignore or even deface brand names.  We need to be realistic in terms of what can be done within our control and the time lines established. Identifying these parameters as early as possible helps ensure no surprises for the year ahead.

Build a Business Milestone Timeline: In addition to our halfway point check-in, there  are other milestones to look at throughout the year to look at how current campaigns are performing and then optimize them for the next week, month and quarter as needed.  A good measurement plan will help guide this opportunity to optimize for the best possible results.

Create a Strategic Road Map: As part of this annual planning process, look out as far as five years ahead. Where does the brand want to be and how can media help the brand accomplish these goals? The best plans increase  business results for the coming year, but also are thinking ahead with a goal of creating long-lasting relationships with the consumer.

:: By Courtney Ackerman, vice president of planning 

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