What is Media Planning?

Looking up the definition of “Media Planning” will result in some concise description that goes something like this: “The process of identifying the most effective media for advertising a product, service or brand.” While short and sweet, that description only scratches the surface of what “media planning” really is and fails to mention that “media planning” isn’t really about “the media.” It’s about creating connections with consumers. They are at the heart of every plan we have the privilege to create.

As a very enthusiastic “media planner,” I acknowledge there is a lot of “power in the placement,” but I also believe that media placements are more than just ad delivery mechanisms. Creative media plans have the power to forge and foster meaningful relationships between brands and consumers, which makes “media planning” a very complex process. A data-driven, human-centric, imaginative, tech-enabled, passionate and collaborative process. Identifying effective media is certainly part of the process, but uncovering insights that allow you to empathize with the very people you are trying to connect with and designing plans that provide a value exchange between brand and consumers is exactly what we do.

Differences Between Media Planning and Media Buying

Both media planning and media buying have their own nuances and complexities, but they are not entirely independent from one another. Both parts require a fluid set of skills, extensive collaboration and are equally important to a successful plan.

Planning should lay a solid foundation built off a well-thought out strategy and buying requires excellent implementation. A great strategy and plan are nothing if it’s not executed well. Conversely, exceptional execution won’t be able to deliver results if the plan was not built on sound insights.

At Empower, our media planners work closely with our buyers throughout the planning process to inform and align on the optimal approach and plan for each client. By integrating between practices and partners, we work not only to buy media but also to find ways to produce creative media.

Media Planning
At a simple level, media planners use a series of inputs to develop a comprehensive plan that sets the course and helps establish guardrails for the buying team. Planners are the architects that lay out the blueprints of a plan using a blend of art, science, creativity and precision.

Media Buying
Once we determine what we will buy to meet brand objectives and foster consumer relationships, we identify how we will buy based on client needs, marketplace opportunities and learnings from past campaigns. Complexities of the media landscape also lead to nuances of how we negotiate and purchase media. Buying is more than negotiating CPMs and locking in schedules or placements. And while improved automation and systems have assisted the buying part of the process, human interaction is still essential. Our buyers have built and cultivated relationships with key partners and publishers. This open and ongoing dialogue is advantageous for both negotiating buys and added value as well as monitoring performance and ensuring optimizations are being made for the length of the buy.

Media Planning Challenges

As with any piece of the marketing eco-system, media planning has its challenges that need to be considered and addressed when developing a plan. The challenges outlined below are representative of bigger macro trends that impact marketplace dynamics and things that are more difficult for brands and agencies to control.

Evolving Media Landscape
The media landscape is in a constant state of change making the dynamics of planning more complex and nuanced than ever before. The proliferation of ways in which consumers are able to consume content are practically endless. This provides more opportunity to reach consumers, but competing for their attention in a very cluttered environment can make it harder for a brand to break through and form a connection with them. Market fragmentation among media providers also makes for a more challenging environment to purchase and measure media consistently.

Due to this complex landscape, collaboration is key at Empower. Empower has an extensive team of subject matter experts that work hand in hand with the media planners. Our subject matter experts understand how consumers engage with different media platforms. They know how to navigate the nuances of the different media platforms and stay on top of all the minutia of in their focus areas that could impact the plans and measurement. This includes things like staying up to date on the latest trends, addressing brand safety and transparency challenges, regulation changes, changes in partner offerings, emerging tech and new capabilities.

Consumers Have Control
There is more opportunity to reach consumers than ever before, but consumers are in control. This is a significant shift from the early days of advertising in which brands dominated the conversation. Consumers can choose when, where and how they’d like to interact with a brand and engage in advertising. Now, they can even choose to not interact at all with ad blocking and with ad-free environments.

Additionally, with the rise of social media, people have a platform that amplifies their voice and allows them to participate in a larger collective conversation. This is especially important to note as it has become very apparent that consumers have a lot of power to dictate public opinion of brands, products and services.

Even though consumers are in the driver’s seat, it doesn’t mean brands are powerless. Brands just need to operate under a different set of rules than in the past. This leads to the importance of understanding your target audience and the value your brand or service provides. It’s about creating shared meaning by linking what your brand stands for and what consumers care about. Then initiate and sustain long term connections through the media ecosystem – this may start broadly with building brand awareness with a new audience segment or require a more personalized approach. There is no “one size fits all” approach as it relates to identifying the “right” channels, mix or levels to reach your consumers, but ensuring consumer experience is relevant and seamless across channels is key.

Big Data
Data can be both a blessing and a curse. We are in an exciting time with the emergence of new technology that is fueling the rise of mass data. There are vast expanses of data available at our fingertips, but data is like oil – it’s useless unless it’s refined. It’s important to be selective of the types and quantity of data sources you are using to avoid paralysis by analysis. The data will tell you what your audience wants, and it’s on your brand to listen.

Data is at the core of everything we do and, while it’s a key piece we use to inform the planning process, we also utilize data to make optimizations and measure our executions to ensure success. We have access to and utilize industry tools and we evaluate historical learnings, social conversation and measurement to inform planning. We leverage first, second and third-party data to uncover the audiences who are most likely to engage with our clients’ brands. We then deploy our marketing tech stack to find them and deliver a relevant experience no matter where they are to maximize the impact of media investments.

Media and Message Need to be Connected
It’s critical that the message and media work together and sometimes the media plan is developed separately from creative or vice versa. The creative messaging, of course, is also vital in driving an effective plan.

Communication needs to be authentic, relevant and memorable to the people we are trying to reach. It is also important to note that messaging needs to be consistent. Messaging should be tailored to the different platforms used in your media mix but needs to have a connective thread for consumers to be able to tie back to the brand. The media placements are meant to reach the right people at the right place and time, but the creative needs to communicate the right message in order for the plan to drive results.

Basics for Developing a Strong Media Plan

  • Start with a Strong Foundation
    • Establishing a clear and realistic objective in what you want your plan to accomplish is key. A media brief that clearly states your marketing objectives and provides detailed information on the brand or product being advertised helps the planners lay a solid foundation to build upon.
    • Establishing and understanding the audience you are trying to reach is critical. You need to understand your audience and how your brand can provide value to establish that connection.
  • Consumer and Category Intelligence
    • Establishing and understanding the audience you are trying to reach is critical. You need to understand your audience and how your brand can provide value to establish that connection.
    • You also need to understand the category in which your product or service is competing. Study your direct competitors both small and large. With the rise of direct-to-consumer brands, it’s important to pay attention to competitors across the spectrum.
    • Social listening, syndicated research, brand research and competitive spending can help identify consumer and category insights.
  • Knowledge of the Media Landscape
    • Identifying your audience and the media touchpoints they engage with is only part of the puzzle. You also need to understand the nuances of these touchpoints to be able to plan and activate in these channels appropriately.
  • Collaboration
    • Collaboration is key. Establish clear and open lines of communication with your agency partners, vendors and internal teams. Given the complexities of planning and the challenges we face it’s essential to work together and rely on our respective areas of expertise to come together to produce the best plan.

Tips For Media Planning

Lastly, these key tips can help with your next media plan.

1) Stay curious. Keep up with trending topics in media and marketing trades, watch the news and stay connected with social media. You need to be alert and aware of what’s happening within the marketing ecosystem and within society, as all these factors impact your consumers, which impacts your plan.

2) Know your audience. And know the value that your brand or offering provides. Brands no longer dominate the conversation. Actively listen to what your consumers want and follow the data breadcrumb trails to understand what they need. Shared meaning between brand and consumer can help create long lasting and emotional connections.

3) Be nimble. Media planning, buying and execution require flexibility and the ability to adapt to the challenges and changes of a dynamic marketplace. A media plan should never take a “set it and forget it” approach and there is no “one size fits all” solution, so it’s important to continuously monitor performance to identify optimizations that should be made.

4) Measure. Measurement helps you identify and understand what is working and what is not. This can inform optimizations within your current plan and helps provide guidance and insights to inform your next plan.

5) Collaborate. Ensure there are open lines of communication. Given the complexities of the current landscape and consumer dynamics it’s essential to tap into expertise of others and bring individuals strengths together to create a cohesive, measurable plan that drives results.

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