Blog Trends

When a Road Trip Is like a Media Plan

I’ve always felt that developing a media plan was a lot like driving a car by looking through the rearview mirror and determining the curve of the road ahead by observing what you’ve passed. Still true, but now, technology and new ways to leverage data let you see the road just traveled more instantly, letting you anticipate, with greater confidence and accuracy, the road, path, or plan ahead.

Media planning in the old days, like three years ago, used to be like this: The planner would determine audience targeting parameters using rich databases of historical information (e.g., MRI, Nielsen, comScore, Simmons) of product and media consumption, demographics, psychographics, etc. Using the data, a planner would construct a consumer profile or persona, identify and match the most contextually relevant channels and media outlets, and then buy as many impressions and impact for the budget as possible. The plan would be executed, and we’d evaluate results as often as technologically feasible.

With traditional media, such as print or outdoor, and even broadcast to a large degree, once the plan was done and the assets were introduced to the world, we could only observe the impact via sales. With digital media, not only can we monitor consumer actions from exposure through sale, we can also use real-time metrics to identify causal relationships and act on them to continuously improve performance.

But there is something else happening with digital information that is impacting the very discipline of media planning. Now, in addition to developing a persona-based plan for digital buys, we layer on cookie-level data that adds real-time texture that’s not available in static databases. This use of real-time data is sparking a dialogue among media planners and clients about the value of the high-cost static database. How valuable is last year’s research when we can target consumers based on their more recent behavioral and contextual activities?

I had an epiphany on this topic yesterday (nothing like a deadline to focus the mind) when a team was traveling via car to Canada for a new-business pitch. We used an existing, traditional database (map) to chart the route to the client’s campus, but as we drove there, we added real-time travel data (the Waze app, border-crossing alerts) to make “on the fly” decisions about our exact route. Similar to planning a road trip, mapping and executing a media plan does not mean an either/or decision about which tools to use. It’s a matter of carefully combining both traditional database and real-time data to find the best route to your destination. The database provides the initial input, which helps inform everything from the creative messaging to targeting strategies, but then the real-world behavioral data gave us additional information to make adjustments to that route.

What I also see changing is the increasing importance of “on the fly” data beyond media planning and optimizing. Just as it provides cues to improve media performance, real-time data will be used with modular creative assets to dynamically build ads on the go. We’ll still work from a messaging framework, but that framework will be looser and more flexible, and it may look different at the end of the campaign than at the beginning.

Buckle up. It’s going to be exciting.