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It's All About the Strategy, Stupid!

  |  May 29, 2012   |  Comments

Media and marketing plans need to start with and always reinforce the business strategy.

I recently attended the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Innovation Days conference. While the main theme of the conference this year was "Screens," as in all the screens we now look at in our daily lives and upon which advertising is served - computer monitors, mobile devices, tablets, televisions, movie theaters - I couldn't help but pick up another theme repeated among several of the speakers: media and marketing plans need to start with and always reinforce the business strategy.

Now this might seem like an obvious statement, but clearly somewhere along the way this line of thinking has gotten lost. It's not hard to see why, though: there are many - perhaps too many - stakeholders involved in the ongoing process of advertising and marketing; each stakeholder trying to protect and grow her own little fiefdom. Throw into this mix the fast pace of changing ad technologies like social, mobile, video, and local and you can begin to see a pattern of chasing bright shiny objects instead of staying the course.

What the Internet Did to Media Planning

When the Internet came along, it threw a wrench into media planning as we had previously known it. Advertising mediums had been standardized so creative thinking led the pack: just come up with a really cool idea and then produce standard print, television, outdoor, and radio spots around that idea.

When Internet advertising arrived, creative's lead got short-circuited - not only was it hard to get a truly creative idea executed in a relatively small space (a banner, button, or text ad), but in the earliest days we didn't even have ad standards upon which to develop and deploy ad creative. That's where the IAB came in and helped save the day with its standardized Ad Unit Guidelines.

That said, in our fast-evolving world, even the IAB finds itself in the position of perpetually creating new guidelines to accommodate new digital ad platforms like mobile, social, video, gaming, and interactive TV. This means that taking one idea and repurposing it for all of these new and traditional advertising platforms still doesn't necessarily work. Sometimes the media placement itself has to dictate the creative thinking, so which side of the house now steers the ship?

Strategic Thinking in a Brave New World

The answer has to be the strategy, and in order for strategy to be the beacon, a few things have to happen:

  1. The business strategy needs to be realistic and achievable and the resources assigned to execute upon it need to be on par as well.
  2. The advertiser needs to be able to clearly state and share its business strategy with all of the stakeholders who will be responsible for executing it.
  3. All stakeholders need to understand how the success of this strategy will be measured in the eyes of the advertiser in precise terms.
  4. All players need to come together to understand, acknowledge, collaborate upon, and respect the strategy. This means the advertiser and its internal team plus its traditional, digital, and PR agency partners and technical developers. In an ideal circumstance, all of these players would be willing to forfeit some of their slice of pie in order for the overarching strategy to benefit. This is called doing the right thing, by the way.
  5. Testing new ideas should be built into this process, but the test should also come with its own goals, objectives, and measurements.
  6. Regular review periods need to be built into the term so that the impact of the efforts can be compared against the business objectives and adjustments can be made as needed.
  7. The advertiser has to be committed to its own business strategy, objectives, and metrics - expecting to achieve results when the target constantly changes just sets everyone up for failure. If the strategy is failing, however, don't take the ship down just to protect the strategy. In other words, be committed but know when to cut your losses and regroup, too.

For the digital media planner, this brave new world means never sitting back on your laurels. Past experience is not necessarily a predictor of future behavior in this ever-changing world. It means not being afraid to challenge the ideas and thinking of the other stakeholders because you have high accountability - the executed media plan is where the rubber meets the road so you need to know these roads very well and share your opinions with the team. Always think big-picture, not insularly. You might get less budget this go-around, but it's your thinking and opinions that cannot be commoditized and they will ultimately carry you farther than this quarter's media spend.

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Hollis Thomases

A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."

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