People don't care about the technologies that they are using - they care about the brands that these technologies are powering.
The brand promises - and engenders hope; the technology delivers. If the technology does not deliver, the brand gets spanked. If the brand does not deliver, the technology - no matter how good it is or how superior it is against its competition - won't survive.
Think MSN's Live Search - or better yet, Yahoo Search versus Google Search. We can safely assume that all three are 'good' search engines - with the backing of great software engineers, academicians, algorithm designers, and specialists. But why does Google dominate? How did "Google it" become an intelligible sentence? How did "Google" become a verb?
Or Creative Technology's ZEN products versus Apple's iPod. Or Dell versus Sony Vaio versus HP versus Gateway versus Asus?
The brand creates the promise - that the technology behidn the brand does and will deliver. The brand opens the door for technology to do its work. If the technology behind the brand sucks, the brand suffers.
But it is the brand that starts it all. And to paraphrase my former professor in Cognitive Psych would have said: No brand, never mind.
If I were to summarize the most critical dilemma facing media and communications planners these days, it would be making the choice between "REACH- versus RICH-" media and communications planning planning philosophies.
REACH media/communications planning is perhaps the easier way out. One comes up with numbers, measurements, and cost-per-thousand impressions to rationalize why certain combinations of media channels and programs are best. Numbers don't lie - at least not in the media planners' presentation.
REACH-based media planning is relatively easier to justify: Just show that a lot of eyeballs get to see the ad, awareness picks up after a few weeks of airing, and voila - another successful campaign.
For clients, it is a less-risky move: REACH-based planning will always churn out the same things over and over and over again. TV and newspapers - top titles, mind you - will always be there, with a spattering of radio spots and the minimal investments in online banners ("Oh make that an expanding ad!"). To round it all up, clients would also want some outdoor - which some creative executives would probably lift out of their print and poster layouts ("Just blow it all up!")
RICH-focused media/communications planning, on the other hand, demands a lot from media and communications planners, their clients, and other stakeholders - including creative agencies, digital companies, content providers, and media space vendors.
Because its focus on generating RICH audience experiences, metrics such as GRPs, reach, frequency, and CPMs, suddenly become incomplete. Planning theories such as "recency planning" versus "effective frequency planning" become insufficient in determining what constitutes an effective media and communications plan.
What used to be a simple decision for clients becomes more complicated: "How do you measure - or worse, predict - consumers' experiences? How sure are you that that is the desired effect? How sure are you that it is rich-enough?"
REACH- versus RICH-based media planning - which one will you choose?
I was asked a question by someone on "how to be a good strategic planner". I am not certain why I was asked that question - because I have not been really a strategic planner in the traditional sense of the word (i.e., working with creative teams and brand-client teams to come up with positioning statements for brands).
Nevertheless, I ventured into providing some answers.
I think that being a good strategic planner requires first and foremost, curiosity about the humanity that is behind the term "consumer". I believe that when we plan marketing campaigns and advertising projects, we immediately put on our 'marketeers' hats', which is a bit constricting. With marketing hats, we start thinking of people as "consumers", "buyers", and "audiences", rather than "people who have needs". I believe that the first thing we need to do is to understand - deeply - the human behind the terms "consumer", "buyer", "audience".
Understanding and unlocking this makes our jobs a lot easier - and our communications campaign a lot more aligned with what exactly people need.
Now that's easier said that done.
A good friend of mine, who used to work with me in Vietnam and who has now moved to Bangkok, thinks that "insight is the most overused word in the marketing communications industry". And it is true. Information is often mistaken as insights. Charts, advanced and basic stats, percentages, and competitive benchmarks are all considered as "insights". In my worldview, insights do not come from a single chart or a single statistical test or a complex process - but rather from the agglomeration of all things that we know and have uncovered about the faces behind the labels "consumers", "audiences", and "buyers".
An insight, sometimes, is mistaken to be something that is supposed to be new - and differentiating. I don't think that insights need to be always original or new - in fact, some of the best insights that I have come across in my dealings with research agencies and consultancies are a reiteration of what we already know: that people drink certain brand of soft-drinks because everybody else drinks that brand. That people want choices - even if those choices need not be exercised by them.
These are nothing new - and not groundbreaking. But they are reiterations of the human condition.
And as long as it is rooted in the human condition - the humanity that lies behind the labels "consumers", "audiences", and "buyers" - I believe it is an insight.
And insight comes from asking questions.
The most important question I think is not "What's the observation? What did you observe? What are the measurements? How high, how low?" I believe that to arrive at an insight, the most important question is "So what?", which can be broken down into
Given these N-number of things that we already know from different sources, what ties them all up together?
What is the common theme? What is the underlying story? What does it mean to the business? What does it mean to the brand?
What is the underlying human truth that can encompass all these observations? How can we leverage this deep human truth to drive our business? To drive connections with brands?
What is different then? Why is it different? How can this difference be important/detrimental?
The other thing that agencies and clients are most wont to do is saying "But is it actionable?", which suggests that there are actionable insights and non-actionable (worthless) insight. I believe that no such distinction between actionable (and therefore, "worthy") and non-actionable ("worthless") insight exists.
All insights - since they are based on human truths - have a potential to be actionable.
What makes an insight "non-actionable or worthless" is the lack of creativity and openness in either the client or the agency-side to act on it. It takes will to create something out of insights. In fact, it may take more than a department to make an insight truly actionable. Some insights - if not most - demand that Marketeers go beyond their comfort-zones bound by the marketing department, and involve others - R&D, customer service, corporate communications, sales teams, the senior management team - in transforming insights into action-steps.
An insight - because it is based on human truth - have the potential to create a difference - but it will take guts to make it a reality.
Do insights change across time? Tricky question. Here are my thoughts: Insights do not change immediately across time because they are based on human truths, the human condition. What changes is how these human truths expressed by consumers.
Here's an example: Because of advances in communications effects measurements, we are now able to say that "word of mouth and peer recommendations are amongst the most influential sources of information". Is that an insight? Yes. Is it new? No. It's been there forever - we've always known that if Person A hears from her friend, Person B, that "Brand M sucks", chances are Person A will believe Person B and assimilate that "Brand M sucks" and consider it in her next purchase decision.
Has it changed across time? The insight that peer recommendations are influential is as true now as it was back then - when neighbors talked to each other about their experiences on childcare, laundry bars, medicine, and a whole gamut of products. It's always been a truth - a characteristic of our humanness (our humanity) - to believe our friends more than that celebrity with glowing skin on TV that a certain facial care product works.
What has changed however, is the medium through which these peer recommendations are made - and the definition of what a "peer" is. These days, "peers and acquaintances" are no longer just people you know personally and people you've met in person. They could be in your Facebook community or MySpace followeres or Friendster rolodex. They could be email pals or part of a discussion forum.
The manifestation of what a "peer" is has changed - but not the power of the peer. The insight remains - but the manifestation and its speed changed.
There is the danger of course, of being too reliant and too stubborn about an "insight" uncovered aeons ago. Because humans change and evolve in response to the changes in their environment, it is necessary to continually check the insight. Human truths also do change - in the same way that demographics change and evolve across time.
The challenge is to know when to update - or even discard - an insight and replace it with a new one. It is not something easily done again because it entails a return to discarding our marketeers' hats and be a curious soul about our people - the people who are "consumers and buyers and audiences".
I know I kind of veered away from the original question: "How to be a good strategic planner". But the role of the strategist is in fact this: to continuously look at the human truths that lie behind or beneath the terms "buyer, consumer, audience" (and therefore insights) and weave them into one coherent strategy that would make that human truth be expressed, communicated, and delivered to those with whom the brand will make highest probability of success.
I received an email from a friend. He's one of those who writes "personal updates" about his previous year, publishes them on a word document, and distributes it to his friends and family members.
(I know of families that do this - and mostly, they talk about how the kids have grown and how the Christmas play was - complete with kids in costume. But a single guy doing these updates? You gotta give it to my friend - he's got lots of drama to write about in his life.)
Anyway, one of the things that struck me was one of his resolutions for 2008: This year - 2008 - will be the year when I start playing big. I will aim for the stars and the sun. I may end up not hitting the sun, but who knows - I might end up on the moon.
Which got me thinking about playing small and playing big.
I never believed that playing small will get my anywhere. It will probably get me through the day unscathed - and perhaps, give me a night or two of complete peace. But playing small would make me more bored with my life. And boredom is bad - always bad.
But lately, I have been asking myself: Must one always play big? Must one always want, strive, dream, work hard to become the CEO of the company? Must one's voice always be heard?
A part of me - the competitive side - would assert that things are not good if things are smooth. It would assert that if it isn't broken (yet), then break it and rewrite it. Reinvention, it would argue, is the mother of innovation.
But a part of me also argues against playing big: Playing small makes one nimbler, faster, more flexible, and more at peace. Playing big also means being a big target of others who are as competitive as one's self.
So the question - which may sound existential to some (if not everyone) - is For this year, will it be a year of playing small or playing big?
And the answer is...
I am sure that I am going to be playing it big in my personal life. The relationships that I value - the ones that cannot be "monetized" but are very important to my life - will definitely figure strongly this year. At the same time, there will be relationships that I will dump - relationships that suck the life out of life, relationships that do nothing but destroy other aspects of my life.
In my career, I am also sure that I will play it big. The competitive spirit in me still remains - but it will be tempered. This year will the year that I will be playing responsibly. The game will be played seriously - but there will be aspects of the game that I will give up on because it is not worth winning.
I guess it comes with age - this ability to discern what is and what is not worth playing for. Not that I have mastered it - but the years have led me to this realization: That not all games need to be played, not all games need to be won, and not all games need to be special.
Some games are worth playing big for - and some games are not.
My executive coaches will probably kill me for saying this - but nobody's last words were ever "I wish I delivered that presentation or report better".
There are some things that not even stocks and stock options can buy.
The Comprehensive R Archive Network I am a believer in making data analytics more accessible to the masses. R is a significant alternative to SPSS, SAS, and other stat software that cost an arm and a leg.