In today’s digital world we’re armed with an ever-expanding list of tactical marketing weapons – programmatic display, personalisation, automation, voice and visual search, expanding social media platforms, AI, python, AR to name but a few.
There’s no doubt we should be keeping up with the latest technological developments that our brands could use to better reach their customers, but it’s perhaps more important than ever to remind ourselves that not all tactics will work in every situation and that we must always use strategic objectives to decide on the right tools for every campaign – which brings us to the fabled concept of media neutrality.
Step back from the tools and consider the objective
There is no one optimum tool when it comes to marketing communications – each channel (eg paid search, social media) does some things well and others not so well.
The trick with effective, integrated marketing is to understand you should literally put the tools down and firstly consider the objectives you’re trying to achieve. Don’t start with communication channels, begin with strategy.
Before you even consider briefing an external agency on any advertising, you should be able to answer the following questions and be in a position to include the detail as part of your brief:
Customer: who are you trying to reach with any marketing comms, and who aren’t you targeting? This includes detailed demographics, behaviours, interests of each customer type broken down into heterogeneous customer segments.
Positioning: how do you differentiate your brand in the mind of your customer? What is your value proposition?
Objectives: what are you trying to achieve through targeting each customer segment? This won’t always be sales driven and could include increased brand awareness as a goal, for example.
More often than not, objectives end up being too vague, overly focused on tactics and lacking measurability. Compare the two objectives below – one is fluff while the other is easy to plan, budget and measure against.
Remember, every objective set must be SMART, and these should be used as the north star of all media planning decisions.
The difficulties with media neutrality
Most specialist agencies have channel-specific functions that are unconsciously biased, meaning many will always consider the tool before the objective – this goes against the concept of media neutrality.
This is where the role of a media planner comes in, whose role it is to act as a media-neutral representative for brands and select the combination of channels that reach the target audience with maximum efficiency and effectiveness. However, in today’s digital world there’s often a need for real-time decision making, plans are regularly adjusted on the fly and it’s becoming increasingly tough to separate planning from execution.
Everything is now connected and digital, which means planners need to understand the deep relationships between channel, customer and brand more than ever before. The best planners don’t just select the right combination of digital channels for the job, they must also be able to coordinate coherent, consistent messages across multiple channels as part of an integrated campaign.
My personal belief is that we need to kill the concept of digital v traditional marketing – we are marketing in a digital world. If people are watching a video, we can reach them on their TV, digital OOH, mobile, tablet, desktop – the fact we still separate these media decisions between ’traditional’ and ’digital’ marketing and still use historic terminology such as ‘above and below the line' (an outdated accounting term developed by P&G in the 50s originally used to differentiate salespeople from advertising commission) goes against the principles of integrated marketing and will reduce overall effectiveness.
The channels used to get your message across may be the most technologically exciting, but no tool or channel will make your campaign a success in isolation. To simplify the whole planning process, think instead about the people that you’re trying to reach, their behaviours and interests.
Using multiple channels in combination increases effectiveness
Combining channels together will give you a much better return than investing everything in a single channel. This is about taking advantage of the interdependence of different marketing channels.
Numerous studies (such as this one from the IPA) tell us that TV and paid search work fantastically well together, but in isolation neither is as effective – this is a perfect example of the synergy in integrated marketing channels.
A great example of strong integrated communications, albeit a few years old now, is Nike’s award-winning ‘She Runs’ campaign. In this campaign, every channel was aimed at promoting an invitation to the ’She Runs’ club across print, display, online and in-store to great effect. The story here is not focused on any one channel, but how each channel was used in tandem to deliver a coherent, consistent message that generated the desired outcome.
It’s important to note that you must have no favourites when it comes to media planning, and should always consider the customer, positioning and objectives of each campaign before considering the tactics needed to deliver it.
It’s still hugely important to stay abreast of technological change to avoid missing opportunities for growth, but it’s not enough to have three or four different tools working in isolation – each tool should all work together as part of an integrated campaign. That’s why we call it a campaign – it’s a military exercise where different weapons are used together to win the overall war!
Ben Wood, strategy director at Hallam.
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