The year ahead in planning


Ok so its March and this is rather late off the rank. But better late than never. It just means we have 9 months not a year to sort this stuff out.

If 2016 taught us anything, it is that prediction is pointless.

It may be desperately tempting, it may feel like a commercial imperative, it may even be your job but it’s clearly pointless.

So let’s not try to predict what will come of planning in 2017 and think instead about the stuff that’s actually in front of us. About the things we can clearly see and clearly need to deal with. Think of this as our ‘to do list’ for the year.

Tell the robots who’s the boss

We need to stop talking about programmatic and actually do it, by which I mean do it properly. The automation of the advertising coalface is as inevitable as a Cliff Richard Christmas single but god help us if we leave it those at the implementation end of the business. People for whom strategy is a genre of board game with little metal figurines and ten sided dice.

We need to put strategy in the driving seat and ensure that the automation of advertising serves the brand’s broader commercial agenda. That it is knitted into the fabric of the brand’s activities and the distinctive way that it shows up in the world rather than blindly following industry best practice. Otherwise the single most powerful in tool in performance marketing since the coupon will be left dicking around optimising the colour of the call to action rather than actually making a difference to our clients’ businesses.

As planners we must now take responsibility for making automation a force for effectiveness not just efficiency, serving our clients’ broader agenda.

Without understanding knowledge is useless

To know something is one thing, to understand it is another altogether. As real data replaces survey data we now know more than ever about people’s behaviour. But the risk is that we fail to understand and empathise with the motivations behind this. Technology cannot replace empathy in our quest to better understand people and how to influence their decision making.

Of course greater customer understanding is most needed in our Client’s businesses, most especially at the top of the organisation. But when it comes to planning it means getting planners out from their laptops and into the homes and lives of our customers. And so we are clear, sitting behind a mirror drinking cheap white wine and bitching about respondents doesn’t count, we need to do primary research ourselves. The fewer the steps between real people and the creation and delivery of our work the better.

Humanity is this industry’s killer app and planners need to be the lightning rod for humanity and empathy in our agencies. Let 2017 be the year planners are out in the field in record numbers.

Get out of the echo chamber

The online echo chamber may have turned Facebook into the globe’s preeminent outlet for fake news and made Twitter an engine of abuse and haven of hatred. But it’s time to recognise that there is an echo chamber in marketing every bit as powerful and damaging as the echo chamber online.

An echo chamber in which a frightening number of beliefs about marketing are constantly recycled and reiterated until they achieve the status of incontrovertible rules. Like the belief in engagement over reach, like the obsession with content over communication, like the millions spend keeping brands always on rather than always available. And don’t start me on storytelling. All this despite the fact that most of these ideas are just plain wrong as well as hugely damaging to the legitimacy and credibility of our industry.

As Planners we need to be more cautious about echoing fads and fashions of the moment before they have proven valuable and effective. Others will always have their heads turned by a perky soundbite or new piece of kit, planners need to be far more vigilant.

Stop faking it

A decade ago Paul Feldwick talked about the industry’s ‘benign conspiracy’. A conspiracy in which we know that advertising works in concert with our emotional decision making processes but we pretend to clients and our clients pretend to their organisations that the paraphernalia of rational decision making, of facts, claims and truths are still the backbone of successful marketing.

This conspiracy has to stop. It is disingenuous and it makes our business far too hit and miss. If the two most effective campaigns of 2016, for Leave and Trump dispensed with facts, truth, logic and reason we must rapidly figure out what this means for effective brand communications.

As planners 2017 has to be the year we decide how advertising actually works. The chit chat about system one and two thinking is beyond tedious, if we think that people make decisions without recourse to the rational then we need to commit to this and get off the fence.

This will be a massive challenge for the way create and sell work but the prize is to wrestle the delicate art of advertising away from the platforms and back into the hands of those that actually understand how people make decisions. And that is a question of survival.

Planning is a full contact sport

The state of the world and the direction of our industry will make 2017 a big year for planning. But only if we stop pontificating, posturing and predicting and actually commit.

Planners are all to often content to be bystanders, observing the machinations of the marketing industry from the side-lines while firing off critically ascerbic tweets. When the reality is that planning is and needs to be a full contact sport with planners engaged in the game and instrumental in taking it in the right direction.

Plannerkind 2017 is our year, let’s leave a mark.

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