Let’s get one thing straight from the start: this is not a diatribe about media neutrality. So much (and yet, so little of substance) has been said about this already that it seems time to move on. Of course, all media options should be considered on an equal basis – that is self-evident – but what should be the basis upon which they are considered? This is what I will explore.
The increasing complexity of media availability inevitably led to the growth of media specialists within the advertising agencies and, unsurprisingly, the more entrepreneurial of those specialists took the opportunity to spin-off media independents. Many of these have, over the past 20 years, become huge global businesses in their own right.
It will no doubt be argued that the efficiency of media planning and buying has improved immensely, but has the effectiveness of communications expenditure improved along with it?
It’s my contention that the split between the “creative” part of the planning process and the “media” side has had a detrimental influence on the effectiveness of communications planning and that reconnecting the two parts is critical.
We live in an over-supplied world – of products, brands, media, and yes, agencies – and the laws of supply and demand, as we have understood them for the past 50 years, are being turned on their head. Consumers have always been involved in the media equation – but it has been from the supply perspective. Media was simply about getting the message as cost-effectively as possible to the target market. It was about reach, coverage, share of voice.
Relevance is the key
But in a world of over-supply the challenge has changed. In an environment in which the average consumer “consumes” thousands of messages a day, the real challenge is how to get noticed. It’s no longer enough to shout loudest, or even to be the most quirky or the most shocking; the challenge is to be the most relevant. This emphasis on relevance puts consumers at the heart of the planning process, rather than at the end of the targeting process.
Alan Mitchell (Marketing Week April 1) talked eloquently about the need for brands to deliver against the growing consumer demand for better life experiences. Brand communications are a critical part of the complex mix that makes up a brand and must add to the whole experience by being relevant and timely. More than ever the creative expression, and the context in which it is consumed, must work together to deliver a brand experience that is in tune with the emotional and rational needs of consumers.
How can we possibly achieve this? Well for one thing, by looking at “media” from the consumer’s perspective. At different times consumers want to be informed, inspired, incentivised, reassured; they may want to take their time, act immediately, or get a second opinion. The connections may be many and varied.
Eurotunnel has recently adopted this approach. By understanding the varying emotional and rational needs of its consumers through the whole process of consideration, exploration, reservation, confirmation, travel, return and evaluation, it has mapped out the varying communication needs to optimise consumers’ experiences and thereby optimise bookings.
Think two-way traffic
By understanding the different ways in which consumers can best access these necessary communications, Eurotunnel has begun to build a media framework that has less to do with simple efficiency, and much more to do with making relevant connections. The emphasis here is on how consumers access information and messages – think in-bound as well as out-bound.
Importantly, with this type of thinking, the media landscape becomes broader and includes media options that are owned by the client. As a result of this planning process, for Eurotunnel, the Web becomes a much more important vehicle for communicating the message, as well as facilitating the booking process. The various touch-points through the journey itself – the staff, the retail environment, the check-in process – all become part of “connections planning”. I would argue that a traditional approach to media would not have considered these crucial initiatives.
And many other clients are also taking this “connections-based” approach to media. Asda asked Publicis to help establish The Media Centre as a way of better understanding and deploying its own media assets. This includes, naturally, its customer magazine but it doesn’t stop there – events, sampling, home shopping, in-store television and more, are all ways in which Asda, and its suppliers, can make relevant and timely connections with its customers.
A glass half full
I remember discussing with Guinness how to decide by what means and how frequently it should communicate with existing Guinness drinkers. Clearly, among the key decision factors was the value and potential value of each drinker; this would help set parameters for “allowable cost”. But the truly fundamental decisions about media mix came down to the relevance of the messages and how best to deliver them.
Complex mail-packs formed part of the programme and included games, information, and branded merchandise. They had real tangible value, built the brand’s stature and encouraged sharing the experience with friends. E-mail had the advantage of lower cost, greater personalisation and direct links to the Guinness website. It delivered frequency, relevance, and established a responsive conduit for dialogue. SMS text messages had a different role altogether, delivering immediacy, topicality and a sense of Guinness being “of-the-moment”.
The fragmentation of markets and the advent of digital technology demand a new approach to communications planning. Medium and message need to come back together within a new framework that emphasises “connections”.
If brand owners are to achieve real consumer engagement they must develop creative propositions that are relevant to the context in which they are consumed, and in tune with the varying emotional and rational needs of consumers.
And the secret is to think “connections”. In the words of our founder, Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet: “You must reach people where they are, if you want to take them further.”
Dennis Kerslake, chief executive, Publicis Dialog
2001 Managing director of 141 Worldwide
1999 Managing director of Brann Worldwide
1997 Managing director of BHWG [now Proximity]
1987 Partner at LGM