Column: Dishing -- The More Things Change

My life has been one marked by change. I grew up in a tiny town, moved to Manhattan, and now live in downtown Detroit. I’ve worked in both small agencies and huge global communications companies. I’ve gone from shoulder-length hair to voluntarily bald. You get the idea: I like change. It keeps me energized.

So when I was offered the chance to move from account planning at Leo Burnett to context planning at GM Planworks, I jumped at it. I thought, “Great! A change from creative to media will be a whole new world!”

Well, I was both right and wrong.

I needed to rewire my brain from thinking about brand-building through creative to brand-building through media. As an account planner, I didn’t give media much consideration. Marshall McLuhan’s idea that the medium is the message wasn’t on my radar. I was concerned with uncovering consumer insights, crafting strategies that connected brand to consumer, and helping my creative teams develop breakthrough work.

But I was wrong in thinking creative and media are worlds apart. I’ve come to discover that the discipline of consumer context planning at a media agency is very similar to that of account planning at a creative agency. Their focus may differ, but their unifier is the consumer.

Moreover, there are three consumer-centric areas where successful account or context planners converge.

>>Insight. At creative agencies, account planners constantly look for insights that connect the brand to a target. They pore over social trends and pop culture. They do field research — cooking, shopping, and driving with consumers — to uncover insights they can leverage to make advertising that will resonate more strongly.

At media agencies, context planners do much the same thing. The difference is that we’re looking for insights into the target’s media behavior. We’re still executing primary research, but now we’re trying to understand how and why consumers use the media they do. What are their motives? What impact does the medium have on the brand and message? The purpose of these explorations is very similar to what it was in my account planner days, but now it’s directed at media, and it asks the question: What compelling media insights can make the brand’s message connect more readily?

>>Connection. In the so-called attention economy, successful marketers are those that create the deepest connections with their targets. At the creative agency, account planners think about connection via smart creative. How can sight, sound, and motion best be used? How can copy capture attention and get the target to nod in agreement with the brand’s proposition?

On the media side, context planners think about creating connections through the media consumers engage with. For example, can we build harder connections through integrated ownership of specific areas of a magazine, or of online property our target finds particularly compelling? Can we impact brand opinion and persuasion if we consider media context when crafting and placing creative? Whatever the approach, the goal is optimized connection to gain committed attention.

>>Innovation. As I did when I was an account planner, I’m always searching for ways to understand consumers and uncover insight into their lives. For each new research project my team undertakes, we ask ourselves, “How could this be done differently? Could we employ a new method or technology?” We believe that through innovation we have a better chance at discovering more compelling consumer insights.

The need for innovation in crafting connections is obvious. At creative agencies, account planners must find ways to move brand communication outside the 30-second comfort zone. At media agencies, our challenge as context planners is similar: How can we help planning and investment teams move beyond their comfort zones of reach and frequency? To that end, we explore context, integration, and embedded content as innovative ways to create engagement.

So even though I love mixing things up, my move from account planning to context planning hasn’t turned out to be “a whole new world” the way I first thought it might. Everything I do is still all about the consumer.

And by the way: These days I’m wearing my hair long on top and short on the sides. It’s a nice change.

Mason Franklin is senior vice president for GM Planworks. (mason.franklin@gmplanworks)


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