In recent years many distinguished planners have written eloquently about how our discipline was first conceived and how it has subsequently evolved. The job therefore isn’t to re-express or even re-interpret what has been surmised, but rather to ask ‘What is happening around us now to shape our profession and how might we adapt to take advantage of it to enhance our ability to influence behaviours?’ It seems appropriate therefore that in this most celebrated Olympic year that the ‘baton’ is passed to the newest acolytes of planning to propose how it is being applied and developing.
The need to build a process into advertising development and support agencies creative output was the stimulus that created the profession. (’65 – Planning v1.0) Then competition between global creative and media agencies saw planning split, with creative agencies taking a more qualitative approach and media agencies adopting a more data driven approach (’85 – Planning v2.0) Then the arrival of the internet and fragmentation of media saw the introduction of: specialist data; digital; engagement and comm’s planners. (’00 – Planning v3.0) So where are we now?
Every planner you might meet will espouse the merits of adopting a consumer centric approach, to anyone and everyone. It is at the core of all we do and what strategic planning is based upon. But when you review the history of the way our discipline has developed can we really say it was consumer needs that were driving change within the industry? More often changes to the way planning has developed were driven by either: i) Increasing demands & complexity of client challenges ii) Agency desire to sell a type of idea or advertising iii) Industry internal organisation & competition iv) Cost/Profitability v) Developments in research technologies. Consumers are prominent by their omission. Now though we have reached a point in time where the primary catalysts driving change are extraneous to the industry and happily they are almost purely consumer driven!
Arguably the greatest triumph of our time has been the internet’s ability to democratise information and to share it freely. The worldwide web and in particular the features provided by Social Media is creating global behaviour change that exceeds the combined achievements of advertising since it began. The impact hasn’t yet been fully appreciated because metrics haven’t been developed to interpret the extent of its influence. Furthermore research methodologies haven’t progressed nearly as fast as the platform technologies, meaning anyone trying to measure it quickly finds themselves chasing shadows.
What is inescapable is that advertisers used to have a share of consumers attention and a measure of trust. Both though have been reduced largely because of Social Media. Consumers now unequivocally prefer to put their faith and trust in individuals rather than organisations or brands. 90% of people trust recommendations from people they know  As for attention, 14 minutes of every hour online are related to use of Social Media compared to 9 minutes for entertainment or 5 minutes for shopping.  Clear evidence that not only does Social Media provide trust it also has our attention.
What does this mean for us? The difference between now and the digital world pre-2008 was that previously only the technically astute or ‘truth sleuths’ were able to interrogate what information was being made available. Our outputs have become sophisticated and difficult to dissect. Now however anyone can use Social Media and there are a plethora of platforms around where it is simple to question, publish and interact. Social Media connectivity allows anyone to validate messages within seconds. Al Frost at Microsoft refers to this as the ‘trust crisis’ and points out that to resolve it brands & organisations need to “stop shouting and start conversing”. Some will argue that we started consumer conversations when we learned how to use CRM and introduced personalisation, while this was an advance it was in reality little more than a gesture towards a relationship. Nowadays trust is more likely to be achieved using Social Media and through content which can be shared, edited or commented upon.
It is this very profound change in people behaviour that is creating Planning v4.0 It is this arena that planners, agencies and brands need to learn how to play.
Planner v4.0 has to provide the link that helps direct brands and agencies in the right way to get attention and fit the new rules as defined by the audience, not the industry. Historically marketers of all varieties have tended to segment emerging behaviours into ‘silos’. Social Media is too big to do that and consumers don’t see a difference between social/web/mobile, to them it is all just “the Internet” and a seamless experience.
The one aspect of planning which traverses v1.0, v2.0, v3.0 and now also v4.0 and which remains securely in the domain of planning is the capacity to listen to audiences – something which increasingly we fail to remember or fight for. Clients struggle to separate themselves from operational issues. Account teams lack objectivity. Creatives become distracted by details and ideas. Understanding Social Media is taking planners back to the core skill which helped define the discipline, namely the ability to understand people’s lives and interpret it. The change is that nowadays that absolutely includes those bits which are lived and played out through Social Media. King, Treasure & Pollitt et al would applaud.
‘What is happening around us now to shape our profession and how might we adapt to take advantage of it to enhance our ability to influence behaviours?’
Agencies that look upon Social Media as another channel to pump out messages have got it all wrong. In the short term they will succeed at placating worried marketing directors with Facebook pages and ‘likes’, in other instances they will use the social space as a place for creative expression to produce ideas that they can’t sell through into traditional media channels and possibly grab an award. Sadly this is all too often the case. The recognition that the number of people who actually use Social Media to buy/purchase is tiny is not widespread. People go there: to meet new people (71%); share experiences (55%), reconnect (62%), be recognised (52%) and for stimulation/play (51%). The words ‘purchase’ and ‘buy’ are often a consequence of Social Media but not the driver behind people’s time there. Agencies and planners who treat Social Media as just another channel in which to shout fail spectacularly to see its value and overlook the impact of peer validation in all that we do both online & offline.
It is therefore the role of Planner v4.0 to define:
i) What people are using Social Media for?
ii) How they want to interact with it?
iii) Where they want to interact with it?
iv) What content is most likely to stimulate conversations?
Thereafter Planner v4.0 needs to apply core planning skills to:
v) Segment audiences based on web behaviours & attitudes
vi) Identify what the brand or organisation might have to share (or create to share)
vii) Explain how this can create brand value
viii) Define how Social Media will work together with traditional communications
Being able to do this requires an investment in the community you are looking to influence which means more than a cursory look at their FB page. Planner v4.0 needs to look deeper, they need to be able to: identify opinion leaders; separate authentic content from spam; need to use their questioning and moderating talents to tease out insight; adopt a helicopter view which encompasses voting/blogging/search/RSS to name but a few. Listening can be supported by tools but ultimately Planner v4.0 needs to become immersed. Being comfortable and proficient with: message boards and forums; tumblr; Facebook; Twitter; Pinterest; social’s impact on e-commerce; Stumbleupon; YouTube is as important today as Nielsen sales data or Millward Brown brand tracking was 15 years ago. Planner v4.0 needs to be hi-tech and hi-touch.
Immersion in Social Media is only part of the challenge to becoming Planner v4.0 How to make sense of all the information is the next. Interpreting Social Media is best described as an ‘emerging craft’ and is complex because of: Quantity of contributions; Rate of change; Non-standard or proven metrics; Cultural interpretations. Relating this back to brands and purchase intent will ensure planning as a discipline is more essential than ever before.
Technology and access to data has always been a major factor in the evolution of planning as a discipline providing unprecedented levels of consumer insight. Previously, extracting and manipulating this information required new skills creating the need for specialist planners. Most Social Media platforms though provide dashboard reports in precise detail. Just like fast jet pilots, Planner v4.0 has all the relevant data on the screen before them, up to the minute and cleanly presented. It is this kind of robust analysis which grounds the creative process and allows agencies to avoid accusations of being ‘ad tweakers’. Planner v4.0 can’t afford to disassociate themselves from this quality and depth of information as perhaps has happened in the past because Social Media is intertwined with everyday activities on and offline. Planners trying to capture a view of their audience need to recognise that the digital component of their lives is not a specialist behaviour. Exciting times for those brave enough not to be too daunted.
The evolution of Planner v4.0 has to recognise that influence over consumer behaviours extends beyond the simple act of advertising. As King puts it “a planners skills lie in the outside world”, outside nowadays doesn’t just mean beyond the office door but also inside the web. What happens in Social Media requires us to extend the context of how we look at audiences. Traditional marketing communications continue to play a hugely important role but Social Media’s proximity and influence make it an essential bed partner.
Famously Stephen King wrote “what is put into an advertisement can be very different from what is got out of it. It is the response that concerns us”. If he were still with us and had exposure to Social Media he might have written “what is put into conversations can be very different from how they go on to be shared. It is that response that concerns us.”
Currently few advertising or integrated agencies succeed at making space to develop these new skills and behaviours. Most are bound to the view that agencies exist to produce advertisements. This has two consequences for planning as a discipline. First, is that Planner v4.0 might be easier to find within consultancies or research specialists since where Social Media is concerned advertising is rarely the only answer. Second, ‘account’ is no longer essential. When JWT created the term it was reflective of the agencies wider strategic responsibilities. If Social Media teaches us anything it is that the best answers are reached through collaboration. Planner v4.0 is just as likely to be working as part of an inter-agency dream team as being attached to an all controlling ‘account’ team in an advertising agency.
In conclusion, Planner v4.0 still needs to listen and talk to consumers but it is more important than ever that there are no boundaries. It is only by doing this that they will exploit the opportunity within Social Media and then be able to put the brand into the right conversations at the right time with the right content for the right person.