Why Your Agency Should Embrace Connection Planning

Growing Discipline Can Help Clients Do More With Less

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Cathy Collier
Cathy Collier
Ask around and you'll find that most marketers believe there is something fundamentally wrong with their media and advertising today. They will complain they are not getting truly media-neutral solutions that are grounded in consumer insights and are ownable by their brands.

At the same time, marketers often don't know where they -- or their agencies -- are going wrong. They understand the consumer and the media landscape is rapidly changing, but are stumped as to how to take this into account in their planning process.

To get to the root of the problem, we need to examine the current process.

Despite all the talk about integration, media and creative work typically still develop from different briefs. The result is either that creatives end up filling in the boxes media has recommended, or media execs feel like they are being dictated by the medium. This process is broken.

Media briefs identify a target, which is analyzed and explored demographically and psychographically to create a rich profile of the consumer. But the trouble begins when the target is then reduced back to a media-buying target of "adults 18-49." This media definition of the audience, coupled with media commission compensation, results in media recommendations that are, well, media.

Based on this process, there is little chance a client will end up with anything but traditional advertising. When was the last time you saw a media company recommending a solution that had no paid media?

In order for communications to evolve and become truly consumer-focused, we need to break three conventions fundamental to how advertising is developed: linear development of the media and creative process; the traditional media box; and the notion that communications equals advertising.

Connection planning, which we practice at the agency I lead, X, is an emerging approach in the North American ad market. Each project begins with smart media planning, insightful strategic planning and daring creative idea generation to then come together and connect at those moments of influence that will have the most impact on consumers.

The key differences are:

  • The way we look at the market opportunity and define the target at project initiation.
  • The insights we capture about the target that leads to the "connection idea."
  • How the connection idea leads us to new and nontraditional connection points where the target and the idea intersect to create the greatest impact.

The beginning of the planning process is critical. Connection planning is a marketing process, not a media-planning process. Many media briefs start with the problem and target already defined. But we cannot achieve new breakthroughs if we start with the old media-process model. If we start from media advertising briefs, we get media advertising solutions. In order to best serve our clients, we need to look at communications as ideas and activities that can change behavior, influence attitudes, perceptions and inspire new thinking.

This necessitates an approach not confined only to advertising. Innovation is only possible when we start with a new definition of the opportunity and audience, and explore new territory to exploit that opportunity.

In connection planning, the idea is the media.

The default media toolbox doesn't reflect reality -- the world has changed. Consumers today are editors, not simply viewers. In an increasingly crowded world, ideas are your competitive advantage. They make the difference. That is what is missing from the "surround the consumer" or "360 approach"; it assumes points matter more than an integrated idea connecting the right point with the right idea. The 360 approach typically ends up with multiple small, disparate tactics that look like a stew and create little impact.

A parallel to the connection-planning philosophy and approach is how account services evolved with the introduction of account planning in the late 1980s. Briefs, strategies and research were already being done by account services and research people. But the account planner was a different role with a specific and specialized skill set -- one that combined strategy, research and creative insights.

Now most agencies have planners. Clients were getting briefs before account planning came along, but the development of the discipline made them better. By developing a new approach with an enhanced skill set, it changed the way the business operated, and most agree that it drove more innovation in communications.

In a similar vein, connection planning will ensure that we break conventions and focus on the consumer to lead us to relevant connection ideas. These ideas will power the way we go to market and necessitate innovative solutions.

The bottom line? Connection planning will help clients spend their money better. Most marketers now realize that they can't continue to do things the same way and still succeed. Connection planning maximizes communications budgets by creating the connections for marketers, rather than forcing them to buy what media is available for sale. And that's the kind of thing any client will be interested in, especially right now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cathy Collier serves as president at X, the newly formed connection-planning affiliate of MDC Partners' Zig.