Planning is the process of identifying the most efficient and effective ways for brands to share the things they want with the people that matter to them most.
Until recently, that has translated into identifying the most compelling ‘big brand ideas’, and then broadcasting them to apparently homogeneous audiences through conventional mass-media.
However, this approach no longer delivers the results we need.
Contrary to the laments of the media industry, this is not because attention has become more scarce; indeed, people actually have more free time now than they used to.
The real issue is that people have more opportunities to participate in a wider variety of activities, and unsurprisingly, they are choosing to focus their attention on those activities which offer them the greatest rewards.
In place of some of the time they used to spend ‘fire gazing’ – escaping the boredom and drudgery of everyday life – people are increasingly harnessing their cognitive surplus to learn and grow.
This more varied behaviour means that ‘audiences’ are increasingly dispersed: fewer people are doing the same thing at the same time, and mass-media are increasingly less ‘mass’ as a result.
However, this actually presents more opportunities than it does problems.
Rather than simply interrupting people’s escapism, we now have greater scope to get involved and make their lives better.
But, in order to achieve this, we need to rethink our approach to brand communications.
We need to move away from planning that centres on people’s ‘media habits’, and focus instead on the things that people are trying to achieve through those habits.
In other words, we need to ask why people do what they do, not just what they do.
Once we understand people’s motivations, we’ll find it much easier to find more relevant roles for our brands:
If people want passive entertainment, how can we help with that?
If they want to learn something new, what role can we play?
If they have a challenge, how can we help them solve it?
Brand communications can evolve into a means to deliver actual value, rather than simply a means to promote other forms of value delivery.
The benefit offered can be as simple as passive entertainment, but interactive experiences, education, and even corporate social responsibility (CSR) hold even greater potential.
In line with this evolving quest for people’s hearts and minds, planning’s role needs to evolve too, becoming
The process of identifying the most relevant and engaging times and places to deliver specific brand benefits, and the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those benefits in that context.
Over the next few days, I’ll share some ideas that can help make that future a reality.