Over the last few years, planners have been in high demand and not just from advertising agencies but also from a wide range of other communication companies - including media, design, digital, sales promotion and DM - as well as research companies and clients.
And then of course there are independent planning consultancies, founding their entire businesses to cater for the growth in planning.
But why is this happening? Why is planning experiencing such a growth in both size and influence?
I believe that the answer comes from a recognition of the role that planning plays.
There are doubtless many alternative definitions of planning, but I suggest that it is all about ‘the application of creative thinking to plot the most effective path between consumer and brand’.
But if planning is all about charting this journey, there is little doubt that the journey is much more complicated than in the past.
Consider the evidence…
- Explosion of choice – consumers are faced with more brands and variants to choose from than ever before. Decisions that were once simple are now often much more complicated as consumers have to weigh up the sheer number of alternative brands, products and promises.
- Category blur – and it doesn’t stop there. It is often becoming harder to define where one category stops and another one starts. Is it a food or a drink? A camera or a phone? A computer or a TV? This will only continue as brands look to extend their footprint into other categories.
- Less differentiation – yet while there is often more to choose from, there are generally fewer real functional differences between brands. The era of the USP is long gone and on those rare occasions when a brand does come up with something significantly different, the race is immediately on amongst its competitors to follow suit.
- Message overload – on top of this, consumers are being bombarded by more commercial messages than ever before, through an ever increasing array of media channels and technologies, all fighting for attention and hoping to gain favour and loosen the purse strings.
- Time poverty – and as a backdrop to all of this, consumers are finding themselves under increasing pressure in their lives to accommodate the various demands on their time of work, family, socialising, health, spirituality, travel and so on.
But at the same time that all of this is taking place in the living room, marketing budgets are coming under greater scrutiny than ever before in the boardroom.
So what is the answer? How do marketers best deal with the twin challenges of maintaining relevance to elusive consumers in a complex marketplace whilst also ensuring that the marketing funds allocated to do so are spent in the most effective way possible?
Well, for a start, marketers need to ensure they have a deeper understanding of their consumers – how they lead their lives and where particular categories and brands can fit in.
Then they need to ensure that this thinking is applied in new and creative ways to position their brands so that they are always relevant to these consumers, constantly being willing to adapt their approaches as external factors affect the way in which consumers feel about their lives and the products they want to buy.
Once this is achieved, they must find ways to bring these positionings to life via distinctive communications strategies, which reach their consumers through the right channels, at the right times and with the right messages.
And finally they have to ensure that their communications activities are accurately measured so that the effectiveness can be assessed and the return on investment can be justified back to their organisations.
Which all sounds pretty similar to the job spec of a strategy planner.
I’d argue that while effective advertising can be generated without the contribution of a planner, the most effective advertising campaigns will always have a strong planner at its core, questioning, discovering, distilling, plotting, championing and measuring.
* Sean Adams - Director, The Seed and Chair of the Account Planning Group from 2006-2008.