What the X?*# Is a Planner Anyway?

thumbnail imageIt’s a question that many planning folk get, especially from those who are new to the agency, and potentially to the planning function itself.

In its modern-day form, planning has evolved into a multifaceted functional set of skills that not every agency has, but should consider.

To start, planners come from a variety of backgrounds, from account to creative, and from a number of different industries (not just advertising!). It doesn’t really take any special background to be a planner, just a sense of advocacy, intuition, creativity, and, of course, curiosity.

That’s because planners do A LOT of research—in fact that might be an underestimate. They pretty much have the pulse of the customer at all times, whether hot or cold, happy or not. Planners get to observe, and then react based on those observations.

Nowadays planners get involved in almost everything that agencies do, from business and financial functions to account management to creative development. We support our teams with the insights that will drive the business forward and hopefully engage our customers to make decisions.

If you are thinking about having a planner on board and want to know how they can add value to your accounts, here are three ways they may be able to help:

1)   Story telling. If you are not sure the best way to relate to customers, then get to know them first. Planners can help you do this by plotting out the paths along which customers engage with brands, telling their story, and determining the best point of entry for that engagement. When a planner is ready to talk about this, listen. It may mean the difference between an epic brand, and one that targets the wrong person (one who inevitably has no reason to consider your brand).

2)   Creative fuel. Planners will get people motivated (in a meaningful way). Whether they are out there buying your product, or inside the agency walls mulling over their ideas on the fifth pot of coffee, planners can inspire everyone to go for that jumping-off point and get excited about brands to produce on-target, off-the-charts creative. They can also help advocate for the agency (and the team) if an idea has merit but had received some resistance from either clients or the higher-ups.

3)   Simple logic and reasoning. Planners don’t make snap judgment calls. They do everything they can to build credibility, and that is based on nothing other than carefully planned research. Every one of their insights has merit based on research, and they are experts at “filling in the gaps” when further clarification and interpretation is needed.

Case in point

To put all of this into perspective, here is a recent example of how planning takes shape on a brand, and what the good outcomes can be if you decide to bring a planner into the mix.

Our client was on the fence about conducting additional research for their brand. They were hoping that a round of qualitative would be enough to determine a concept winner.

But lo and behold, with just qualitative research alone it was difficult to determine an overall winner against their current campaign. Even though it went through 4 different cities, qualitative research will sometimes produce mixed results, especially when you’re testing concepts to gauge the customer’s emotional response.

The client wasn’t really getting enough out of the numbers to determine the best-ranked out of the mix. So with some encouragement from planning, and an insightful summary of the research, the client decided to move ahead with quantitative, based on the fact that they needed to know, without bias, what the numbers outcome would be. Additionally more research allowed for more refinement, taking key learnings and drawing more insights from them.

And that’s how it’s done. Planners come and go on accounts, but one thing is for sure—their insights will stay with brands, as customers continue to engage, and hopefully transform their behaviors.

So next time the customer does something out of the ordinary, chances are an extraordinary planner had something to do with it, somewhere along the line.

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