Special Report: Direct Marketing - New-model planners

Direct planners have evolved as direct marketing takes on more responsibility for brand building from ad agencies, four senior direct players say.

NIGEL JONES - Claydon Heeley Jones Mason

There is little doubt that an increasing proportion of direct clients are looking for work that also enhances their brand's values. The precise reasons for this vary by client but the most commonly cited are that direct marketing response rates are declining and employing the brand's power helps generate better results. And also that direct marketing that doesn't reflect the brand may be having a negative impact on the 95 per cent plus non-responders.

It doesn't need a rocket scientist, therefore, to see why there are an increasing number of direct marketing agency planners who are perhaps more brand literate than their predecessors and are more experienced at deriving consumer insight from qualitative means.

I'm a planner by background, so clearly I'm in favour of these developments.

However, I'd like take this opportunity to sound a few words of caution.

First, clever analysis of numerical consumer or sales data can often lead to the most useful and profound insights. The idea that qualitative research is the font of all insight is false and far too widely accepted.

I'm not just referring to insight in direct marketing; this is also true in advertising. Many of the really effective (and creatively awarded) ad campaigns started from a quantitatively derived insight - admittedly then often finessed through qualitative research, but nevertheless born out of numbers.

Second, let's learn from what's happened in advertising planning during the past 20 years. Advertising planners underwent a fundamental shift in the late 80s and early 90s. A new breed of "creative-development" planner emerged, working primarily with qualitative group-based research and operating often as almost an adjunct to the creative department. While achieving some success, this development also buried a rich vein of potential insight, creativity and effectiveness that has arguably weakened advertising ever since.

So, yes to brand-literate, insightful planners but let's make sure that in direct marketing this doesn't mean we forget the role quantitative analysis can play in deriving insight. A new breed of planners who are brand literate and understand qualitative research but are also experts at deriving consumer insight from analysis of consumer behaviour and buying data would be a revolution worth fighting for.

- Nigel Jones is the chief executive of Claydon Heeley

JONES MASON - Stuart Archibald Archibald Ingall Stretton

Stanley Pollitt, the father of both planning and BMP, wrote several papers on the concept of account planning.

A cursory glance over them reveals that, in spite of dramatic changes in our industry, today's planners still adhere to the core principles he set down more than 30 years ago. Planners, Stanley said, must be experts in research. They should understand quantitative, numerical and market data, and undertake a good deal of qualitative work.

And they should be involved in both strategic thinking and the creative process.

But the 70s office is a thing of the past. Today's clients, markets, customers and media are changing at a dramatic rate, and the brands and relationships of the future will be built in a radically different way.

While the direct planner's knowledge of numerical and behavioural data (especially in the mobile and online space) will be vital, neither they nor their agencies can afford to take a narrow view of their clients' businesses. Many clients already need (and demand) business solutions, which means good planners (and their agencies) must take a more rounded view, sharing specialisms as part of a broader solution.

These days, I want planners who are good at what they do, but have the flexibility and desire to really grasp the bigger picture - generalist experts, if you will. I can think of several occasions where, had we approached a task with only our brand planner, for example, we would have missed vital audience insight picked up by our data planner.

Proper planning means bringing together experts to come at the customer and brand from all sides - brand, data, media and customer relationship marketing. You wouldn't get much from watching one corner of your TV, so why tolerate a partial view of your customer?

- Stuart Archibald is a managing partner at Archibald Ingall Stretton

RICHARD MADDEN - TBWA\GGT

It is my contention that the ideal direct planner of the future will be very much like the ideal advertising account planner of the past.

Leaving aside for a moment the greater sophistication of the tools (and the greater obtuseness of much of the language), the best direct planning today bears a striking resemblance to the craft as practised during the golden age of account planning back in the era of Pollitt and King.

The marketplace is dissected. Behavioural data is analysed. Attitudinal insights are gathered. A hypothesis is developed. It is tested, first in research, then in the market. Results are collated, and the whole process begins again.

True, data fusion now makes it possible to link behaviours with attitudes at a more granular level. But is this not simply a continuation of the pattern established by those who first sought to add a human context to sales and media data through the then dark art of qualitative research?

Like their best advertising forebears, today's best direct planners are part of the infrastructure of account teams. They are as valued by creative teams as they are by the clients. They have achieved this status not simply because they have the capacity to synthesise insights from raw intelligence, but because they also have the talent to inspire as much as to inform. The world may be digital, but the human operating system is still analogue. In an age full of data but bereft of meaning, the ideal planner of the future will be the person best able to discern a pattern in the noise and turn it into a story capable of being understood by a creative team who would much rather be on their second pint in the Crown.

There is no school for this kind of thing, and no psychometric inventory with which to appease or impress personnel people. Your best bet is to stay on the look-out for bright and curious characters. Just be prepared to accept that those characters will generally be curious in every sense of the word.

- Richard Madden is the executive planning director at TBWA\GGT

ALISON PAYNE - Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel

During the past ten years, there has been a quiet revolution in the role of planning in direct marketing agencies. When Craik Jones launched in 1991, "real planners" were our USP. We believed that if brands were built wherever and whenever a consumer and the brand came into contact, then direct marketing should be as responsible in building and maintaining that brand as any other part of the marketing mix. In fact, Craik Jones believed that direct marketing had a greater role to play. We were using the most intimate of communications, com-munications that talked to our customers by name, in their own homes or on their own PCs.

Also, we were moving into a marketing environment where direct communications were playing a central role in acquiring and keeping customers. Understanding how consumers interact and view brands through the time- frame of a long-term relationship was unique to planners in direct marketing agencies, unfettered by the short-term tyranny of individual advertising campaigns.

However, to find planners who shared our vision, it was often necessary to recruit from above-the-line agencies. Their "top down" approach, rooted in the relationship between brand and consumer, was far more in sympathy with our approach than planners in traditional direct agencies.

This is why we have kept the brand and data planning roles separate, which in turn has helped to cross-fertilise the disciplines. Database marketing has become central to prospect and customer management but, for brand planners, databases also offer valuable information sources to gain insight on customers' behaviour and robust tools for understanding the different segments within the brand's customer base.

The Holy Grail of planning in direct marketing should always be to produce work that not only delivers great results but also helps in building and supporting the brand in the process.

This makes for stronger brands and a more involving experience for the consumer. It's what planning has always brought to advertising campaigns and is now bringing to a growing number of direct campaigns.

- Alison Payne is the planning director at Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel.

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