The Years Ahead For ... Media Planning

Sue Unerman predicts media planners will need to know a lot more about everything as they try to emulate online tactics offline.

We are in the middle of a period of enormous change for the communications industry and media planning is right at its heart.

There's so much going on that I am skipping the temptation to look back at the past ten years for whimsical analogies and getting right on with what will happen in 2010.

The rise and rise of 'real-time planning'

The instant availability of consumer trends online via search analytics, blogs and social networking sites means that planners can constantly monitor consumer opinion and behaviour. Instead of allocating a small tactical budget to react to real-time events, media planners will be building in a loop of immediate course correction of both medium and message.

The most effective campaigns will have the ability to react to the consumer's response to them.

The media planner's job will fundamentally shift from an annual insight gathering festival to an ongoing monitoring of their consumer and their campaign.

Mobile everything

The rise of mobile has been predicted in these pages before. However, the penetration of phones that do everything and the explosion in apps will deliver step-change next year. Browsing the web is the fastest-growing activity on mobile phones and more than one-fifth of Brits now use their handset for this. There is a generation of young adults who live on mobile in an unprecedented way. Media planners will be the first to unlock the potential of mobile in media. This will require unprecedented flexibility in creative work and laydowns.

The role of brand advertising and of immediate response in media plans will zigzag. The purchase funnel is pregnant. The traditional shape of the funnel is wide at the top, while punters are open to anything, and gradually narrows to a shortlist of trusted brands leading to purchase. This shape has now changed in many categories as the funnel will still narrow during the consideration phase, but then widen again as trusted brands are joined by brands found via word of mouth, internet searches, blogs, Facebook Connect and aggregators at the shopping phase.

This means that the rules of engagement need rewriting and the brand campaign and immediate response/sales generator tactics need to overlap.

The conventional media model comes under even more threat

In the conventional model, the media owner creates content which attracts audiences, which they sell to advertisers. Now, online media owners sell audiences without creating content themselves. As advertisers care about selling their stuff more than they care about great content from media owners, this will create more and more crisis points for media owners. How is great content going to get funded if this model continues to be under pressure? Next year will see real attempts to charge for news content online and the growth of publisher apps on phones as a way to pay for content.

We will also see media owners making a lot more content for advertisers as a way to counter lost revenues.

Great use of data will become a launch pad for success

The ability to work out 70 per cent of seven used to be the benchmark for a career in our industry - I was asked it at the interview for my first job and I even got it right. Now you need more of an understanding of the multicollinearity between the drivers of reduced or increased sales in your multiple regression model. We are hurtling into a world where media budgets are no longer cosily set on the basis of last year's plus five points, but are planned on optimal acquisition models based on lifetime value.

Brand planning processes that have accountability built in already will be at an advantage. Others will be playing catch up, and modelling and planning for outcomes will become part of the basic skill-set of a media planner.

We will need new media research and implementational planning tools

In 2003, I wrote an article calling for a fresh start for media research. "We plan in a media-neutral way, so now is the time to start to work towards cross-media research measurement," I said then. As we enter the next decade we have not made enough progress. We have Touchpoints, which is a great planning tool and a great start point, but nothing that is accepted by planners, buyers and media sales people as a cross-media implementational gold standard updated in real time. As TV viewing spills out from the television and into phones, PlayStations, Wiis and laptops, there is a real question mark over the speed of development of media research. It's no longer the case that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It is broke or soon will be. Let's get it fixed.

Planning according to behaviour

The past two decades have seen segmentation planning of target markets based on demographics, life stage and lifestyle metrics. There is a value in targeting by past behaviour - and clearly some products are especially for people at certain life stages. But segmentation can go too far. When lifestyle choices in one category are used as a proxy for creating a target audience for selling toothpaste or ice-cream, the technique has been overused.

Jeremy Bullmore has said that it is the wastage in the premium car category media target that makes the car desirable. If the communications only spoke to people who might buy the car, then the car wouldn't be envied. I'd go further. In many categories these days, almost everyone might buy anything. I'd as happily include Jeremy in the target market for a smartphone as I would a thirtysomething C-suite or a teenage girl - as long as I can do it efficiently. Behavioural targeting and retargeting online is best practice and we will find ways to replicate it offline instead of a slavish devotion to segmentation.

There is a lot of change coming in the next year. The media planner needs to be T-shaped in future - ie. know an awful lot about everything. It is more than ever a job for the restless, the curious, the conceptual and the practical.

- Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom.