Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Discipline of Account Planning

What is advertising strategy and account planning?

Advertising account planning is sometimes said to be a "British thing."

Although jazz may have come up the river from New Orleans, it is not accurate to say that account planning came over on the plane from London in the 1980s. That was just a trend popularized by people looking for less costly ways to differentiate one advertising agency's research department from others. It became a clever business solution at a time when agency cost structures were radically transformed.

Actually, advertising planning and planners have been at work in the United States for a long time. Today's account planners might be surprised by the work of George Rowell in the 1860s, Nathaniel Fowler in the 1890s, James Webb Young at JWT in the 1920s, and George Gallup at Y&R in the 1930s. More recently, Kenneth Longman, William Moran and Robert Walsh - all working at Y&R during the 1960s and 70s - have probably had as much or more influence than anyone on the framework for modern advertising thinking.

The goal of account planning is two-fold. For clients, the goal is to garner the most attention for the most effective message, to be at that pinnacle of the most admirable, most productive advertising. And, for the advertising agency there is also the goal of efficiency. If everyone knows the right direction, then effort can be focused on doing great work. After all, poorly planned efforts waste time and resources in any industry.

So, just what is advertising strategy and account planning? It is a discipline based on a specific strategic framework.

It begins with research to provide factual answers to five questions.

1.  What is the competitive frame (or source of business) for the product? What are customers most often buying or doing instead of buying the client's product or service?

2.  Who is the target market? Often this involves identifying the people who buy most frequently or in the largest volume.

3. What is the purchase cycle? Is the product or service purchased often, or based on an infrequent pattern tied to life events or product durability, or does a sensory cycle of fad and fatigue characterize product use?

4. What is the desired response? Are customers to be asked to switch brands, remain more loyal, increase their rate of use, return to a brand after lapsed use, try an entirely new kind of product for the first time, or make a single action purchase such as responding to a retail sale.

5. What is the message argument? What argument will (a) encourage a person in the target market to (b) make the desired response you identified in (c) the context of the competitive frame you also identified. In stating this message argument you must identify the brand's customer benefit and the reason why the brand will deliver that benefit. The argument is the basic premise for the offer you make to your customer that will lead them to make the desired response.

These five questions are the strategic considerations that, if you take time to research them well, can be said to be your enduring strategic framework. These items are the fundamental underlying basis for the entire field of strategic communication.

Indeed, these five items items are so important you should call them your "strategic commitments." Advertising planners should carefully respond to these questions and then stick with their answers. If you frequently find yourself changing your answers to one or more of these questions, then you have a strategic problem. Frequent changes in advertising strategy signal inexperienced marketing or poor management skills.

Once you have made these five strategic commitments, you are ready to develop a more specific groundwork for creating advertising. You can call this groundwork the creative brief or creative work plan.

An effective Creative Work Plan has these components:

The Key Fact: Given the five strategic commitments that you have made, what one fact about the brand, competition, or customer is most relevant to advertising?

The Problem Advertising Must Solve: Based on your key fact, what is the problem in the marketplace that advertising can and must solve?

The Advertising Objective: What is to be the specific effect of advertising on the actions of customers? Will the advertising message lead to brand switching, increases in loyalty, increases in rate of use, or another specific action? What will be the measurable customer action in response to the advertising message?

The key fact, problem advertising must solve, and advertising objective support the five elements of the creative work plan that can be called the creative strategy for advertising.

1. Customer Definition: Identify the customers in terms of demographics, rate of product use, lifestyle activities and interests, and leverageable customer insights relating to their use of the brand.

2. Key Competition: What is the market or market segment of competing brands from which the advertising must help draw customers to the brand?

3. Brand Promise: What is the benefit as experienced by the customer? This is not the place for clever slogans or expected advertising copy language. State clearly and specifically what the brand does to improve the life and experience of the customer.

4. Reason Why: What one specific fact about the brand most effectively supports the brand promise?

5. Media of Expression: Given the activities and interests of the customer, what are the key media environments for advertising? How are the core customers defined as users of mass media and social media?

Once you have the creative work plan or brief, your work is to effectively share the plan with the assigned creative and production staff, and to respond to their questions as they do their work.

The responsibility of the members of the creative staff is to receive the advice of account planners, to question it, to even challenge it, and then to go on to invent original and motivating human expressions of the agreed upon creative work plan. In this endeavor, the creative work will not necessarily literally reflect the language of the planning documents. Creative problem solving involves reinvention of the planning advice as a compelling presentation in human terms.

The creative and production staff members are the heroic persons in this scenario, while the account planners lay important groundwork for their success. It is a relationship based on dialog, not dictation.

This is the underlying framework for the discipline of account planning. It is expressed above in a condensed and organized manner. But, how many people really know all of these considerations? How many have both the quantitative and qualitative experience and skills to draw upon all of the needed information resources? Having customer insights and developing customer personas are important aspects of this process. But, the insights must be leverageable insights based upon considered research, and they can come into play for all aspects of the strategic framework.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

MNsure Shows Way to Effective Healthcare Advertising

I've commented earlier (in my August 4th and 10th posts) about the Kaiser Family Foundation survey showing that half the adults in the nation say they do not have enough information about the Affordable Care Act to understand how it will impact their own families. Indeed, about 40 percent say they are either unaware or confused about the very status of this new law.

This points to the importance of attention getting information placed in a helpful context so people can understand, trust and act appropriately to the benefit of themselves and their families.

To that end, the 18 states establishing health insurance exchanges are initiating public information campaigns.

Minnesotans can begin enrolling on October 1. To assist them, MNsure - the state's name for its health insurance exchange - has begun its public information campaign.

This MNsure commerical is a demonstration of effective health care communication. It is not a healthcare lecture. Rather, it employs the state's key iconic figure to appeal to all Minnesotans and to motivate viewers to visit the health exchange website.

The website is attractive, easy to navigate and straightforward. Importantly, the overall tone and manner is cheerful. My 1997 article in the Journal of Advertising Research was the first scholarly study showing the importance of these factors in website based communication for brands and organizations.

This is a complete campaign with televsion, radio, print, and outdoor advertising with the website as the key focal point. This radio commercial underscores the cheerful and informative tone and manner.

The Affordable Care Act is an important public matter. Here we see advertising playing the critical role effectively bringing needed awareness and information so members of the public can make decisions in their own best interests.

The MNsure campaign was produced by BBDO Proximity in Minneapolis.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Transformation Versus Information in Advertising

Informative messages are often less successful than hoped. Audiences are not necessarily waiting for you to lecture them about what they should buy, ways they should think, or how they should live.

To be a successful messenger, you need to do more about the form of your message.

This new Coca-Cola commercial from Argentina opens with a credibility statement. Real life experiences are transformed into a persuasive side-by-side demonstration.

Transformative advertising shows you how people feel in light of a key fact. That's the desired outcome leading to a successful pubic communication message or advertising campaign.

So when it comes to your next advertising campaign, remember this distinction between information and transformation.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Advertising, Truth and the Affordable Care Act

The story of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an elusive saga in the public conversation.

It is at once talked about, yet not sufficiently understood.

In April of 2013, a nation-wide survey of adults by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that about 50 percent say they do not have enough information about this new law to understand how it will impact their own families. Indeed, about 40 percent say they are either unaware or confused about the status of the ACA.

Moreover, the Kaiser survey also shows fading support for the ACA among American adults ages 18 and older.

Since April of 2010, favorable opinions for the ACA have dropped 11 percentage points from 46 to 35 percent, while unfavorable opinions remain at 40 percent. The group reporting they don't know their opinion or refusing to answer the question increased 10 points from 14 to 24 percent. The margin of sampling error is 3 percentage points.

These polling trends point toward January of 2014, when the ACA policies are to go into full effect. The growing proportion of adults who say they "don't know" suggests public support is waning due to the absence of clearly conveyed information. The voices in support of the ACA have been losing the day.

Between now and then, Americans will encounter an increasing public information tumult surrounding the ACA. There will be reporting by newspapers, cable news, and broadcast news. There will be 18 state-sponsored enrollment advertising campaigns for their health care insurance exchanges. Advocacy advertising campaigns will be sponsored by supporting and opposing groups.

What information source may prove most useful to the public at this critical time?

It is important that we recognize there is only one form of mass communication that must be truthful by law. That source is advertising that is "in commerce," meaning that it offers a product or service for sale. All other sources, including news, commentary, advocacy advertising, political advertising, and the Internet in general, are not subject to this important legal requirement to be truthful.

We are in the midst of a new and confusing milieu for information in the public sphere. Truth is becoming increasingly elusive in a world in which information sources are at once rapidly growing in number, and increasingly pervasive, subtle and invasive.

As we move further into this confusing new reality, commercial advertising for products and services must emerge as the only source of mass communication that adheres to the legal standard of truth.

  Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Advertising and the Liking Schema

Research about mass communication effects tells us that sources interpreted with what is called an "accessible schema" tend to produce higher cognitive and emotional readiness by the audience.

One of the most accessible schemas or modes of thinking involves liking by ourselves and by others. Liking schemas are said to be more easily understood and more accurately remembered.

This McDonalds commercial presents an exemplary application of the liking schema in advertising.

The narrative involves a familiar yet unexpected attention-getting scenario. The story action exemplifies attraction, the verbal message is literally "I'm loving it," and the branding visualization codes strongly with with the colors, package design, and product shape.

There is also the matter of the likability of the commercial itself. We enjoy the message and this amplifies our feelings for the brand that brought the message to us.

   Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Algorithms: The Operant Conditioning Short Cut to "Just Good Enough"

We engage in "operant behavior" whenever we take a voluntary action and then, based on the degree of success or reward, decide to repeat the action or increase the frequency or strength of the action. Encountering a lesser reward or failure we may even decrease or cease the action.

Also called "operant conditioning," this manner of behavior is not a response to prior cognition or a rationale. Rather, it is behavior that is solely determined by the consequences of an action taken.

In the practice of marketing communication today, this psychological theory offers an explanation of the attraction of algorithms, expert systems, data-mining, and programmatic media buying.

In these approaches, computer codes or programs are applied to data-sets in order to find what are known as locally optimal solutions to problems such as media buying and even selection of message appeals.

Algorithms generally give you seemingly reasonable answers, and often the alternative choices in marketing and communication are choices between right and right.

So the obvious risk is that a somewhat right approach will become a self-reinforcing path to a less than optimal future. Organizations and brands can all too easily fall victim to this high technology route to lesser success.

Actually, human truths and leverageable customer insights are the pathways to developing the highest performance marketing and communication plans. There are no short cuts on the pathway to learning what works best and why.

   Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Advertising and the Affordable Care Act

A key to affordable health care is that everyone obtain health care insurance.

However, not everyone in the United States understands this responsibility, nor are people sufficiently aware of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will help them meet their health care needs. Indeed, surveys show substantial public confusion concerning the nature and status of the ACA.

In April of 2013, a nation-wide survey of adults by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that about 50 percent say they do not have enough information about this new law to understand how it will impact their own families.

Importantly, over 40 percent say they are either unaware or confused about the status of the ACA.

The sources and voices of public information on the ACA are diverse, confusing, and sometimes even intentionally counterproductive. So these recent survey results should not be surprising.

To strategic communication professionals, this is what is known as "a problem advertising can solve."

As paid messaging on behalf of organizations and brands, advertising can help overcome a lack of awareness, understanding, and acceptance of products and programs.

The 17 states now initiating health insurance exchanges are aware of how advertising can help the public make more informed choices. For example, this summer the state of Connecticut began investing in a $6 million advertising and promotional campaign for its health insurance exchange - Access Health Connecticut.

California - one of the larger and more populous states - is investing in an $86 million campaign called Covered California.

This underscores the importance of advertising as an essential institution promoting progress. The purpose of advertising is to help make things happen faster in the economy and society so as to help people lead richer, fuller and  - in this case - more healthful lives.

   Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Post-Verbal Era of Advertising and Mass Communication

One limitation of American advertising is that it is too word oriented.  Marketing managers often superficially concentrate on looking for identical wording across their value propositions, creative work plans, the creative work itself, copy tests, and advertising tracking studies. Copyediting is a more easily accessible literal endeavor, while imagery and metaphor call for greater depth of thinking.

Indeed, some seem to be educated to avoid, or even fear, communication via metaphor and visualization. And, of course, it is easier to conduct tests that merely detect the recognition or recall of a phrase.

Now this tendency is about to become even more self-limiting as we enter what I call the “Post-Verbal Era of Advertising and Mass Communication.”  It has long been said a picture is worth a thousand words. And now, the mass communication world is defined by electronic media that privilege visual communication.

Hence, in focusing on word-based communication, both communicators and media operators will find themselves in increasingly marginal positions. This is the concern of Facebook when it acquired Instagram, and the limitation of Twitter when compared to the capabilities of more versatile micro-blog services such as Sina Weibo.

In contrast, Pinterest and other media that provide welcome environments for appreciation of design and visual communication are poised for success.

These developments set the stage for the latest McDonalds advertising, created by an agency in France.

Some have noted this work for an absence of "overt branding," but such observations fail to account for our changing media environment. 

Evidence that McDonalds clearly understands the new realities is the inclusion of the fish sandwich wrapper as a natural way to include the brand on what might be seen as a more generic photo of their fish sandwich.  

Branding is now all about what I call "ownership of product category visualization."  

The race is on. 

Copyright © 2013 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.