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.

1 comment:

  1. Great investigation, John. I sent this along to my team at CL and we all found it very insightful, some good reminders on how to do our job. Thanks!