Media planning should be more gut and less data

I love software, I love analytics software. So to be clear, the title says more gut and less data, not all gut and no data…

Data is paramount to success these days when it comes to showing ROI. If you’re dumping money into media channels with no way of tracking your spend and the associated return, you won’t be in marketing for very long.

The deal was negotiated over a beer at the office bar

Call me nostalgic ( I sound as if I’m harking to the good ol’ days which were when? The 80’s? I’m only 33, good ol’ days for me is 2006…) but when I last occupied a sales position it was very much still a matter of relationships between media owners, the client and the agency. Escorting a certain media buyer while said person was whiling away times at Monte Casinos’ slot machines or taking long lunches at Brown’s in Rivonia was still considered “building relationships”. Getting a deal was as much what your product could deliver as how well you got along with the planner or strategist. The deal was negotiated over a beer at the office bar.

So what am I getting at? Well, deals were based as much on trust in the person as trust in the product. So how come these days we’re dead set on trusting the numbers and not so much our gut when it comes to drawing up our media plans? AR’s, readership, circulation, clicks, engagement, views. The list goes on, metrics that we cannot do without else the bean counters won’t approve the budget. Yes, these metrics are important and should form part of your existing business intelligence data sets, but, as Daniel Epstein (founder of the Unreasonable Group) wrote “Great brands don’t come from consensus—they come from your gut”.

Look, I’m not knocking media agencies, I can’t do without mine. They provide great in-depth analysis on the media types that’ll reach our target market, comparing similar media to get the best exposure/cost ratio and negotiate great discounts on our behalf. The information and savings they provide are invaluable. However, how many times has your media agency put something on the table you never saw before? Something out of the ordinary? An experimental suggestion with low-cost, high reward and a little risk? That doesn’t happen very often because there’s no real benefit for the agency to search for these alternatives. Main stream media provides great return for the agency due to the cost, frequency of investment by the brand and exposure these channels provide.

So if your media agency can’t or won’t put these opportunities on the table, how do you get to know of them? As a sales rep, especially when cold-calling, the most frustrating event was when a marketer wouldn’t give you 5 minutes to pitch. If you did your homework and your deck was on point, nothing deflated your enthusiasm more than a marketer shutting you down before you could get your foot in the door. So the first thing I committed to when I became a marketer, was to give every sales rep the benefit of the doubt on first contact. You do a good job selling to me, you have my ear on subsequent calls. If you came unprepared your opportunity was lost. This very attitude has exposed me and the company I work for to opportunities we would not have been able to exploit otherwise.

Open yourself up to risk and go with your gut

Once these pitches start coming in, the next big step is to take the risk. Follow your gut, you know your brand better than anyone else, including your creative and media agency. If something feels right and you’re confident that the exercise will provide value, go for it. Your job as a marketer is to manage the process between committing to the project and seeing it executed, that’s where you minimise risk. Open yourself up to risk and go with your gut, you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that land on your desk.

A few weeks ago I receive an email from an entrepreneur wanting to see me to discuss her new Facebook Page. She thought our product would be a perfect fit for the community she was serving. Her pitch was a little underwhelming though passionate, but, as my commitment requires me to give her the benefit of the doubt, I set up a time to see her. Mind blown! This businesswoman has, through life experience and street smarts, set up a Facebook Page that within a few months grew to 75K Likes and has now become a proper business, even being interviewed on regional radio as it caught the eye of one of the popular DJ’s. She has already partnered with a few other better known brands without sacrificing her leverage and has started to attract clients that’ll further enhance the credibility of the business. Now, I would never had heard about this business had I not followed my gut. Sure, in this case, the numbers add up (cost/exposure ratio is excellent) but this is early days and me investing in her brand and community now will pay dividends in the next 2 quarters. Oh, go visit her page, especially if you have a significant other.

A more extreme example was when we invested in the production of a travel show for a local TV channel. We had no idea what the AR’s would be and the broadcast wasn’t quite prime time and the monetary investment swallowed up a large portion of our budget. The show turned out to be super popular, was distributed as a DVD box set after the initial TV run and is now being rerun on that channel again. Great value and exposure that we wouldn’t have had if we only followed the numbers.

Your personal interests can be another great source of opportunities

You’re in charge of the marketing for your brand for a reason. You were appointed based on your knowledge and skills as well as experience and personality. These things also include your personal interests, things that get you excited. Your personal interests can be another great source of opportunities for your business. More often than not, these will also involve activities than can’t necessarily be quantified and measured. That doesn’t mean they won’t work. I’m a bit of a techie. I’ve wanted an AR drone since they launched. I tried to convince my wife that it would provide us security as it hovers around the house, every bit the flying watchdog. Had she not been so thrifty and did some homework (where she saw these drones only stay up in the air for a few minutes) I would be a proud owner. Nevertheless, seeing that I’m in the tourism industry and we operate holiday resorts, it would make perfect sense to have our properties, facilities and surrounding natural landscapes filmed from exotic angles! That’s just what I did then. Found a local supplier who’s going to help us film one of our resorts in a very creative way that hasn’t been done in South Africa before and we can use the resultant material across all our social and web platforms.

Taking these risks and trusting my gut on these projects has had other positive spin-offs. My boss very rarely says no to my suggestions or ideas because I’ve built trust with him. He even went as far to say to me the other day, “don’t worry about the cost, try it and let’s see what we get out of it”. Huh, how nice is that?! Word spreads quickly as well, I get a lot more of these pitches on my desk now than 2 years ago, the volumes are sometimes a little overwhelming and not all the pitches or ideas are up to scratch or thought through thoroughly (say that fast 3 times…) but, every now and then, a little gem pops out just waiting to claw a little budget for itself and surprise me. Budget I’ll happily give it.

I’d rather have someone who makes 10 decisions and gets a few wrong, then someone who makes 2 decisions and get them both right

So what happens when you get it wrong? That’s gonna happen. You’ll learn from the experience and so your gut feeling hones itself. Happened to me, did a project with a local soap drama which took quite an investment in monetary and creative agency retainer resources as well as a lot of my own time. While social media engagement was good and the content created out of the project was super, the total exposure and media impact of the project was not what we hoped for. I had a CEO at a previous company I worked for who said, “I’d rather have someone who makes 10 decisions and gets a few wrong, then someone who makes 2 decisions and get them both right”. You’re gonna win some and you’re gonna lose some, make sure that when a project doesn’t pan out, you know why.

So here’s my totally personal take on media planning:

Media planning 101

Nice and balanced right? 60% will still depend on proper information, but 40% needs to be what you feel is right for your brand and what’ll make you stand out from the clutter.

In summary:

  • You know your brand better than anyone, find the opportunities for it
  • Your personal interest can be a great source of opportunity for your brand
  • You were appointed for a reason, trust your instincts and you’ll build trust
  • Numbers matter, but they’re not the full picture
  • Make decisions that benefit your brand, not committing = not growing

Now, if anyone has a spare Occulus Rift lying around…