5 Ways Media Planning Has Evolved

By October 2021, according to Statista, there were 4.88 billion internet users active online — close to two-thirds of the global population. The adoption of the World Wide Web changed everything from our shopping habits to how we communicate. Consequently, a new form of marketing appeared: digital marketing. 

And while the fundamentals of marketing are still intact, any marketer not up to speed on internet marketing is a dinosaur. That’s not saying print ads don’t work anymore — but they have shrunk from being most of the picture to be only a brushstroke in a world gone digital.

Along with a drastic change in media choice, there has been a corresponding change in strategy. The tables have turned. Customers can block ads, and they are increasingly opposed to being a “target” for corporate sales pitches.

Beth Egan, author of “Media Planning Essentials,” puts it like this:

As consumers began DVR-ing, searching, scrolling,and posting their own content on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, it was no longer a question of reaching audiences, it became a matter of influencing people.

But how can a media planner become more of an influencer than a reacher, though? How have media planning tools changed, and how can cross-media planning be successfully implemented?

Following is a look at media planning, including five media planning best practices for this new and challenging digital world.

What Is Media Planning?

Media planning is one of the most important components of an advertising strategy, but what is media planning?

We’ll turn back to Beth — a 25-year veteran of the advertising industry who has created strategic media plans for Coca-Cola, Starwood Hotels, Kraft/Nabisco, and L’Oreal Paris — for clues:

Throughout most of the 20th century, media planners became experts at understanding how people consumed media. For the most part, it was fairly passive consumption . . . The role of the media planner was to ensure that the advertiser’s message was placed in front of the right set of eyeballs

She continues:

Technology-enabled the consumer to become more intentional about when and where they consumed content. So media planners could no longer rely on finding those eyeballs; they needed to become more creative at gaining consumers’ attention and permission to engage with advertising content. That is when the media planning practice evolved from the traditional media planning role of the right person, right time, the right place to COMMUNICATION PLANNING, which is focused on enabling the conversation between consumer and brand and driving influence.

Today’s most effective media planners, then, communicate with the audience, including listening to the audience. They no longer buy ad space based on which media offers the best rate. Rather, they seek to understand the consumer, determine which problems the consumer most needs to be solved, find out who the consumer trusts to solve those problems, and then design their ads and offers to give prospects a better solution. 

Media planning is the job of fitting the company messaging and offers to the people most likely to hear and need them. Rightly done, media planners will accomplish more with less. 

#1 Media planners rely on user data to forecast target group behavior.

From evaluating user preferences, predicting future trends, and strengthening existing relationships, media planners watch and listen to what their audience says and wants. They don’t stop there, though. They also stay current with new developments to project what their audience will want tomorrow, next month, and next year.

Today’s media planners are more capable of forecasting future audience behavior and desire than ever before.

#2 Media planners use analysis tools to reach the correct audience.

Demographic characteristics, by themselves, are no longer sufficient. Age, location, income level, and other data are still important, but audience demographics must be paired with audience interests if ad spend is to result in peak return on investment. 

The most successful marketers have always listened to the audience. And now, easily implemented tech tools can tell digital marketers what their customers and prospects are saying and can show them where prospects were before arriving at a web page, what they do while on the website, and where they go when they leave.

And that’s just the icing on the cake. Heat maps reveal how visitors interact with websites, A/B testing shows digital marketers which version of a page visitors react to best, and powerhouse platforms like Commspoint follow customers on their digital journey to provide deep insight into consumer behavior.

#3 Media planners understand the importance of both place and time

Digital marketers control the day ads appear and even the exact time ads appear. They know when their audience is most likely to visit YouTube or to open an email. Close listening even alerts them to specifics such as prospects going on vacation (and where), purchasing a new car, or preparing for college graduation. 

News that Target’s customer tracking enabled the company to know a high school student was pregnant — before her parents knew — made news headlines in 2012. That degree of consumer awareness is commonplace today.

#4 The communications role of a media planner is more strategic than ever

Once a media planner creates a working strategy for the business, the next step is to communicate the concept to stakeholders. The fundamental elements of the plan are clear:

  • What is the goal? 
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Where is the finish line? What is the best route to get there?

Here’s how Beth puts it in “Media Planning Essentials”:

You’ve listened to what your client’s issues are, you identified who within the population will be best to meet the client’s challenge, you’ve developed a communications strategy and defined how communications can best deliver on the strategy. With that, the key message and strategy drivers have been connected with the best channels in an integrated POE [paid, owned, earned] manner and you know how you will measure it all to prove successful. Now all that is left to do is to sell your plan to your client. 

If it’s beginning to sound as if the media planner’s job is intense — you’re right. There’s always the risk that the hard work of setting up a strategic plan will be rejected. That’s why media planners not only need research and planning skills, they must also be clear communicators. In that sense, they take on the role of a consultant.

#5 Cross-media media planning is crucial

The media planner evaluates the POE mix available for the campaign — paid media, owned media, and earned media. And it’s also important for a media planner to remember what some say creates a fourth resource: shared media.

When posts or articles are shared by others, the company doesn’t have to pay for that content — content that can draw a ton of attention.

Cross-media considerations also give rise to another point the media planner must consider: the brand voice and brand messaging should be consistent. A confused prospect is less likely to convert to customer status, but a prospect who “gets it” may only need a little more encouragement or exposure to the brand before coming on board.

Preparing Future Media Planners

Stukent’s “Media Planning Essentials” courseware is in place to help students learn the “how” and “why” of message placement to create the most effective, engaging campaigns across a variety of platforms.

To find out more about this courseware, select the “GET FREE INSTRUCTOR ACCESS” link on this page. Check out how “Media Planning Essentials” can help prepare students for a wide-open future in the world of media planning.

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