Strategic planning has a critical (and growing) role in how we practice digital communications. As a multidimensional discipline, it helps align relevant insights and find specific opportunities for brands. Whilst doing that, it serves as a conduit between creative, the client and the consumer.
Nevertheless, the function and role of planning is not always clear. The question remains: “So what exactly do planners do?” Being a recent arrival to the Planning model, I too initially struggled to understand it, but over time and experience I’ve figured out the basics.
1. Always Planning
Planners divide their time into thinking and doing. They are often thinking and learning more about a recent survey result, current trend or upcoming challenge. Then they put their thoughts and learning into action when they are actively working on a client challenge informed by their accumulated knowledge. Both types of moments are equally important. To be a planner is also to be able to come up with ways to apply original thinking to our work, and being informed and able to use that information is essential. So don’t be surprised if a planner doesn’t have an immediate answer to your question; they will be able (and eager) to figure it out and get back to you.
2. Getting To Know People
Planners are tasked with understanding human behavior. Understanding people’s expectations and if they have been met brings great perspective for planners to define how brands can engage them. Sometimes it could be understanding how a generation behaves online; other times it means engaging in a one-to-one conversation with a more specific audience. In the end, the idea is to be able to fully comprehend how people react – and if that’s a reaction we are looking to stimulate or mitigate. Sometimes, that involves developing personas. Ultimately, planners become the voice of the consumer in the room.
3. Finding an Opportunity
Using several research tools, processes and their own accumulated knowledge, planners compile every bit of information about a subject they were asked to work on, and extract an insight from it. Armed with an insight, planning becomes a process of aligning business objectives and the current cultural scenario information to define a brand’s strategic opportunity in the market. In that sense, planners are responsible for the “Big Idea” that comes from research, and solving a very specific challenge, at a very specific timeframe, with the brand’s long-term narrative in mind.
4. Tracking Progress
The work of planning does not end with the “aha moment.” Once the opportunity is articulated, it is also the planner’s job to brief the creative and account teams on how to use this information to create campaigns that speak to the audience. Later, it becomes their role to verify and reevaluate the effectiveness of that idea, and tweak the strategy as needed, based on people’s reactions. Planning has many forms, but at the heart of it is the need to ensure our communication is meaningful and directed at the right people.
5. What Planning is Not
Planners are tasked with asking the difficult questions, facilitating brainstorms and inspiring breakthrough ideas. Here are what planners are not: researchers, even though they do a lot of research; data analysts, even though they analyze a lot of data; the consumer, even though they represent them in the room. It may be hard to see beyond these misconceptions, but after a while it becomes clear that they don’t do one thing, but many. And considering that all of this takes time, make sure to get the planning team onboard from the start.
How can you partner with a digital planner on your next big project?