Strategic Communications Planning: Just Do It Yourself

Ana Andjelic is a strategic planner with HUGE in NYC. She holds a PhD in Sociology and over the last ten years she has chosen to work as a media planner in large ad agencies in New York City.  Her career has taken her more into digital agencies like AKQA, and now HUGE.  But she’s determined that it is from a high quality “digital” agency like HUGE that she can get the resources, collaborators and permission to push out of the digital ghetto into a new kind of strategic communications planning.

This new form of strategic planning Andjelic is pushing on doesn’t try to connect the consumer target to media channels where messages are delivered.  I call that form the Old Model.   That model is failing for two reasons, both caused by the rise of the Internet as a primary communications system.  The first is that more people are spending more time getting information and entertainment from digital devices and not from old media.  Television has fractured from three or four major networks to hundreds, but still continues to lose audience and attention time.

The second reason the Old Model is failing is that we the people can now get most of our information about most products not from advertising but from every place but advertising—friends, in-store displays, product placements, Websites.   We look at people on the street and notice they’re wearing certain kinds of shoes or pants.  We see the shoes or pants in a video or in a store window.  We read about the pants or shoes on DailyCandy or GearPatrol or from a pal on Facebook.  The average US Internet user was online 40 hours a month, according to Comscore in October 2010.  Eliminate the oldest 20 years of people and the number is more like 60 hours a month.

So what’s the New Model of strategic planning? Andjelic presented her thinking last night at the series “Conversations On The Future of Advertising,” hosted by Tim Brunnell of Hello Viking and MCAD.  Video of her discussion will be available at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association site, www.mima.org later this week.  But her presentation and answers to questions afterward were thrilling in their directness and confidence.  She is building on a growing body of thought that tries create a new model of iterative, collaborative planning and creative that focuses not on demographics or psychographics, but on context—what is the journey each customer takes through their week and where does a brand have the opportunity to engage with that customer?

Andjelic said Strategic Planning in marketing has gone through three stages in the last 10-15 years.  First planning was all about “being the voice of the customer,” and the path by which you got there was quantitative market research like demographics and psychographics, and qualitative (and often anecdotal)  research like focus groups.

Then came Nike and Apple with the notion of “capturing the Zeitgeist,” as Andjelic put it, “letting people own a part of the brand” by participation in something that was cool and exciting like the iPod.

Now we’ve arrived at a time when pushing all of your marketing dollars into traditional media is a risky gamble. You’re still working with a black box that you put money into and out comes customers.  Some experts in advertising and analytics say they understand the pathways inside the advertising black box very well.  But traditional advertising is about reach, frequency and efficiency.  And even the most efficient traditional media waste millions of passive impressions on people who won’t buy the product.

Andjelic offered a concept called Bricolage, a French word that is used in creative processes to describe pulling together what you find at hand in a loose, collaborative process that focuses deeply on creation, observation, and iteration.  Instead of researching a creative brief and tossing it over the wall to the “creatives,” this new way begins with an insight or insights taken from close observation of the customer’s journey. (In France the word bricolage can also mean “do it yourself.”)

Malcolm Gladwell has recounted the story of a Heinz ketchup executive sitting in the home of a family doing market research.  There was a 40 ounce bottle of Heinz on the dinner table.  When a 4-year old boy in the family tried to pour some on his mashed potatoes, it was too large for him to handle.  His mother jumped in and took it away from him, telling him “ketchup doesn’t go on mashed potatoes.”  The kid looked grumpy.   That was the insight.

Heinz designed new “easy to squeeze” bottles in much smaller sizes—like 10 ounces—so a kid could handle it.  It turns out that kids are bothered by the fact that they don’t usually get to decide what to eat.  A parent cooks the meal, puts it on the table, and the kid is expected to east it.  Ketchup is one of the only condiments that kids can use on their own to customize their eating experience.  So they love the smaller bottle.  And by the way, the recipe for ketchup in the US  is to be a huge hit with kids—it delivers big doses of all five of the tastes we love—sweet, sour, tart, bitter and fat.  And now kids can squeeze it whenever they want.

Andjelic feels it’s the job of the strategic planner to find insights in the customer’s journey or context and organize those as a starting point for the creative team.  Then working in close collaboration the planner and the creatives iterate their work, try it out on customers, get feedback, and iterate again.  Campaigns aren’t delivered anymore, they have to be launched and once they’re launched, they need to be constantly revised both in the creative and in the ways the creative is delivered.

Note: Bricolage as a design technique was advanced by Karl Weick, who said the process required four qualities from the team:

  • Intimate knowledge of resources
  • Careful observation and listening
  • Trusting one’s ideas
  • Self-correcting structures, with feedback

This broad re-thinking also means that focusing on media channels—traditional and digital—is too limiting.  We need to go back to the design of products, the brand values that those products come from, and understand how customers actually engage with those products in the context of their life.

Planning is both collaborative and very complicated now.  The best, most effective types of communications can take so many forms—games, text campaigns, interactive billboards, programming, and product design itself.  Seeing a product do what it’s supposed to, especially when its a friend using it, is the most powerful sales tool in the world.

After all, the best ad for a Mini Cooper is when you see someone driving one down the street, right? There it is in all its functional cuteness—a cool design of an ecologically friendly car that’s easy to drive in the city.  When I see one tomorrow morning on my journey to the grocery store I won’t be thinking about the magazine ad for it in Men’s Journal or The New Yorker.  I’ll be thinking about my grocery list perhaps, and then get distracted and look at this lime green and forest two-toned car and think, “you know it might be time to replace the old wagon….”

I bet you a $20 million marketing budget that I won’t be thinking about the Wheaties “FUEL” ad I saw on the football game last weekend.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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3 Responses to Strategic Communications Planning: Just Do It Yourself

  1. Zach Lieberman February 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Rohn, I really enjoyed reading this post. And kudos to Andjelic for being so inspiring; I look forward to watching the video online.

    I’ve got to note, however, that this “new form of strategic planning” seems eerily familiar to “engagement planning” (read these: http://bit.ly/fCVcRn, http://bit.ly/edudxo).

    So, I’m curious to know how you feel “Bricolage” differs. Let’s discuss. Regardless, nicely done.

    • admin February 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

      Thanks Zach, Andjelic is disarmingly straight forward in her discussion, and very clear about her direction. Well worth watching.

  2. Rohn Jay Miller February 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    Zach–Thanks for the links. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on Plannersphere, but there’s a lot of foundational information there.

    Is this bricolage different from engagement planning? Yes and no. Yes, I think it’s more anthropological and open to any kind of participation by the brand that will result in meaningful engagement. That puts media as one of just several ways to engage consumers. More important, there’s an agile (pardon) “let’s grab what we can now, invent engagement prototypes and begin iterating” process in Andjelic’s description of bricolage. Further, she talks about strategy thinking much more along executional lines, tactical ideas than top-down strategy development.

    No, it’s not that different, in that engagement planning broke down the wall between strategy and creative. But in almost all agencies a “church and state” division remained where strategists were yelled at if they proposed, let alone developed, executions.

    Perhaps it’s best to say this bricolage idea is an iteration of engagement planning.