Joanna Parnell, Director of Planning at Unique Digital
Joanna Parnell, Director of Planning at Unique Digital, discusses real-time, reactive planning and explains how marketers can nurture conversations with consumers
In the competitive multichannel landscape, marketers are positively trying to better understand how to engage with consumers cross-platform in exciting and innovative ways. Central to boosting TV-to-mobile ad synching, brands are becoming more aware of the need to implement real-time planning into multi-screen. Given the technology that supports advertising, ‘meshing’ from TV to mobile is limited to device and time. The success of seamless storytelling has to start with understanding your audience and the change in their behaviour from TV to mobile.
Central to creating seamless storytelling, brands need to develop the right conversation to fit the digital environment, nurturing the conversation rather than owning it online. The consumer needs to be positioned as king in their living room as much as their online community. To successfully apply this strategy, brands need to adopt real-time planning frameworks that can enable them to nurture those conversations, reacting speedily with authentic content, offering a human, personal touch or community reward in exchange for participating. At present, many brands are not set up to adopt real-time planning, missing key moments of bonding in communities that could drive real association and loyalty down the line.
Real-time or ‘reactive planning’: why is it a key focus for marketers?
Real-time or ‘reactive planning’ frameworks were originally born out of a need to engage in conversations that were occurring in groups, mainly online and predominantly in social spaces. Three years ago brands were heavily reliant on agencies to fully manage their social communities, responding to customer queries, complaints and posting a scheduled calendar of activity. Strict rules of governance were drawn out by brands to control and censor what could be said according to established guidelines and timed one-way posts. So, while brand conversations were tailored, generally they continued to be more broadcast and structured rather than ongoing or iterative.
Over the past few years, social media has become a force to be reckoned with. Consumers are taking control of the conversation at large and client-side marketers have realised there is a real need for reactive planning that understands and engages with core audiences. This is achieved through the application of brand and direct response (DR) marketing crafted in real time, delivered using a combination of audience analytics, creative initiative and media targeting techniques. For marketers the mission is simple: to embed the brand in key moments of association with its desired audience when it matters. As the meshing of TV, ‘phablet’ and desktop surfing continues, brands are being given a real opportunity to engage humanly with consumers across all touch-points according to their interests and sensibilities.
Understanding your core audience
To begin installing real time frameworks, brands should start with understanding their audience in-situ. Online offers the best environment for brands to actively monitor and gauge target audience versus offline. Audience data can be used and segmented in real time, feeding into creative planning teams to generate the germ of the idea there and then, before being vetted and iterated prior to build. Outputs are then designed and converted into multi-platform content, dynamic assets are segmented, amplified, measured and iterated, all within the space of an hour or two.
During half-time in a football match, gambling adverts pull in data from online and in-store bets creating real-time ads that focus on the odds of winning. While this is a first step in the right direction, these ads only demonstrate a basic level of brand engagement with the consumer. Brands could connect with the audience by talking about a goal or relaying highlights of the game and images of the winning strike. For this strategy to work timeliness is key, and it is this type of ongoing approach brands need to consider to build bonding moments around consumer passion points.
Application: getting the foundations right
Initially, some brands are reluctant to adopt real-time planning frameworks, as brand guardians are rightly protective of the heritage and equity they have worked so hard to achieve. It is therefore essential for marketers to gain the confidence of the client’s brand team to enable ‘looser than usual’ guidelines. By working closely with clients, agencies are able to gauge a comprehensive understanding of the brand and its values to develop a clear digital brand strategy for all communications and creative production for brands to adopt. With these foundations in place, marketers are set up to build frameworks for feedback and approval of creative ideas and production in response to audience trends. This strategy enables items to be fast-tracked to ensure brands are not missing out on key bonding opportunities.
One of the difficulties with reactive planning is the turnaround time for content. Comms design and build vary from an hour to a day, depending on the trend and opportunity. Timing is crucial. While marketers wait for creative feedback, they should maximise their time by building targeting strategies to heighten impact across media touch-points.
Three key components of success for any reactive planning approach:
1. A shared and agreed understanding of the audience and purpose of the micro-campaign at hand.
2. Close, frequent and frank communication between the agency and client for feedback and sign-off is essential for working as a team towards joint targets, ensuring all are fully vested in the approach.
3. The technical ability to connect between multiple platforms across creative, media and tracking, plus the ability to instantly change direction without this adversely affecting existing planned campaigns. This sometimes means not completing an idea if it’s to be poorly executed.
The process of adopting reactive planning is a new experience for many and the challenge for brands can be difficult at first. For each brand and case in point there will be a different set of solutions. However, learnings come quickly and often new audiences and talking points are discovered, which then drives planned activity forward for future campaigns.
Allowing a little control to be given to an agency and a lot to the customer is not the natural way to market a business, which is the reason why installing a real-time planning strategy should be a key focus for marketers. The fact that control has already been partly lost to consumers highlights the need for the conversation to be nurtured all the more.