Friday, May 13, 2011

Death to Digital Strategy, long live Creative Planning

When I hear advertising people call themselves as "digital natives" or "digital/analogue hybrids", it makes me throw up in my mouth a bit. It represents a douchy and belittling attempt to create a new breed of ad men. The reason it annoys me is that the term assumes that the only thing that we need to change is the people, not the tasks. As if by magic, if you happen to have a "digital native" as a account planner or copy-writer, you're stuff is instantly relevant and better.

I don't believe this is true.

It is more important to define new tasks than new skills in an integrated analogue / digital world. I'd rather have mediocre people fulfilling smart tasks, than smart people fulfilling mediocre tasks.

When it comes to my own role, I think "Digital Strategist" sounds cheesy as it only looks at one aspect of any brand problem. Personally I like "Creative Planning" as a modern descriptor for the integrated discipline better. It nods to the roots of planning but elevates it into a creative endeavor. Planning is all about possibilities, and in the digital universe possibilities are virtually endless. There are a million different ways you could do something, but it's the creative part that helps you pick the right one. Creativity is all about taste and understanding of nuances.

Let me give you an example:

You are looking for a place to host videos for your campaign somewhere. Let's say you could use Vimeo or YouTube, in your campaign and you weigh in all of the relevant factors to choose one or the other. Perhaps YouTube would get more organic traffic, but for your campaign Vimeo could perhaps produce a better brand fit and therefore higher quality traffic. It comes down to having the relevant information to make an informed creative decision. One of the decisions would undoubtably yield better business results, but which one? Stereotypically a digital strategist would pick the one with higher traffic and a brand planner would pick the one that is a closer match with the brand manifesto.

So what does one need to make a choice of this nature? What makes a Creative Planner?

1. You need to understand the architecture of your campaign: The design and blueprint of your campaign that links all your media, not only digital, as a coherent ecosystem. This helps answer questions like "What are you trying to do?", "How many visits will you get?" and "What do you want them to do there?" 

2. You need to understand the nature of the channels themselves: You need to be educated enough on the technical capabilities, user behavior and best case examples of each channel. You need to know the in's-and-outs of the YouTubes, Facebooks, blogging platforms and what-not. Even a little experience in coding helps here. Also experience with terms of services and other battle-scars are valuable.

3. You need to understand research: Being comfortable digesting quantitative and qualitative information is a must. You need to understand the human behaviors and motivations of the people your trying to affect. Numbers are one thing, but the hard thing is to get a real read on an insight. I think this is rarer than most marketers would like to believe. 

4. You need to get the brand: It's tough to describe a brand in a way that would truly capture it's essence. Most brands know what they think they want to be, not what they really are or aught to be. Talking to executives, customers and suppliers - and finding a lens to evaluate all that your doing is imperative. 

5. You need to be able to help the creatives: Let's face it. Most creative directors are big babys. Working with them in a cooperative fashion, in tandem, within the creative process is crucial. The old sequential way of working is not only suboptimal and slow, but it results if crappier work. After all, you are designing a brand ecosystem, not a singleminded brand "carwash" where eyeballs come in one end and happy customers come out the other. A small shift in the way people interact with the brand or the creative idea can make it blow up in a massive way and constitute significant changes in an other part of the campaign. The creatives will just have to get used to you hovering around, inspiring them, pitching in suggestions and keeping an eye on the big picture.

If you can perform those afore mentioned tasks, I'm sure you can strategize the hell out of any modern brand challenge. And yes, I know its hard to find one individual that embodies all those qualities. Maybe the baby step forward is planning teams or couples that compliment each other. But my point is: define the right task and the people will grow into it.


To summarize in a tweet:

Creative planner = Campaign architect + brand champion + technical savvy + scientific mind + creative collaborator

1 comment:

  1. Hey thanks for the description :)

    We would need one of those: