Data-driven media planning

I recently spoke at a Kantar Media event about the importance of data in digital media planning (or just media planning in general!). A copy of my presentation can be found here. And an excerpt of my presentation is written below.

Let me ask some questions - what do digital media planners and buyers do? Are they immersed in building creative and strategic approaches? Are they media ninjas focused on hitting an exact target for advertiser success?  Where do they spend most of their time? One word: spreadsheets. 

The comical, yet sadly true snapshot below brings this reality to life. However spreadsheets are a media planners’ best friend. Why?

Because of their need to aggregate, collect, analyse, optimise data.

In one of my first digital jobs in 2001 at OneDigital (now Isobar), I was hired as a Digital Media Executive. I learned how to Media buy and plan in this role, building media plans for Microsoft targeting SME and Enterprise. Back in these days, digital media planning was really just based on past performance and some gut instincts. I had access to just a few tools – one was Nielsen’s NetRatings for “planning” and DoubleClick For Advertisers for reporting.  About 80% of my planning was more than likely based on media vendor stats and gut instinct.

These days, a media planner can’t just rely on gut instincts, especially if there is now a wide range of tools available that can help us make more informed decisions. Media planners now have to think both creatively & analytical; it is a job where we see the intersection of Art and Science. Today's media planner is a marketer, inventor, anthropologist, sociologist, investor, artist and futurist. And they still need to be able to negotiate the best rates!

We operate in a data-driven ecosystem, but I don’t think all that data should eliminate the need for strategic thinking; rather, it should fuel that thinking.

When I teach media planning in my workshops, I take my students through a typical media planning process. Throughout the media planning process there’s a requirement for data every step of the way in order to make more informed decisions. Here are 5 tips to get the most out of data for media planning:

1. Avoid Gut Instincts

Its very easy for us to stereotype or create perceptions about our target audiences based on what we see from our friends or family, or even from outdated research. 

Whilst I do believe in listening to your gut instincts or using some sort of intuition, these can at best just be hypotheses. Planners should aim to prove or disprove these hypotheses with real data and research with stable samples, structured questionnaires and quality insights to drive better informed media decisions. 

2. Work with credible data

Media planners rely a lot on both desktop research and syndicated research. There is so much data available out there, how do you know if what you’re using is credible or not?

I would recommend to look at authorship – who its published by, if they are experienced or have published previous studies. Then I’d look at how they acquire data – any credible person or organisation will have detailed explanation how the data is collected and the method of analysis. 

Credible research are most likely written in a professional tone, free of spelling and grammar errors. Credible sources are usually free of bias.

3. Be driven by insights not numbers

It’s very easy to just focus on numbers and get caught up on unique users or impressions or visits on time on site. 

Great media planners use the data to inform them of insights. Insights is anything interesting either behavioural or patterns in the data that can give us an idea about how we want to shape our strategy. 

For example – click through rates. A lot of people are focused on increasing click through rates on paid media – how can you do this? You don’t simply just serve more ads - you actuallyneed to dig deeper to understand what that means.  Maybe the media targeting isn’t right, or the creative message isn’t appealing, or you’re the placement isn’t relevant to the communication. Additional research like A/B Testing will solve this and you’re able to gather more insights in a short period of time.

4. Get trained

With any tool or platform or new skill we all need to be trained. Great media people are also great data interpreters and this comes with years of practice. 

Once you learn the basics – metrics, data collection methods etc – then you’ll be in a better position to experiment with different insights and different tools/platforms.

5. Learn from experts

Lastly, learn from experts! There are great organisations and industry bodies here and regionally that are full of experts in the field of research and digital marketing. Especially today, make the effort to network, ask questions, learn from case studies, and share our experiences, challenges, wins and losses. This is how we grow as industry and how we develop better data driven media practices. 

15 years ago when I started we all based our media planning on opinions, perceptions, non-credible data. Now with our range of research available you would be ignorant to think that it can’t help you with media planning. 

As they say – without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.