Forget the algorithm: Why media planning is more important than ever

by Joe Kowan, EVP strategy and product, Media iQ

Media planners were once the heart of the creative agency. They negotiated prime real estate, crafted brilliant strategies, and could make or break a campaign with the right reach, exposure and targeting savvy. But this is the age of the algorithm, and the programmatic revolution has transformed how ads–at least online –find their way in front of consumers.

But woe to the advertiser who leaves it all to machine learning. The fact is, the human side of media planning is just as vital as ever to the success of a campaign – it just demands a completely different toolbox and timeframe than in the past.

As always, it requires talent, intuition, and vision – but today it’s about mindset more than medium. The planner who can strategize around political sentiment vs. just political readership will have the edge, which means looking at data that goes beyond demographics.

Yes, media planning needs reinventing. But agencies and planning teams that can understand and connect consumer truths with communication strategies will never be short of work. Here’s why:

1.) The Human Touch

Agency personnel can make connections and predictions no machine could possibly uncover. They know their clients’ business challenges, what questions to ask, and what problems needs to be solved. They also have the ability to empathize and relate to audiences. When they connect that insight and empathy to the world of programmatic buying and activation, media plans take on a whole new level of sophistication.

2.) Data on tap

Most agencies already house a wealth of data–both structured and unstructured– from clients, vendors, and even media owners. With real-time, flexible access to this rich data and the tools to act on its implications, planners can inform campaigns in the now.

Tomorrow’s successful media planner or media agency must have a deep understanding of an advertiser’s business objectives, an insightful view of audience sentiment, and the tools to make real-time connections between the two. With the right combination of vision and data, the media planner will retain a vital seat at the advertising table. And as programmatic targeting and buying becomes more ubiquitous, that role will only grow in importance – becoming a competitive advantage in an algorithmic world.

Programmatic has fundamentally changed how we identify the customer groups that are most valuable to brands and determine the best ways to reach them. Yesterday’s media plans relied on one-dimensional data such as panel-based signals and behaviors. But programmatic has created a bigger canvas. Knowing where consumers go (without PII, of course), what they do online, when they do it, and how external and macro factors impact those behaviors – is what matters now.

In the real-time programmatic era, we can’t see consumers as segments or static, because external events can balloon or diminish a potential audience in minutes. Planning must be as fluid, dynamic, and always-on as consumption. It must respond to new data and continually anticipate new influences. What will the weather be like in the next few days? How can we leverage that to boost awareness or sales? How is trending news influencing consumer behavior online? What opportunities will be created by the outcome of tomorrow’s playoff game, election, cold front, or financial headlines? What are people talking about, what’s affecting their mood, and what content resonates best with them at different times of day? And finally, how can your campaigns respond to those shifts in order to engage and convert consumers at the right moment and in the right mindset? Answering those kind of questions to inform marketing decisions is the job of the new media planner.

Digital consumers, digital commerce, and digital opportunities happen in real-time 24/7 – which means planners must begin to think that way, too. The good news is that the necessary tools and data are there for the asking.

Micro factors, macro factors, real-time dynamic marketing – this is the new reality for the media planner. Your new toolbox is real-world data and external influencers that can sway consumer behavior in a heartbeat. Yes, it requires thinking outside the box, but that is something that has always separated the great from the average in media planning. More important, it’s something no algorithm can be coded to do.

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