Ads, of course. Lots of ‘em. Creative ones. Ones that win awards. Ads your boss will love. Ads the agency loves to work on. Beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written ads. Oh, and a media plan. Carefully crafted for the highest delivery, more points, lower CPMs.
That’s all swell, except you don’t need ads or CPMs. What you need are customers that are buying your product. Unfortunately, what many advertisers fail to do is to hire an advertising agency for accountable results.
Amazingly, accountability is a concept that often strikes fear in the hearts of both ad agencies and marketing managers.
Is that because the agency’s creative director is more interested in making “cool” ads than boosting sales? Is your marketing manager more interested in going on the photo shoot than delivering customers? Is the account executive spending more time on the fairway than talking to your distributors?
You may have heard (or even made) those kinds of accusations at one time or another. But, in all likelihood, they’re unfounded. The real problem is the lack of a plan. Without a plan, neither the agency nor your marketing staff know, with confidence, what is expected of them. The accountability for the advertising plan starts at the very top of your corporate ladder.
There are four essential links in the planning chain that precede the ad plan. Like any chain, if you remove a link, it falls apart. And, if you expect to make your advertising agency accountable, they need to be familiar with all the elements that provide the foundation for the advertising plan.
In order of occurrence and importance:
1. Mission Statement – Whether you’re a billion-dollar public company or a half-million dollar retailer, you should have a straight forward mission statement that everyone – yes, positively every employee in your company – should know and understand. In one simple paragraph, you should state why you’re in business.
2. Strategic Plan – This is a three to five-year view of how you plan to achieve your mission. It anticipates risks and opportunities in the marketplace, and strategies to prepare your business for them, through organizational structure, capital investments, distribution channels, product mix, etc. A strategic plan should be a continually evolving document, although one that changes too radically or too often is impossible to implement.
3. Marketing Plan – The marketing plan is an annualized version of the strategic plan, emphasizing tactical implementation: What do we want to do this year and how do we plan to do it?
4. Communications Plan – One of the subsets of the marketing plan, the communications plan should incorporate advertising, public relations, employee communications and community relations. It should clearly identify communications objectives, strategies and tactics.
5. Advertising Plan – Finally, we’re there. But don’t get too comfortable. You’ll probably need multiple advertising plans, one for each campaign or each brand, product or service that you plan to advertise.
Who Is Responsible for the Advertising Plan?
The ad plan should be written by the agency – probably a team effort of the account supervisor, planner, creative director and media director. They don’t pull the information out of thin air – the input comes from the client. The ad plan encapsulates all of that input (often gleaned from days of meetings and pages of research) into a simple and brief document (not more than a couple of pages) that confirms the agency knows what is expected of them. The plan should be presented by the agency to everyone responsible for approvals at the client company, and a consensus reached.
What’s In the Advertising Plan?
The advertising plan consists of a series of basic questions and simple, straight-forward answers to each. Specifically:
Why are we advertising? There is only one reason to advertise: To create a fundamental change in consumer behavior. What behavioral change are you trying to make with your advertising campaign? Among the most common possibilities: Cause consumers to buy your product and not your competitors’ products; Cause customers to buy your product more often; Cause customers to pay more for your product; or, Cause customers to visit the point-of-purchase more often.
“To increase sales” talks about internal goals, but doesn’t address changes in consumer behavior. Similarly, “to improve our image” or “increase brand awareness” are attitudinal rather than behavioral changes that fail to address a tangible result.
Beware of multiple answers. If you have more than one goal, you should expect the results of each one to be diminished accordingly.
The next two questions need insightful, unbiased knowledge of your marketplace. Whether you commission your own research study, purchase syndicated research or get the data from a sophisticated trade association, it is essential that you reach beyond your own empirical knowledge of the marketplace.
Who are we talking to and how do they act? This question combines quantitative and qualitative issues. “Who are we talking to” is a matter of defining your target audience in every possible respect. Traditional demographics (age, gender, income and geography) are essential data for a consumer media plan. For a business-to-business plan, the answer must identify markets and/or industries, typical titles of buyers and influencers, etc. The more narrowly you define the audience, the more effectively targeted the advertising can be, in both media and creative terms.
“How do they act” addresses behavioral issues. For instance: Are they skeptical, conservative buyers that demand proof or are you after early adopters? Are they driven by practicality or status?
What do they think of our product/service/company? Do consumers perceive your product as the best quality, most desirable, best value, lowest cost, market leader, prestigious, – or all the opposites? Maybe they don’t think of it at all! If you’re launching a new product, go further and identify consumers’ attitudes towards your brand.
What do we want them to think of our product/service/company? How do you want your product positioned in the minds of consumers? Should it change?
What is the competitive environment? What other messages are consumers receiving from your competitors? What threats or opportunities do they pose for your advertising campaign?
What is the single most persuasive idea we can convey? This is sometimes called a unique selling proposition, or USP. What is the most important reason someone should buy your product or service over your competitors’? The answer should always be stated in terms of consumer benefit, not simply product feature.
Why should they believe it? The last question was reason to buy, this is reason to believe. Your ad makes a claim, back it up. Offer a free trial, cite independent research, refer to past experience – the more real your claim, the more sound and credible the evidence must be.
What 3 to 5 words define the brand personality? Brands, even institutional and industrial products, have personalities associated with them. Words such as “elegant,” “tough” or “trustworthy” convey that sense of personality. Researchers sometimes ask consumers about personalities in terms of animals: “If brand-x were an animal, what would it be?” Answers to this question can be enlightening and frightening!
How will we know if the advertising was successful? Finally, we’re back to accountability. To answer this, you’ve got to go back to the first question about why you’re advertising. Having identified that goal, how will you measure it, and what performance is acceptable?
If you want your agency to be accountable, you have to agree to a plan that everyone can follow, beginning with a mission statement. Include your agency in goal-setting, and the budgeting process to meet those goals.
Let your agency know that they’re accountable for results, not for ads or CPMs. What about those great creative ads and brilliant media plans? Truth is, they’ll never deliver results without them.
Special thanks to Todd Steele for his help with this post.