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A Guide to Media Planning and Buying


The ‘buckle up’ mantra won’t take you far in the new normal. Whether you’re an in-house marketer or an agency media planner, adapting to the new advertising climate is crucial. More than that, reinventing your digital marketing planning to be able to mirror consumers’ ever-evolving needs will be on every marketing leader’s agenda in 2021. If you’re looking for better ways to drive traffic, generate leads and deliver more ROI, start by leaving the old tactics behind.

What is media planning?

Let’s get the semantics out of the way.

Media planning refers to the process of identifying, assessing, and selecting media channels and platforms to reach a well-defined target audience. Media planners determine how, where, when, and why a business will share media content to boost awareness, reach, engagement, and drive ROI through paid advertising.

A media planner is responsible for developing a coordinated media plan for a given advertising budget. The more that budget is optimized – or stretched, as they like to say in the media world – to reach the largest audience for the lowest cost, the more ROI can be generated. The sole purpose of media planning is to get a brand in front of the right audience at the right time and persuade them to purchase a product or service.

But wait… What is a media channel?

A media channel is a broad media class or medium used to deliver advertising messages to prospective customers. Traditional media channels include television, print, radio, outdoor advertising, and events. However, these days, media planners could hardly expect to run an impactful marketing campaign without covering a vast array of digital channels. Digital media channels include paid social media ads, search engine marketing, email, native advertising, audio streaming services, and more.

Once the target audience is established, media planners move on to strategizing which channels would be most effective. Then, the next step is to determine which media vehicles and content types could garner the best results.

And what is a media vehicle?

A media vehicle refers to a specific channel advertisers employ to reach their intended audiences. It could be a page in a local newspaper, a TV talk show, or a LinkedIn remarketing ad. Within a broader, general category of media, planners will pick out a varied mix of media vehicles to reach a target consumer group on multiple occasions and influence their perception of and interest in a product or service.

So, when planners talk about ‘selecting the right mix of media vehicles’, they refer to the process of picking out the most effective combination of media – from a sponsored podcast or niche email campaign to an ad on a side of a city bus.

Media planning vs. Media buying: what’s the difference?

How is media planning different from media buying? Although the two processes often get lumped together, media planners and media buyers play distinctly different roles in the media advertising mechanism.

Let’s look at the main differences between media planning and media buying, and how both sides work in tandem to deliver the best results.

What do media planners do?

Media planners are tasked with figuring out what media will be the most effective at achieving marketing objectives. Like the name implies, media planners carry out research, identify the ripest opportunities for achieving what the client/brand wants, outline campaign goals and objectives, and allocate budgets for the chosen media mix. In short, media planners take care of all the behind-the-scenes intel required for a successful integrated marketing campaign.

The key responsibilities of a media planner include:

  • Conducting internal market research: uncovering and understanding the client’s brand identity, positioning, USPs and buyer personas.
  • Conducting external market research: assessing the advertising landscape, competitor activities, past and current campaign performance, target audience insights and the most effective media channels for the intended audience.
  • Setting campaign goals and objectives:based on the information uncovered throughout their research, media planners bear the responsibility for setting ambitious but realistic and achievable goals for their advertising strategy.
  • Determining the budgets:ensuring campaign profitability by allocating budgets and deciding what percentage of the budget will be spent on each channel.

What do media buyers do?

Media buying is the other side of the advertising coin. Media buying refers to the process of securing media space – be it a timeslot, ad space or an endorsement – to meet campaign objectives in the most cost-effective way. Media buyers have a very intimate understanding of the marketplace and a long list of contacts/relationships with media vendors they’ve built over the years.

The key responsibilities of a media buyer include:

  • Developing and leveraging relationships: it’s all about who you know when it comes to traditional media buying. Leveraging trusted relationships within the industry and knowing the right people in the right places, can help media buyers drive impressive ROIs.
  • Negotiating: media placement pricing is not set in stone. Keep in mind that you can discuss the pricing and your budget with the vendors to bring the price down. Media buyers are in charge of negotiating better rates and optimising their budget to run more cost-effective campaigns.
  • Tracking and tweaking campaigns in motion: although media planners build out the strategy, media buyers are the ones calling the shots. Tracking campaign performance in real-time allows media buyers to make quick adjustments or instantaneous shifts to keep the plans on track and achieve their objectives.

While for some media planning vs media buying is an actual debate, the truth is that a robust media strategy relies on both processes to achieve high-impact business results. In fact, with the advancement of online advertising technology, greater reach and personalization, it’s imperative for media planners and buyers to work more collaboratively and sync their processes in real-time.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on media planning

The complexity of the media planning and buying process is staggering. There are so many moving parts involved that managing integrated marketing campaigns is becoming a challenge in itself. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and you have a code red situation at hand.

And while there’s no playbook for these unprecedented times, it seems crisis can be a perception-shifting exercise, providing us with renewed clarity and direction. Without a predefined plan for how to communicate with our intended audiences, we’re forced to be more data-driven, collaborative and opportunistic to tap into real-time consumer intent.

Consumer trends are driving media plans more than ever before

The outbreak of Covid-19 put many marketing teams in a pickle. As plans went out the window, marketers needed to find a new framework to ground them in the unprecedented moment – that’s when they turned to trends and consumer behaviour data. Of course, data-driven audience insights is nothing new in media planning. Yet the focus on mining real-time data is a newly rediscovered superpower.

Uncovering emerging trends early allows marketing teams to act in time and be part of the conversation. And more importantly, it provides them with dearly needed context for better tailored ad creatives and copy.

Unsurprisingly, some great examples of trend-led consumer campaigns came from Google’s own media team. Having analysed Google and YouTube search trends during the first few weeks of the global lockdown, they identified a significant uptick in “bread baking” queries and jumped on the opportunity to promote the Google Nest Hub screens in that context. Have they ever thought about using bread baking references to advertise their smart home display device? Probably not. Has it worked? You bet.

Soft Surroundings, a women’s clothing brand, offers another excellent example of jumping on a rising trend. At the start of the pandemic, the brand was forced to drop the original spring catalog creative featuring travel scenes and look for new ideas to showcase their products in a more relevant context. That’s when they observed a surge in loungewear-related search queries and tapped into the traffic with a newhome-appropriate campaign. The initiative led to an 18% increase in Soft Surroundings’ loungewear revenue and achieved a6.5X return on ad spend.

soft surroundings screenshot

Source:Soft Surroundings

Rediscovering the power of real-time insights will most certainly serve savvy media teams in the post-pandemic world.

Teams are acting on campaign performance data faster than they ever thought they could

A newly found sense of discipline has been another unexpected side effect of Covid-19 on media planning teams. While digital marketing has always been touted to enable more speed, agility and transparency, its potential had hardly been tapped. The pandemic left no room for gut-driven strategies and over-complicated decision-making processes. In fact, decisions that used to take days or even weeks to make are now being made in hours. As teams tightened the feedback loop with more collaborative analysis and focused on hitting their media goals, media planning became more grounded and less concerned with gloss and polish.

With strained marketing budgets and increased pressure to deliver immediate results, tracking campaign performance became a number one priority for marketing teams. While, in pre-Covid times, marketers might have enjoyed more wiggle room to iterate, test and experiment with optimization tactics, zero tolerance is now shown for underperforming campaigns.

The importance of having the right tools for campaign tracking and monitoring has jumped a level. Advertisers are looking for easy-to-implement, plug-and-play solutions that allow them to orchestrate their media campaigns and spend in real time. One of the biggest drivers at Mediatool has always been to simplify the digital marketing journeyfrom idea to attribution. And over the past year, we’ve witnessed a tremendous increase in demand for a more agile, end-to-end approach to managing advertising campaigns. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that lack of reporting transparency and sense of urgency can have huge opportunity costs.

Advertisers are prioritising attributable media

In times of unprecedented uncertainty, business leaders adopt a zero-risk mentality. Every dollar spent has to drive immediate results, and that presents great challenges for marketing teams. With investment in traditional media falling sharply in 2020, it’s obvious that advertisers are pulling back from brand campaigns and redeploying their resources into channels and tactics that are easier to track, measure and report on in real time.

Does that mean brand campaigns will become a thing of the past? Not necessarily. The close scrutiny of marketing budgets is driving media teams to reconsider their approach – being more thoughtful about where, when and why they deploy brand campaigns will help marketers to maximize their impact moving forward.

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Set and manage your advertising budgets, across channels and activities using Mediatool.

How to create a media plan in the post-Covid world: your step by step guide to media planning

Under pressure to deliver results in the post-Covid reality? Pandemic or no pandemic, digital marketers must follow the good old principles of the agile marketing strategy.

Define your target audience

Defining your target audience is the first and most crucial step in any marketing plan. A target audience is essentially a group of people that you identify as potential customers based on their age, occupation, location, interests, gender or other factors. There’s no point in trying to reach and speak to everyone – not everyone will need your product or service. If you have a business that sells baby products, your target audience will be new parents or grandparents. You don’t want to target teenage girls with ads for baby cribs, right?

Say, you establish that your target customers are young professional couples in mid-size and large cities who commute by public transport, have a passion for sustainability and a combined monthly income of $8,000. This gives you plenty of information to get the neurons firing and inform your next steps.

Determine campaign goals

You can’t measure campaign performance if you don’t know whatgood performance looks like. Starting with the end result in mind helps media planners select the right mix of media channels and messages.

Are you running a brand awareness campaign or trying to generate sales of a particular product? For instance, if you’re planning a Christmas advertising campaign for a selected range of children’s toys like bicycles or scooters, you’ll have to be able to connect campaign metrics to the revenue generated from that line of products. And without clearly defined goals, you won’t be able to optimize campaigns on the fly or evaluate their performance later on.

Research the market

Once clear goals and objectives are established, the next step is to conduct research into market trends and the competitive landscape. These insights will offer you more visibility into competitor strategy and potential opportunities. How are competitors positioning their products? How can you differentiate yourself? What channels are trending among your target customers and why? Market research will likely turn up insights that will inform your advertising strategy and tactical decisions, so it’s not a step you can skip.

Consider frequency and reach

Determining both the reach and the frequency of your ad placements is an important part of the media planning process. Reach refers to how many people will see your ad, while frequency determines how often. The goal here is to find the balance between maximizing your ad visibility and becoming too pervasive. You want your ads to be noticed but not to the point where they become annoying.

Certain mediums, such as print media, need careful fine-tuning. For instance, a print ad needs to feature at least three times to be seen by the intended audience and generate brand recognition. Digital advertising will require its own considerations to engage consumers and drive ROI.

There are three main approaches to consider when deciding on ad frequency:

  • Continuity: this approach describes a continuous, consistent schedule of ads over the course of the campaign in the chosen medium. It’s often used for goods that aren’t seasonal and require constant nurturing and reinforcement to stay top of mind.
  • Flighting: the flighting approach refers to alternating periods of advertisements, when marketers run the campaign for a selected period of time, pause for a while and resume later. This strategy is well suited for seasonal products or campaigns with smaller budgets. For example, you may alternate between running TV ads and native digital ads depending on the season or important calendar events.
  • Pulsing:this approach combines the best of both Continuity and Flighting. Pulsed campaigns will balance between dripping and pouring – you’ll have periods of low-intensity consistent advertising, augmented by flights of higher-intensity campaigns when additional spend can generate the greatest ROI.

Select the right media mix

Armed with the market research and goal-setting insights, marketers must determine which channels can bring them the most success. The plethora of traditional and digital channels available to media planners can be dizzying, so it’s important to have an attribution framework in place and continuously monitor campaign performance in each channel. Generally speaking, media planners choose between offline and online channels:

  • Offline media: TV & Cable, Radio, Print publications, Outdoor media
  • Online media: PPC, Social media, Programmatic advertising, Digital publications, Streaming media

Monitor, measure and continuously improve your campaigns

Once media plans are established and approved, media planners will hand them over to media buyers. Working within budget frameworks, media buyers will actively seek out proposals from traditional and digital media sales reps as well as estimate online advertising costs. Maximising the return on investment is a key priority for media buyers, but the overall campaign performance remains a responsibility of media planners. And that’s a lot of data to juggle if you don’t have the right tools!

Visual reports and dashboards make tracking campaign performance easier for marketers who want to keep their finger on the pulse at all times. A single real-time report with multi-source data helps to ensure media buyers have all the information they need to optimize campaigns in-flight, shift budgets if required and make better informed decisions for future plans.

Mediatool’s customizable dashboards

WithMediatool’s customizable dashboards and reporting capabilities, advertisers can have a holistic view of all their campaigns in one central location. Real-time data feeds ensure you get the most up-to-date snapshot of your campaign performance and can quickly make well-informed decisions to adjust, pause and optimize campaigns from a single account.

Media Planning Challenges

Besides the standard headaches that marketers have – attribution, proving ROI and keeping up with trends – the ‘new normal’ in media planning promises to kick things up a notch.

Targeting the right audience effectively

The better you understand your target audience, the more relevant and effective your advertising will be. Audience research may be the most important step in your strategy as it will inform every element of your marketing plan. Is there a secret sauce to getting it right? Top marketers swear by these simple tactics for narrowing your focus while expanding your reach.

  • Compile the data you have on existing customers and social media followers. You’re probably tracking every campaign down to the granular level, so collecting data points on the following factors shouldn’t be a problem: age or generation, location, timezone, language, spending power and patterns, personal interests and hobbies, challenges and pain points, and their stage of life (students, new parents, retirees, etc.). If you’re in B2B, it’s worth also considering the size of business and the roles of key stakeholders and decision makers. Mapping out these data points will help you construct a fairly accurate target consumer persona and messaging that would work with them.

Forgetting about taxonomy

Taxonomy in marketing is a system to organize and classify marketing data. It helps marketers to better analyze the impact of each channel and tactic, track changes in performance and make smarter, data-informed decisions about optimization in near real time. The challenge with implementing a data taxonomy lies with the fact that there is no one right way to do it. The most effective taxonomies align with a business’s specific structure and terminology, so they need to be tailored and often evolve over time. Standardizing how data around your campaigns is organized from the get-go will help you create attributable impact and increase ROI faster.

Here’s a simple example of a clearly defined taxonomy:

  • Step 1: Channel name, e.g. “Paid Search”
  • Step 2: Vendor or platform name, e.g. “Google AdWords”
  • Step 4: Campaign Name, e.g. “US_Search_MarketingCourses”
  • Step 4: Dimension to be tracked, e.g. “Device Type”
  • Step 5: Ad group name: e.g. “Digital Marketing Course”
  • Step 6: Ad name e.g. “[digital marketing] +online course -free”

Mediatool customisable naming conventions

Setting up customisable naming conventions helps you organize your media data.

Integrating data from all channels

The transition from multi-channel to omni-channel marketing campaigns requires advertisers to connect and maximize the value of siloed data from various sources and platforms. Only with the 360-view of your customer journey can you spot the inefficiencies and opportunities in your paid media campaigns.

Disney is a great example of a brand that gets omni-channel marketing right. From its beautiful mobile-responsive website that seamlessly adapts to any screen size to the trip-planning tool that allows customers to move across devices without any glitch. Once the trip is booked, the entertainment giant allows clients to plan every detail of their trip including dinner bookings and Fast Track passes. And with the recent launch of its all-in-one smart device MagicBand, Disney brings it all together: customers can check in at FastPass+ entrances, enter parks, unlock hotel room doors, store pictures and even order food from one watch-like bracelet. Not only does it provide incredible user experience, the brand gets a bird’s-eye view of its customers’ habits, interests, spending power and all the other crucial data points required for successful targeting and optimization.

Fabrik brandsSource:Fabrik Brands

When it comes to creating an omnichannel experience, it’s essential to have the most accurate and up-to-date information about your target audience,preferably in one neat dashboard. Then, instead of relying on personal hunches, you can use data to drive your tactics.

Struggling with workflow and collaboration madness

Digital advertising campaigns require a great deal of communication, fine-tuning and cross-functional collaboration. According to aMcKinsey study, knowledge workers spend around 28% of the work week managing their email and nearly 20% searching for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. The study suggests that by fully adopting the right social technologies businesses have the opportunity to raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25%.

In the wake of a recent global pandemic, the challenge of achieving effective collaboration has become even more apparent. Teams that had the right tech stack gained momentum during the unprecedented times, while others struggled to adapt and deploy campaigns in time. Asurvey by NewsCred found that organizations using planning and project management tools faced fewer challenges as a result of Covid-19 compared to those that don’t use any tools.

The first step towards streamlining your marketing team’s collaboration is understanding whatproductivity and communication tools they need to keep the projects moving forward. The secret here is to find one or two platforms that can do it all. Bringing in too many new tools might end up being more disruptive than having no communications infrastructure at all, so do your research!

Dealing with budget restrictions

As finance teams put the breaks on spending in a bid to protect cash flow, most marketers will face significant budget cuts in 2021. Rather than going for blanket cuts across all paid media campaigns, teams should focus on making strategic selective cuts that could help mitigate the losses, shore up cash flow and, in some cases, even improve performance in the long run.

If you think you’ll be dealing with budget restrictions, follow these guiding principles when drawing up your marketing plan and budget:

  • Review all marketing spending in detail: before pausing or shifting marketing activities, spend time analyzing all locked-in commitments, contract terms and paid campaigns with the aim to repurpose, renegotiate or shift to a higher-return activity.
  • Consider churn and acquisition costs:be careful when cutting spend on activities that can cause damage in the long run, such as brand campaigns or paid search altogether. What may seem like a quick win today, will have a negative impact on the overall performance marketing costs and results. Even if you have to make cuts, consider these metrics to anticipate the impact.
  • Evaluate performance quickly: use KPIs and benchmarks that reflect the current climate, consumer needs and business objectives to quickly evaluate marketing performance and identify inefficiencies. Cut with no regret and shift your focus to experimentation with other channels or tactics.
  • Run experiments to find new winning combinations:even when your focus is on cost reduction, you still have the opportunity to experiment with formats and data. Explore creative formats, new media channels, possible partnerships and novel ways of using consumer insights to discover a new mix of tactics that are most effective.

What’s next?

One thing is clear – brands need to get comfortable with the new discomfort. While no one has ready-made contingency plans for this new reality, some companies seem to be adapting better: rather than taking reactive measures until we go back to normal, they’re building for the new reality that’s already here, and here to stay.

If brands want to stay ahead of the curve, they need to reorganize the way they operate, reinvent their processes and embrace software that makes media planning easier and more effective, they’re bound to emerge on the other side unscathed, if not re-energized.

About Mediatool

So, who are we, the company behind the guide?

Mediatool is a Cloud-based marketing platform that helps brands and agencies to plan, track, collaborate and optimise media and marketing campaigns.

Hundreds of productivity tools for remote teams in a user-friendly interface including: total budget control, seamless data integration, and campaign optimization intelligence for high-performance marketing. Visualize your results to make the data-driven decisions you are not making today.Get a comprehensive overview of all your marketing activities. Everything your team needs to deliver better campaigns, and better results.

Interested in learning more? Book a free demo with the Mediatool team to make your marketing more productive.

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