Editor’s note: This is a counterpoint to Jonathan Cohen’s statement about the evolution of information communication and how it is impacting the dissemination of information.
The Internet as a Tool
The Internet is not an evolutionary leap in the history of human communication – at least not yet. It is an important tool that magnifies what has already existed. Subsequently, the web hasn’t intrinsically changed human behavior but it has offered more immediate access to information that consumers use to make decisions.
The Internet is also a tool that offers the opportunity for mass collaboration, which will probably be viewed as its most valuable attribute when historians look back upon the 21st century.
But during these waning moments of the second decade of the Internet (aka web 2.0), the web is a planner’s paradise. The Internet is a platform to broadcast our human narcissistic tendencies. Social exchanges are a way to gather real-time and real customer feedback inexpensively. Opportunities for real-time response offers additional insight and it can dramatically change how brands are perceived in the digital conversation.
Rethinking the Planner’s Role
To take advantage of these strategic communication opportunities, planners need to re-think their fundamental approach. The audience is networked – they can communicate in real-time to each other AND we can eavesdrop on those ‘conversations’. The role of the planner becomes less about ‘the brief’ and more about ‘the framework’ for real-time, authentic, transparent communications, powered by the brand. An interconnected audience also means that companies need to think about communication much more broadly than the silos of PR, Advertising and Marketing.
Revise the Planning Process
Traditional marketing planning has been a deductive reasoning process since its inception: what is the problem we must solve through communication? A hypothesis is developed (generalization) and data is obtained to support it, frequently through focus groups and other observed behavior. This process is implicitly flawed by bias – both consumers and the planner.
Database marketing offered the introduction of inductive reasoning into ‘below-the-line’ communications planning with the introduction of marketing analytics. Planners are able to observe actions to identify what is happening, not seek/ask opinion to identify why the (user) thinks it’s happening. Bias is reduced, although not entirely removed, particularly when validating the data-based insights with a focus group.
The web offers the potential to eliminate bias, provided planners revise their insight process to leverage this powerful tool. Instead of the linear progression approach with a finite end implicit in both deductive ‘traditional’ account planning (pyramid) and inductive analytics-oriented approaches (inverted pyramid), a digitally-centric approach to planning should be viewed as an ongoing process (rather than finite). Planning becomes an ongoing series of diverging and converging inflection points (double-helix) that can start anywhere: with a generalization based on a sentiment, a collection of specific actions (clickstream analysis), conversation sentiment (generalizations), velocity of content spread (data points) and so forth – all mapped in real-time. In this model, there isn’t a real ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’ as the planning process, like the subsequent communication, is continuous.
The questions planners need to ask are the same as we have always asked, starting with: how can we make best use of the (new) media for the message?
Lori Laurent Smith