The Truth Behind Media Planning and Buying

From my days on the buy side through current times — despite the dynamics and changing options of our industry — there are certain truths that hold. It has always seemed that if we stay focused and clear in several key areas, we will make smart choices and stay nimble enough to achieve our goals over time.

The gathering of consumer insights is essential. Time is never too short to skip this step. It will always be necessary to know your consumer and apply what you learn to all of your planning processes. As teams — internally, with our agency, whatever the working scenario may be — we should consider everything we know or can hypothesize about our current and target consumers. This extends beyond demographics and even psychographics. We must know where and how they consume media, socialize and share in digital channels and also how they use their devices. We must consider which audiences and their behaviors — or combinations of behaviors — have yielded the greatest return for us in the past.

Solid media research remains a building block of solid planning. While we may supplement with anecdotal or historical guidance, we must look carefully at which properties, networks and platforms have the most ideal audience composition. We may dial things up or down — or mix things up for a different reason — but the basic starting point of knowing where your audience is, and to what degree, is critical. Your company’s investment in syndicated research tools or teams who can provide you appropriate levels of media research is one of the best investments you can make as a buyer. The smartest media research pairs syndicated data with your chosen publisher’s first-party data and targeting capabilities to achieve optimal targeting and engagement potential with your audience.

Don’t fret the allocation so much; it is flexible. Remember, we are talking about digital, which is very nimble. Assuming that you nurture your publisher relationships and work thoughtfully through each and every buy to allow yourself the room to optimize and that you avail yourself of the flexibility offered by today’s automated systems for buying and optimizing audience, you will never be locked in to your original allocation. The buy does not end with an insertion order anymore. Lean on your relationships and your systems to evaluate and modify everything you place in order to achieve and perform. What starts out as an even allocation across your mix may look very different three months from now. You get wiser on the mix as you proceed. You will build on this foundation.

Data doesn’t stand alone. Analysis is mandatory. We love digital in part because it brought us more granular data from the start. But digital’s early love affair with data sometimes made us lazy. We often felt that rich data at a glance could tell us so much about how we were doing that we often did not venture further to gain actionable intelligence. Today’s systems, account services teams and analytics groups driving those systems provide so much intelligence on how we are doing with our various placements and/or audience profiles. There is no reason why the data and analytics isn’t our best friend. Part of this also is making sure that our teams are fully equipped to deal with and apply that data and analysis brought to them. When our teams are ready and able, we have the ability to steadily guide our mix and our allocation while optimizing everything we execute to achieve the ROI we seek.

With today’s level of automation, data intelligence and systems flexibility, in some ways the concept of “media mix” and allocation are outdated. But amid all the options and dynamics of this marketplace, guardrails are helpful. The truth is, just as options have never been more abundant, the environment has never been so technologically equipped for making choices, optimizing those choices and managing your own performance. And, frankly, technology makes buying easier than it has ever been. Use the technology and enjoy the equipment. This is evolution, after all.

Shelley Eleby is vp of marketing services at quadrantONE.

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