One would think that a planner would be a master of planning and have his day all planned out. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Given the curveballs that are thrown our way, we have to be fluid in our plans. It helps to live by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s catchphrase, “Don’t panic”. It is probably the key principle that a good planner lives by.
Maybe it is the title that throws people off, enveloping a planner’s job in a cloud of mystery. So the question (even for those working in the industry) is: “What does a planner do?”
Decoder: The sound of a new email greets my arrival at my desk. A client brief which is anything but brief. ‘The client thesis’ would be a more apt description of the documents attached with the email. My job is not only to decipher what they want, but to help them decipher what they want. The goal is to translate the thesis into a creative brief, which is comprehensible to the creative team.
Detective: The client thesis includes numerous research results regarding the product, consumers and how they feel about the product and why they buy it. Or why they prefer a competitive brand instead. There is only one problem. Consumers rarely know why. They may think they know and in their attempt to fill in a questionnaire, they present reasons they have internally rationalised. This is where one has to play detective and look for clues in the sea of data to support a hypothesis.
Evil scientist: Considering that consumers do not know why they make the choices they do, or why they like what they think they like, a planner has to be both sneaky and creative in how they extract the real truth. I call it the truth, although it is not as if consumers are lying – they genuinely believe what they say to be true – but we all know how the senses can play tricks on the brain. Consumers who buy a competitor brand and who say they do not like – for example – the taste of our brand are called in. They are asked to try both brands and they come to the same conclusion again. “See, this brand (competitor’s) tastes so much better, whereas the other one doesn’t measure up.” Nothing different from what the data was telling me all along. But wait, little do our subjects know that the product inside the packaging has been switched. So when they say that their favourite brand tastes far superior, they are really talking about our product!
Ninja anthropologist: Like shadows in the night, we watch our consumers, observing them as they go about their lives, oblivious to our watchful eyes. For if they knew they were a part of a research they would put up a front to appear cool or try to rationalise their opinions. And we know their word cannot be trusted. So we watch their behaviour and draw conclusions based on their actions, trying to find the emotive weak spot that we can use when we communicate to them.
Alchemist: After careful analysis of the data, our own observations and experiments, it is time to call upon our powers of wizardry and convert all this information into a nugget of gold: the Insight – the truth about our consumers which until now has eluded us all. That nugget of gold almost always produces an ‘Ahhhhhhhh, of course!’ moment. This nugget is what will emotionally tie our brand to their hearts. This insight is then included in the creative brief to act as the springboard for the team’s creative work.
Strategist: The formulas are put in place that will ensure that this will work as a communication campaign. It is built on marketing and strategic advertising management knowledge, consumer behaviour studies and theories of persuasive communication. It lays the groundwork on which the creative solution is built. The strategist is hated by creatives and clients alike. The creatives hate him for rejecting ideas that fall short of strategy. The clients hate him because – well I guess one of my clients described it best – “We hate him because he presents such logical reasoning that we have no room left to argue.”
Lawyer: Once the big idea and the creative solutions are in place, it is time to go back to the client and present a case. It is nothing short of a battle, where every suggestion is usually met with scepticism. To make our case we appeal to their emotions by narrating personal stories. We also use logic and their own data. On a good day, they will end up hating the planner. On a bad day we could end by blaming clients for being idiots, but as my account planning professor used to say: “It’s easy to blame the client for not buying an idea, but in reality you have to admit that you just weren’t good enough!”
So what was it that a planner does?
Assam Khalid is Strategic Planning Director, BBDO Pakistan.