Interview with Malati Afridi, Planning Director, Asia-Pacific, Grey Group.
MARYLOU ANDREW: What is the difference between the role of a media planner and a strategic planner?
MALATI AFRIDI: Media planning is skewed towards people’s media habits and consumption, whereas strategy planning starts from consumer insights and how people interact with brands. The brand’s entire communication idea is developed around the strategy plan.
MLA: You have a new strategy planning tool at Grey called Shift; how does it work?
MA: Shift takes into perspective the many dimensions of a consumer’s life. It is a bird’s eye view that provokes insights embedded in real life and today’s culture. It’s a thinking process, so the questions and the focus areas will change according to the category or brand. For a functional brand there may be a lot of science and category news in terms of what the competition is doing, in other brands which are much more about consumer behaviour, consumer trends will take on a bigger priority.
MLA: Can you give you me a practical example of where Shift has been successfully used?
MA: One of the brands where it has been successful is Canon; here the tool helped the team see the camera more as what it enables for the consumer rather than as a new piece of technology. The tool shifted the thinking and mindset from the fantastic features of a camera (because that is what the category is doing) to viewing it from the consumer life lens, which opened up a new conversation of consumers using their camera to express their creativity. With a simple, new perspective, the tool helped us break away from what the rest of the category was doing.
MLA: What kind of process do you follow in order to bring consumer insights to life?
MA: I see an insight as a window into the consumer’s life; it’s a fresh perspective and an opportunity for a brand to start a conversation that perhaps no other brand has done before. Every brand has its own equity, so there are some stories you can take on but others may be too much of a stretch for the brand. Once we put this into an idea, we go back and talk to consumers, because although we have made the links, it is important to check if consumers see the brand moving forward in the same way that we do.
MLA: What are some of the challenges in strategy planning?
MA: The challenge comes down to how do I make a deeper connection with consumers, how does the brand demonstrate an understanding of what’s going on in your life in a way that resonates with you? And for that to happen often means tightly defining who the consumer is and understanding their real life pressure points, what is changing in their lives. Even in Pakistan when you talk to people you get a sense that things are changing; brands that are able to pick up on that change and empower consumers start to become famous and effective.
MLA: Would you liken your role to that of an anthropologist?
MA: Actually, yes, part of it is anthropology, but then we have to take it forward into how it can change people’s lives and thinking. A lot of our job is about driving behaviour change and ultimately the sales result from that. For me, it is about changing mindsets.
MLA: Which areas are strategic planners currently focusing on in terms of media?
MA: Digital is in, and everyone is trying to find a way to connect with consumers beyond the typical TV spot. Even in Asia, client briefs are no longer about TV alone; they are saying please come back to me with an integrated package. One of the other disciplines we follow is about messaging by medium; to look at what goes where and how all of it will play together like an orchestra, so the consumer sees and hears different pieces and the whole brand experience is formed.
MLA: Your job is obviously very data-driven and data-dependent. What do you do in data-scarce markets?
MA: You talk to the consumer, accompany them shopping. There is no other information like hearing it firsthand. While you can borrow from research from other, similar countries, every country has a flavour of its own. If there is data, that’s fantastic but if it isn’t there, we encourage clients to collect quantitative information so that the guess work goes out of the picture. Data doesn’t replace creativity but it gives direction to creativity.
MLA: What are your predictions in terms of consumer messaging trends?
MA: I predict more two-way conversations, many more messages tailored to various media and a lot of in-store. The whole shopper/in-store medium is going to be an area of evolution in terms of understanding what and how people buy and which messages are going to cut through beyond brand equity.
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