Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2021

Learning the Rules of Engagement

Khalid Naseem on how the engagement economy has created a paradigm shift in the strategic planner’s role.

In my previous article, Merging Capabilities to Deliver a Better Brand Experience, I argued that the agency of the future would in all likelihood combine conventional and digital capabilities. In my view, it will have several micro-units working in one building under one agency brand. These micro-units would be the teams, each one serving a group of two to three clients and typically consisting of five key functions: a storyteller, a strategist, a technologist, a distributor and a coordinator.

The storyteller will have creative capabilities. She is good at ideation and expressing ideas in different formats, styles and platforms. The strategist (expert in data analytics) will guide the storyteller about the type of story to tell. She will base her recommendations on her understanding of the brand’s landscape, its audience, cultural context, keyword searches, usage occasions, trend spotting, consumer motivation, audience behaviour and the appropriate content or technology platforms for the story. The technologist will share his understanding of the technological ecosystem; how different platforms integrate and how the team can create a holistic brand experience by using different technological handles to develop diverse fragments of the overall experience and knitting them together. The distributor will distribute the content in the conventional and digital space, prepare schedules, negotiate rates, buy advertising space, monitor ads, posts, videos and apps. The coordinator will establish relationships with clients, vendors and freelancers to facilitate the efficient completion of the project.

Here, I intend to focus on the role of the strategic planner in a rapidly changing scenario; a role that will evolve in many ways – and the most fundamental will be the shift to data. Young planners must start to focus on data if they want to succeed. They will have to learn new skills to stay abreast of developments, including the following:

Consumer Insights
A significant shift is happening in developing insights based on observation and qualitative consumer responses to data. Planners will need to understand the new types of data such as a photo of a consumer buying a luxury bag, unorganised external data, proprietary data and online surveys data. The challenge is to structure and integrate data from multiple sources and develop actionable insights.

Fluid Brand Strategy
The interactive nature of digital has changed many fundamentals, one of them being the brand identity system. In the conventional world, a planner develops various aspects of the brand – its persona, values, discriminators, root strengths, consumer insights, brand essence, cultural context, functional benefits, emotional benefits and reasons to believe. The purpose of all marketing activities is to embed these in the consumer’s mind. However, because the brand identity system is no longer static, consumer feedback may highlight some aspects you did not envisage before; consumers may perceive a brand in a certain way, perhaps imperfectly, but you need to accept a degree of imperfection in your approach. The brand identity system you have is not the gospel truth, it is fluid and prone to continuous change.

Content Strategy
It is more than just about a TVC, print ad or OOH visual; it is about content and its various types. Content may include technical whitepapers, in-depth blogs, TikTok videos, DVCs (digital video commercials) and memes. Content strategy is about transforming the brand objectives into a plan that uses content as the primary means of achieving them. Which content to use when and how much, and more importantly why, will be the question haunting you the most, and data will guide you here. It will inform you how consumers interact with and consume different content. As a strategist, it is your responsibility to know which of the objectives your content is making a contribution towards and why. Like most strategic planning, it is both an art as well a science. To succeed in the changed context, you need to learn content planning skills.

New Perspective
You have always seen a brand as “a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.” Your job was to manage those perceptions through various marketing activities so that they remained as close to your brand identity system as possible and in ways that would help achieve your immediate marketing goals. Today, the brand has to be seen as “a collection of memories of experiences in the consumer’s mind.” In this way, the brand becomes the sum total of the consumer’s sensory experiences. You will be working within a changed context.

Changed Focus
In the attention economy, your focus was to identify a brand’s differentiating point and make it relevant to its target customers; to impart brand knowledge to the consumer and enhance the brand image in their mind. You used to suggest ‘what to say’ in the communication. This will change. In the engagement economy, your team will have to design meaningful brand experiences across multiple platforms and touchpoints – making them immersive and creating meanings for the target audience. Visit Louis Vuitton’s Facebook page and watch a few videos. Each video will make you experience feelings of distinctiveness, authenticity, mystery, wonder, discovery and romance.

Consumer Buying Cycle
The traditional linear approach towards buying products or services, best expressed as a ‘marketing funnel’ is outdated. It used to be the starting point of a campaign planning process and the consumer data at each stage helped identify the bottlenecks and find solutions. Now, however, the digital revolution has transformed the linear marketing funnel into a circular buying cycle and this has an impact on the campaign planning process.

The New Consumer Buying Cycle
We are in effect talking about a new consumer buying cycle, whereby contrary to the ‘funnel’ approach, the number of brands under consideration during the active evaluation phase expands rather than narrows, as consumers seek information as they shop a within a category. They obtain much of this information through online channels. Consumer outreach to marketers has become significantly more crucial than marketers’ outreach to consumers. The post-purchase experience shapes consumer opinion for every subsequent decision in the category, making the journey an ongoing cycle. This new learning will bring a change in the paradigm in the way strategists plan a campaign.

Audience Targeting
The tried and tested ways of targeting customer segments may become obsolete. You may want to reach the right person, on the right device and at the right moment. You also want to reach the people who are interested in your product or service. Strategists will need to familiarise themselves with data management platforms, such as Lotame and Neustar. These platforms use online behaviour data and decipher the demographics, interests and preferences with extreme accuracy. Facebook and Google use similar data to pinpoint a precise audience for their clients.

To conclude, the strategic planning process will undergo a paradigm shift, particularly in a combined conventional-digital arrangement. This will be an environment where the focus is less on conventional or digital platforms and more creating immersive brand experiences in order to meet the client’s business objectives optimally. It will add more value and enhance the learning curve of brand experience strategists.

Khalid Naseem is Head of Strategy, Firebolt63. khalid.naseem@firebolt63.com