Is managing channels the most important aspect of effective comms planning?

Danielle Henley's essay earned a Distinction as a part of the IPA Advanced Certificate in Communications Planning.

We are spotlighting some of the best essays from our MIPA qualifying courses and qualifications. Here, McCann Worldgroup's Danielle Henley explores the significance of managing channels and creating an ecosystem in brand communications planning.

Introduction

As the question acknowledges, there are a number of elements to brand communications planning. To examine the extent to which 'managing channels' is the single most important, this aspect needs to be defined. Managing channels isn’t just one aspect, but relates to how those channels are selected, how a budget is allocated across them before a campaign starts and optimisation within channels whilst a campaign is live. As it encompasses all of this, it is clearly of significant importance, but needs to be compared to other factors such as measurement and objectives in order to assess if it is the single most important.

The importance of an ecosystem

An ecosystem, and accompanying schematic, are essential at the start of a campaign as these map out how it will run, detail the expected customer journeys and illustrate how the target audience will be pushed through to sale, whether offline or online. However the ecosystem is structured, it will detail the channels which have been selected to run activity during the campaign, so falls under channel management.

Factors that should be considered whilst constructing the ecosystem include the creative idea, the purchase journey, campaign objectives, historic data and how ‘always on’ activity will run alongside the campaign burst(s). It should also consider how channels and devices will work together to layer communications and make them more impactful. This could be someone browsing their mobile phone whilst in-store or on social media whilst watching TV.

Allocating budgets

As a rule of thumb, balancing the budget between brand-building and activation should follow a 60:40 split, with a slight emphasis on brand-building (Binet and Field, 2017). Channels fall into either activation – direct mail, search and classified – or brand-building – TV, OOH, radio, cinema and display (Binet and Field, 2013), so allocating budgets by channel falls under channel management, also.

There are two approaches to budget-setting, top-down or bottom-up. Top-down, also known as resource-based, is where the budget is agreed at the start so this may be determined by budget restrictions or a previous campaign budget. Bottom-up, sometimes referred to as task-based, starts with the objectives and works out the recommended budget to achieve them. This is preferable to top-down as it means that the objectives are more likely to be achieved, and there’s less risk of budget and objectives being misaligned.

Optimisation

Once the channels that will make up the campaign are decided, along with the budget allocation for each one, optimisation determines how the investment should be spent throughout the campaign period. Again, this forms part of 'managing channels' as optimisation is best approached by looking at each core channel in turn. During the optimisation process, the campaign’s potential reach, frequency, time period and quality measures are examined to decide how the budget should be allocated.

Programmatic buying is also part of optimisation and enables planners to deliver more personalised communications; namely the right message at the right time. It enables criteria to be set and subsequently achieved, so that the correct marketing message can be delivered to the most receptive audience. In 2016 O2 used mobile data – location and device type – to deliver tailored messaging from a suite of over 1,000 video ads. O2 could tell its target audience what their current phone was worth, what upgrade offers were available and where their nearest outlet was. The click-through rate was 128% higher than generic video (Keane, 2018) so the results show how powerful contextual messaging can be.

Monitoring and correcting

Throughout the life of a campaign, it’s important to know which parts of the ecosystem are working well and which need to improve, or even be removed altogether. A dashboard, often shared between client and agency, will give this holistic view of how the channels are working together. Changes can be made in real time, illustrating how ‘Big Data’ is used to make decisions on how a campaign should be corrected.

There are concerns however with this approach. Reacting too quickly to how a dashboard’s data is looking can lead to short-termism and falsely applying this strategy to long-term channels, such as TV, which can damage potential business effects (Binet and Field, 2017). Correlation between data doesn’t always mean causation, so results should be investigated thoroughly before any knee-jerk reaction.

A positive take on monitoring is 'Test and learn' initiatives, such as the 70 20 10 investment model, which are widely supported by marketers and can lead to brands trying out channels that they may not have considered before. It can open up profitable channels without risking a large investment.

Campaign measurement

Reporting on a campaign’s performance is an important part of communications planning as it shows links between the campaign and its outcomes, and helps ensure future activity is more effective. A recent study by Ebiquity showed that the overall performance of online display doesn’t match the scale of investment in it, and the impact of radio is undervalued (Anon, 2018). With media increasingly consumed in shorter sessions on mobile (Evans et al. 2016), unifying measurement across channels is even more important to show what works well and what doesn’t justify the budget allocated.

Measurement should include direct campaign outputs, such as page views, and the impact on target audience attitudes, known as intermediate measures. It should also show behavioural measures, such as clicks or sign-ups, as well as the impact on the client’s business; for example, sales data. It is also important to refer back to the objectives set at the start of the campaign and show the extent to which these were met. An IKEA Facebook campaign in 2013 wanted to establish whether the platform could increase its sales. It used geo-targeted ads to drive a 31% uplift in store visits by 22-25 year olds. Because location data was used, the results showed the direct effect of the adverts on retail footfall and the campaign’s results were indisputable (Woodman, 2014).

Conclusion

'Managing channels' encompasses many aspects of planning, from constructing an ecosystem, to allocating budgets between channels, optimising within each one and monitoring them whilst a campaign is live. As it touches all of these disciplines, it is an important aspect of a communication strategy. Of similar importance however, is the setting of campaign objectives at the outset, and measuring the degree to which these are met at the end. Without clear objectives, the planners can’t construct an effective campaign. Similarly, if the activity isn’t analysed once it’s finished, the value of the campaign will be unknown and no lessons can be learned for future campaigns to make them even more effective.

Danielle Henley is a Senior Account Manager at McCann Worldgroup. This essay earned her a Distinction for the IPA Advanced Certificate in Communications Planning. Bookings for the 2021 intake close on 8 February.

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Last updated 13 January 2021