I Love a Media Mystery

March 28, 2010

By Erwin Ephron, President, The Ephron Consultancy

What Does Integrated Channel Planning Mean? And Why Should We Do It?

A mystery is more than something we can't explain. It's something we don't know how to think about.

Media planning is a mystery. If you doubt that, check out it's latest manifestation as Integrated Communication Channel Planning.

If it's about "media mix," it makes sense. But I'm not sure what it means.

One Message, Many Voices

Media is not like creative where a "one message" strategy is important. Media is the many voices carrying that message. So integration in media is a tactic, not a mantra. The end isn't integration, it's performance. That means using different media to achieve brand goals.

If integration helps do this, it's valuable. But if integration substitutes media-speak, (media-mix, database fusion, cross-platform buying), for brand objectives, (encourage trial, build penetration, increase purchase frequency), it is misdirection.

The integrating force in media has to be the brand.

Not a Melting Pot, A Rainbow

Too much is made of media integration, anyway. I could argue that this is the age of disintegration. Since TV now costs too much to do it all, we're forced to deconstruct and focus on the separate goals of a brand plan.

Then allocate media dollars by goal, before we even think about specific media.

And finally, select media to fit the pieces.

If we can plan these media as a mix and buy them as a package, so much the better.

This is what I call "top-down" media planning. In this model, media integration is done at the second level of planning. It's the coordination of media to deliver the brand-goal package more cost-effectively. But it comes later in the process because achieving individual brand goals is more important than integrating media.

My hidden point is unless we think about the brand first and media second, we become trapped by television.

The Devil's Candy

Fifty years of TV dominance has had a chilling effect on planning. In the name of media-mix, we try to plan everything like TV. It's a sobering thought. Integration, harmonization, comparability, may all be the devil's candy tricking us into believing all media are the same.

Print targets far better than TV and we have detailed user and usage data. But print/TV plans are typically reduced to a TV common denominator, e.g., women 18-49, perhaps with an income qualifier.

We're hassling outdoor for demo ratings, reach and frequency, to compete for TV dollars. True, outdoor audiences flow in time, like TV, but the key media characteristics of out-of-home are size, location, and continuing presence. The TV model doesn't have room for those values.

The Internet isn't small screen television. It has targeting, controlled frequency, and, above all, response characteristics that are totally unique. You can response-plan the Internet in real time. Throw out messages, see what sticks, and adjust the plan.

The TV model is national, other media, like outdoor, newspapers, and radio, are local. Localization can be more powerful in terms of message context (the outdoor board before you reach McDonald's) and product purchase (barbeque sauce sells better in Dallas).

Media have unique characteristics, which are not captured by the "TV Trinity:" audience, target, reach/frequency. Homogenizing media into a mix to recapture the heft of 1980s television doesn't make sense. If we plan several media programs aimed at achieving different brand goals and pay for them with a single budget, that may be integration enough.

What Are Consumer Touch Points?

Another mystery is why we let our enthusiasms blindfold common sense. When I read media plans, I see how we're becoming Impressionists painting pictures, when we should be architects drawing plans.

I'm especially troubled by the headlining of fuzzy ideas that are far less than they appear to be.

What are consumer "touch points?" Sounds like we're groping again. Do media people really know how to "touch," that is "feel, nurture, involve, influence" consumers? Is that what we mean by "opportunity to see?"

Media delivered messages can occasionally touch, but they're more often glancing blows. To suggest otherwise is to oversell and confuse. Most planners would agree the new world of media has more opportunities-to-see and fewer touch points, if we mean attention, involvement, and response.

And aren't touch points and 360 degree planning, simply that old "day in the life of Joe Consumer" with a new haircut? The issue is how we confront, understand, and adapt to a splintering media world. Pasting together the pieces isn't a good approach.

These concerns and more have to be sorted out, but the abundance of questions is encouraging. They suggest media planning will become less of a mystery and more of a puzzle.

Further Your Learning

To return to Steve Fajen's Insight Brief, Maximizing Media Agency Value, please click here. 


"I Love a Media Mystery." The Ephron Letter, 10/03. Reprinted with Permission from Erwin Ephron, President, The Ephron Consultancy. ANA Marketing Toolkits.