Media is a business investment that showcases your brand story through creative execution to help connect your brand with consumers where they are most willing to engage, listen, think, feel, and act in ways that pay back your brand.
To build a tight bond with consumers, focus on those consumers most motivated to buy what your brand offers. Your media plan now must find them, and then move them through their purchase journey.
Six questions to ask before you start your brand’s Media Plan
- What is the size of your brand’s media budget?
- What is your brand’s core strength?
- How tightly connected is your brand with your consumer?
- Where can you best impact the consumer journey?
- Where will your consumers be most open to engage, listen, think, feel, and act?
- What media choices will best deliver your brand’s creative execution?
1. What is the size of your brand’s media budget?
Balance your media choices by looking at media efficiency, quality, impact, and fit with the brand. The efficiency of the media math starts with reach and frequency.
- Reach is the percentage of different households or people exposed to the ad at least once, over a specific period.
- Frequency is the number of times that household or people exposed to the ad within a particular period.
Be careful to avoid relying on efficiency alone, as you need to balance it with quality media choices. I always set aside about 10 percent of my media budget to create a high impact. This can help generate early attention to a new campaign or product innovation.
Use your strategic thinking to understand how much you can invest. You need to focus your limited resources on a distinct opportunity point you have identified based on a potential change in the market.
The reasons you would strategically invest in media include:
- Discovery of a new brand message you know will motivate consumers to buy your brand.
- Identified change in consumer needs, motivations, or behaviors, which will benefit your brand.
- Shift the competitive dynamic, with an opportunity to make gains or a necessity to defend.
- Continue to fuel brand growth with a window to drive brand profits.
- New distribution channel you can use to move consumers through before competitors do.
- The launch of a breakthrough product innovation offering a competitive advantage to your brand.
To make the media investment pay off, you need to be able to drive a performance result that pays back with an increase in brand power you can use in the future or an immediate increase in brand profit.
Here are six factors to help guide you on the size of your media investment:
- Brand profit situation, looking at margin rates and the size of the business.
- Past media ROI projected forward as a forecast of the potential.
- Impact of your current creative advertising tracking results
- Future investment opportunities or future threats to battle.
- The degree of competitive pressures in the marketplace and their levels of media spend.
- The comparative opportunity cost for investing elsewhere.
Media budget levels
There is a term called zero-based marketing budgeting, which starts off each new year assuming all brand budgets are zero and the brand must prove their case to earn its budget level. While it makes perfect sense in theory, with 20 years of experience with marketing budgets, this is not an easy concept to implement. One risk I see is that a zero-based budget could lead to short-term and highly transactional advertising.
A brand needs to balance brand-building activities, which add to the long-term connection with consumers with transactional call-to-action messaging intended to trigger purchases. For instance, if you tell me “Buy two, get one free” for five straight years, your consumers will eventually forget why they should buy your product at all, let alone two. There is a degree of uncertainty in making investment decisions. Get comfortable with your instincts to balance the degree of ambiguity to make the smart decision.
When you feel the risk/reward of the media investment is unknown, it might be wise to start with a smaller investment level. Use what I call a “blowfish” media plan so that, among those you target, you appear to be a large brand. Pick a tight target market with a limited media choice or geographic focus to replicate how a more substantial media investment would appear. When the unknown is very high, get smarter by using test markets with various media spend levels to gain the necessary consumer response data before you make a full investment.
You should use a medium investment level when your brand faces only a couple of the media investment factors listed above, yet your brand has the size and margin to invest. With this level of spend, you should use a selective media plan by making smart choices of the target market who you know will respond to those media choices proven to pay back.
High investment level
You should use a high investment level when your brand faces many of the investment factors, including profitable brand, reliable messaging, product innovation, and an intensely competitive situation. You can afford to take a mass approach. However, just because you have a lot of money does not mean you should waste it. I still recommend using one lead media choice and then use support media to supplement. Figure out your lead paid media and your lead earned media to provide focus and alignment with your strategy.
One important consideration with any investment plan is to balance media spending and the creative production costs. Your brand’s working dollars are those investments that directly reach and influence the consumer. You can directly see the impact and measure the payback. Media is considered working dollars. This costing method is one of the reasons you do not want to spread your brand across too many media choices. If most of your brand’s advertising budget is spent making TV ads, billboards, and radio ads or paying for talent in the ads, then you will not have enough spending left to reach the consumer.
2. What is your brand’s core strength?
The decision on whether your brand will be story-led, product-led, experience-led, or price-led impacts your brand message and related media choices.
If your brand is product-led, focus on standing out with trend influencers and early adopters. Use an interruptive and visual media choice, such as TV or online video, to demonstrate and explain what makes your product better. You can share the video demonstrations on your brand’s website or through social media. Invest in search to help consumers who may have questions and need more information.
For story-led brands, use media to create a movement behind your idea, purpose, core belief or a stance. Connect with like-minded consumers who could become potential early brand lovers and influence their network to turn your brand into a movement. Bring your brand’s concept, purpose, or story to life using emotional storytelling media, such as TV, long-copy print, story-telling content built to share.
When your brand’s strength is the consumer experience, building your brand awareness takes time. Be patient. The slower build will be well worth the time invested once you hit a tipping point. Start by engaging key influencers and expert reviewers (industry critics) early on to reach the trend influencer consumers who will build word-of-mouth within their network. Build and manage the online customer review sites (Yelp, Trip Advisor) to entice other users to try your brand’s fantastic experience.
When you are a price-led brand, you need high sales volumes to cover the lower margins. The most successful price brands invest in call-to-action, efficient media options, such as 15-second TV, digital display, or radio ads. Use traditional and online price tools, such as flyers or online coupon sites. Use the point of sale media to trigger transactions.
3. How connected is your brand?
For unknown or indifferent brands, invest in the early part of the consumer journey, with media focused on building awareness to establish your positioning in the mind of consumers to separate your brand from the pack. You also need to get your brand into the consumer’s consideration set.
Brands at the like it stage must separate themselves from others, to build momentum and create a following. You need to focus on closing the deal, by motivating consumers to buy. And, then you can use search tools and deal-closing claims at the point of sale to resolve any remaining doubts. You can utilize your own e-commerce website or sites such as Amazon, Expedia, or Groupon.
Building brand love
Brands at the love it stage must turn your consumer’s repeat purchases into higher usage frequency and become a favorite part of your consumer’s day. The creative must instill emotional benefits, linked closely to the consumer’s life moments. An excellent tool to use is to map out the “day-in-the-life” of your target consumer and place messages where they are most likely to engage. Use consumer insights to make the messages personal to make consumers feel special and attached to your brand.
At the beloved brand stage, you should begin shifting to a maintenance media plan, enough to maintain your brand’s leadership presence and perception. Stay aware of the competitive activity, which may force you to adjust your budget levels. At this point, you can shift some of your media resources into enhancing the consumer experience, to retain your happy consumers, and to drive a deeper love to harness an army of brand lovers. You can begin creating shareable experiences for your brand lovers to share with their friends.
4. Where can you best impact the consumer journey?
Old-school marketing used to yell their messages at every possible consumer using mass media, then move consumers naturally through the brand funnel from awareness to purchase and loyalty. With so few media choices, consumers could not escape the advertising. If consumers did not respond the first time, show it to them again and again. Back in the 1970s, it was all about the interruption of consumers, with brands focused primarily on day-after brand recall. Many times, the more annoying the ad, the better it would work. This media planning is not quite the sophisticated media strategy brands need today.
New-school marketing whispers to the most loyal brand fans, hoping they drive awareness with influence to their friends. The word of a friend will bring more influence to their purchase decision than a random TV ad. As the brand moves to the masses, consumers look for the advice of trusted peers whom they respect to know enough about the latest and greatest of the category. They also look to the brand lovers, giving them evidence the brand does deliver what it promises.
In the brand strategy story, I showed you how brands evolved from a craft brand to a disruptor, to a challenger brand and finally to a power player. One significant distinction is what type of consumers they focus on. I introduced the idea of a consumer adoption curve, which leverages four types of consumers:
- Trend influencers
- Early adopters
- Early mass
- Late mass
I will use this thinking to show how brands can use influencers to trigger each type of consumer, as the brand evolves from the entry-level craft brand all the way to the power player mass brand.
The role of influencers on the consumer adoption curve
The trend influencer consumers always want the leading-edge stuff and are first to try within their social set. They want to stay aware of what the wise experts are saying, whom they trust or rely upon for knowledge. For brands competing in the car, sports, technology, fashion, entertainment, or foodie markets, there are leading expert reviewers or bloggers who have become the voice of the marketplace. Marketers who have a real revolutionary addition to the category should target and brief these wise experts to ensure they fully understand the brand story and point of difference. This information increases their willingness to recommend the new products.
The early adopter consumers rely on their trend influencer friends for the details of new brands. However, they will also look to social icons as a secondary source for validation. These social icons could include movie stars, singers, or famous athletes. If the social icons are using the new product, this assures the early adopter the new brand is about to hit a tipping point. These consumers always want to stay ahead of the curve, so that they will adopt it now.
Early mass consumers look for the advice of trusted peers whom they respect within their network. These are the people we go to for advice on a given subject. The early mass also looks to early brand lovers for validation of proven success; This satisfaction level gives them evidence the brand does deliver what it promises. The late mass audience is slow to adopt; they look to friends for recommendations but only when they feel comfortable enough to buy the brand.
Moving consumers along their journey
To drive awareness, you need to stand out and be seen in a crowd. Invest in mass media to gain entry into the consumer’s mind using TV, digital, viral video, out of home, or magazine. Where it makes sense, sponsorships and experiential events increase the consumer’s familiarity with the brand.
To move consumers to the consideration stage, use influencers to teach those seeking to learn more. Use public relations to make the brand part of the news, whether through traditional, social, or blogger channels. Engage the online user review sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, or category-specific review sites.
For more complex or higher risk purchase decisions, consumers will rely on search for almost everything, even if to just confirm what makes sense. Marketers can use search sites, such as Google, expert review sites, and online content, or long copy print media. The brand website comes into play and should include the right information to close off gaps or doubts, then move consumers towards the purchase decision.
Closing the sale
Media options to help trigger purchase, include point-of-sale advertising, with in-store signage, displays and sales materials to prompt consumers at the purchase moment. Remarketing is a great tool to push consumers who might feel stuck at the consideration stage to reconsider and buy.
After the purchase, you must turn usage into a ritual among your most loyal users. Cultivate a collection of brand fans, using VIP programs and experiential events with special deals. Layer in emotional advertising to tighten the bond.
Once you have a strong base, you can mobilize your brand lovers, by intentionally creating shareable experiences, which will trigger brand lovers to share with their network through social media. With the new social media tools, the smartest brands are getting their most engaged consumers to drive awareness.
5. Where is your consumer open to listening?
Place your media on the part of the consumer’s life where they will watch, listen, learn, engage, decide, and act.Align with life moments, whether they are parts of the day, the week, the year, or even milestone moments in their life.
A smart tool for media planning is to map out the day-in-the-life of your consumer, to try to understand what they go through and where they might be most receptive to your message.
You can take this same tool and map it over the consumer’s life, especially to tap into those life moments when people are most willing to reconsider brands. It might be a stage of life, such as going away to university or getting your first job or having your first child. Each life moment is a chance for brands to get consumers to reconsider their current choices.
6. What is the best media to deliver the creative?
The brand idea should drive everything you do. In this case, it should push the creative idea, and bring together the creative focus and media planning.
During the creative process, stay open on media choices
At the start of any creative project, it is hard to know the exact media choices to make because you have not seen the creative work yet. While writing the brand communications plan, work on a media guideline that picks a lead media only and a few potential secondary media options to explore without fully committing. At the creative meeting, ask to see each creative idea presented as a 30-second TV ad, a simple billboard, and a long-copy print ad. With this request, you will be able to see how each idea plays out across almost every possible media type.
- The 30-second video script can be repurposed to fit TV ads of any length, movie theatre ads, viral videos, or a video on your website.
- The long copy print can be repurposed to fit with content blogs, news stories through PR, newspapers, magazines, website information, and sales brochures. It can even be atomized, broken down into digestible bits to populate a brand’s social media content.
- The billboard can be repurposed for outdoor signage, digital display billboards, posters, in-store display signs, or even a magazine’s back cover designs.
This process allows you to make the creative and media decisions together. You will see the ads in context to figure out the best combinations for your brand. Also, you will be able to see the possible breadth of each creative idea, which can provide a clue to the campaign’s longevity.
Use the brand idea to align every media choice
In today’s cluttered media world, the brand idea should help organize all four types of media, including paid, earned, shared, and owned.
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Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.