September 2, 2008

Media Planning Tools

By Bakht, Asiya

ALL ABOUT... Should marketers believe the hype? Asiya Bakht investigates

Recent weeks have seen a number of media planning tools hit the market as media agencies scramble to show clients how and why they are better than - or at least different to - their rivals.

In June, Starcom excitedly unveiled IntenTrack, an ambitious tool that tries to correlate media choice with consumer purchase habits. Soon after, MEC launched Partnerz, a tool that picks the most appropriate sponsorship matches for brands.

The breadth of the tools now available is huge,as media agencies try to expand their coverage across all conceivable touchpoints.

The question is why are these . tools becoming so popular now? And are they offering clients a real point of difference?

1 Media planning is increasingly being portrayed as a science that can be refined. And as the options open to marketers explode in number, that can be a compelling idea. The pressure to improve accountability has also led to an en vironment in which what can be measured will be done.

In response, media agencies are developing their own processes to help clients with the baffling process of media selection.

For example, MEC uses what it calls a 'Navigator' process, a ninestep guide that begins by clarifying the client's objectives and setting the budget, and ends with implementation and measurement.

Sounding rather similar on the surface, at least, is 'ROI blueprint' from Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia. It offers "a consumer pathway at the heart of our planning", says Guy Abrahams, Zenith's regional communications planning director.

Underlying these processes are the agencies' research tools themselves. These analyse the effectiveness of different platforms and tend to combine exclusive consumer research with generally accessible market data on the various media being tracked. Starcom's IntenTrack is one example. It uses a global survey (including 11 markets in Asia) to assess how various types of brand interaction affect consumer purchase intent.

2 While marketers could be forgiven for thinking that most of these processes and tools sound the same, they can be of use. Edwin Africa, the marketing director of PepsiCo International, Malaysia and Singapore, says that tools "help us better understand media habits".

However, he also warns that planning tools can tend to focus only on media demographics. "Media agencies have yet to define tools that will help target psychographics," he points out.

3 Some marketers want to see a greater deal of customisation. There is a large amount of cynicism toward tools that are developed in the US but have no relevance for Asia.

PepsiCo's Africa agrees they can be quite broad-brush. "Often, they are quite generic. It would be more useful if these tools were tailored to our specific industry." He adds that planning tools are of variable quality depending on the medium. He is yet to come across a good tool that measures digital,for instance.

However, customisation of tools requires huge investment and clued-up staff.

4 For all their sophistication, these tools are only as good as the way they are applied. Reg Moses, the president and CEO of Aprais Asia-Pacific, says the effectiveness of planning tools can be hindered by failings on both the client and agency side. "Since tools are usually complicated and expensive, they are not really used properly by agencies. Sometimes clients also do not give enough time to agencies to use them. In some cases agencies need to pay a royalty to use a tool, which escalates costs for them."

5 These tools work in favour of media agencies as a group, as they present marketing effectiveness as principally the result of media choice. However, their critics say they cannot account for the creative idea, and reduce marketing to a by-the-numbers discipline with no room for gut instinct.

"This has always been the problem of media agencies - they think impact is independent of content," says Hari Ramanathan, regional creative planner at Y&R Brands. "They will argue this helps them take calculated risks, but media agencies are always trying to negate the impact of content."

Ultimately, perhaps, media planning tools are simply becoming the latest weapon in the fight between creative and media agencies for control of clients' budgets.

Media tools... media planning is increasingly being portrayed as a science

What it means for...


* Ignore the jargon. Ask for relevant case studies from brands in your sector. The best way to benchmark an agency's effectiveness is by analysing how the planning processes and tools have been used for different brands and the results these tools have delivered.

* Is what you see what you get? Make sure that processes and approaches demonstrated during the pitch are actually applied after you've handed a media agency your business. Sporadic or inconsistent use of tools can do more harm than good.

* Find out how an agency can customise its tools. A tool might have originated in the US and be wonderfully effective there. But has it been customised for your region?

* Tools cost a lot of money. Question media agencies on how much of your fees is going on the latest planning gizmo.

* Challenge your media agency. Ask agency staff of varying seniority to explain - in no more than a sentence - why their planning tools are better than their rival's next door.


* A point of difference. Yes. many planning tools do similar things. But if a tool gives an agency a capability that is genuinely unique and gives a competitive edge - particularly in newer services such as branded content - shout it from the hilltops.

* A lot of money. Tools are expensive, so agencies must decide carefully whether they invest in tools that make them better at what they are already good at. or basically competent in a new discipline. There is a danger that agencies spread themselves too thin in the race to be all things to all clients.

Copyright Haymarket Business Publications Ltd. Jul 24, 2008

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