How Not To Plan: A Lazy Book Club discussion about how not to screw it up

Conversations around marketing seem to be dominated by two extremes right now.

On one side, we have the gurus. They believe everything is moving to digital and social. For them, TV and traditional media are either dead or dying, consumers are now vastly different from what they used to be, and marketers either fundamentally change their approach or die.

On the other side, we have the traditionalists. They don’t believe in the new world. For them, social channels are fireworks, TV and traditional media are still king, consumers haven’t changed one bit and marketers who advocate change are no different than the aforementioned gurus.

Then, we have How Not To Plan, written by Les Binet and Sarah Carter and published by the APG, which lies somewhere in the middle. Sure, it advocates for (and backs up) an evidence-based approach, and it effectively shows how traditional media are still superior ROI drivers. But it also talks, again with proper evidence, about the role of these emerging channels not as substitutes for traditional media, but as complements. It’s a book that goes beyond binary thinking in marketing. It offers evidence as well as hope.

And it’s the book we covered on our latest Lazy Book Club session, with some 15 other planners at the Barley Mow in Shoreditch. Below is a summary of our discussion.

Brands exist so we don’t have to think about them

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A modern classic. “Consumers now want relationships with brands”. Except what we know from evidence is that brands, at their best, operate as shortcuts for decision making. Which means that a brand exists so people don’t have to think too hard about what to choose. And even brands that do foster some relationship building – think the Monzo forums or the Apple gurus – are usually dominated by a few heavy user voices, who are not representative of the majority of the buyer base. Do you have a relationship with Uber? Or is it just incredibly convenient and a shortcut to the ride hailing category?

Rigour comes first and last, the rest is usually chaos

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How do you know where to place the rigour stuff, and where to let creativity take over? According to How Not To Plan, make sure you’re extra rigorous at objective setting (why are we doing this? Who are we targeting? Why that particular group? In order to do what specifically?) and effectiveness (how will we measure success? At what frequency will we measure it? How do we evaluate the bigger picture not just the constituent parts?). The rest? Sure, we should have a point of view and a single-minded proposition to work towards, but the unspoken truth of this industry is that things never go as smoothly as the strategy award papers suggest. There’s a bit of chaos in between setting objectives and getting to the answer. And that’s OK.

The future is cool but we need to sell now(ish)

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Another modern discussion trope. Is TV dead? Is it dying? When will it be dead? If it’s in 10 years, should a marketing team completely get rid of it now or gradually experiment with other channels? The new age approach suggests we drop the dying and the wounded, and join the new generation of media channels. But the reality is that the number of people using a certain channel is not the same as the quality of attention when using it (you tend to pay more quality attention to a TV screen than to an Instagram feed), plus if a channel is proven to deliver ROI now, and our marketers need to sell now (ish), actually there’s still loads of space to bet on traditional media. The consensus was that the 70-20-10 model for media investments is probably still the best way to go. But again, thinking in binaries (all traditional vs all digital) does no one any favours.

You don’t have to say something is different, as long as the way you say it is different

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This one led us down a conversation about what it means for something to be ‘ownable’. The common mistake is to assume that if a brand doesn’t offer something truly different from the competition, then it won’t win. What we actually see is that differentiation matters sometimes, but more often than not products and services are pretty much the same, so the real game is about distinctiveness. As for ownability, we need to take a wide view on it. “Our competitors could say this about their product” isn’t good feedback, because the real question is: “Have they said it?”. Anyone could have used ‘Just Do It’ for their competitive sports brand, but Nike did it first and stuck with it for 30 years and counting. It was distinctive, and it became ownable over time.

Is publicity better than persuasion?

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This one was quite interesting. When it comes to your advertising, does it always matter if you have a message that is related to what you offer? Or is the prospect of fame and talkability enough to drive market growth? It depends, of course. But we did talk at length about how the recent Iceland Orangutan work was a mix of both, where there are no tangible attempts at persuasion through their comms, but the fact they stand out might be enough for them to steal a slice of the grocery shopping market over time through their approach to sustainability. We also talked about how a lot of times, when there’s not enough budget, it’s probably more effective to try and get banned instead (for the PR value that comes from it). A joke, of course. Or is it?

Your source of distinctiveness is not always your source of business

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How much does advertising need to reflect buyer profiles? That is, does your market positioning need to be true to who actually buys from you? Apparently, not really. First, because there’s a difference between your aspirational target audience and your actual buyers (for example, car brands always try and skew slightly younger than who actually buys from them). Second, because there’s a difference between an advertising device (which exists so the brand becomes memorable) and an actual consumption moment. People don’t only eat a Kit Kat on a break, but they might think of it because of that association when they’re browsing for snacks in Tesco.

New technologies are not serial killers, they’re symbiotes

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A riff on the very first point of the conversation: things are not as binary as they seem. The gurus like to argue that because millions of people are on Facebook, it’s superior to TV in its marketing effectiveness. The reality is TV and Facebook work best together, with the first one being awesome at emotional storytelling and the second being awesome at reinforcing that message through short-form creative. And by the way, if you add search to that mix, even better. And if you add OOH and retail activation and radio and some experiential AR stunts, even better. Media operate on multiplier effects, which means more channels working together deliver superior marketing effectiveness. New tech doesn’t kill old tech that easily, but somehow they learn to work together to make our clients’ campaigns more profitable in the long run.

In a nutshell: don’t believe the hype either way. Gurus like to claim everything’s changed. Traditionalists like to claim nothing has. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the juicy, muddy middle. And that’s the point: if we continue having these conversations, we get to the more interesting nuances of how strategy and planning actually add value and deliver results for clients. Which, at the end of the day, is what we’re here to do. Right?

Want to come to the next Lazy Book Club? All you have to do is become a Group Think member by clicking below. We do various events every month, and we’ll notify you of the next one via email. And yes, in case you’re wondering, it’s all free. OMG, right?