Reclaiming planning’s radicalism

The purpose of “account planning” is to understand how people behave and what motivates their behavior. The premise of Depth On Demand is that these motivations and behaviors are diverse – some people go deep, while others just skim the clouds for tidbits of data and content. All in all, planning has become a “copy of a copy.” We need to embrace new models and toss old orthodoxies.

canalside view

I was recently invited by the APG of Sweden to talk about ‘the future of planning’.  This is the text of that talk – a personal perspective on whether account planning indeed has a future at all. My thanks to all at the APG for the opportunity of catharsis. 


The political activist Marcus Garvey once said:

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.”

Now ours is not an industry much given to contemplating the past. And it is easy to take the existence of account planning for granted.  After all, it has functioned now as a distinct agency discipline for almost half a century. In that time been exported, institutionalized, taught, iterated, segmented, and even celebrated. The story of account planning is a success story.

But if we are to shape the next fifty years, then we must rediscover our radicalism. For we are…

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Entry Points and Gamification: Chaos in the Conversation Cloud™

Every marketing campaign needs multiple ways in. The consumer decision journey gives us a framework for identifying the channels a group of people (i.e., a consumer segment) may be likely to tap to evaluate a brand or its offers. Likewise, research methods like monitoring, surveys and analytics on the quantitative side, plus in-depth interviews, focus groups and interaction design studies from the qualitative playbook shed light — if not real insights — into consumer behaviors in the early stages of the journey.

Interestingly, the gamification trend shows us that once they’re in, consumers may want something more than a sample, a coupon, a demonstration or a few moments of entertainment.

My theory is that the Conversation Cloud™ that envelops the consumer during active evaluation is a chaotic mess. There are options all over cyberspace from which you’ve got a roughly equal chance for getting totally lost, completely distracted (“Oh look … a butterfly”) or terribly misled (presumably by misinformation that’s posted and reposted by unofficial sources). However, when a brand publishes brand-specific materials across the vast expanse of digital outposts, the value of its participation in the “chaos of the Conversation Cloud™” provides guideposts (“points of light” is an old metaphor, but I’ll take it) that may attract the consumer’s attention.

… More to come … (Still working on this post, but gotta go. BRB.)

The Randall Cunningham Effect and Content Strategy … Wha?!

Randall Cunningham should be in the NFL hall of fame. He was among the first African-American NFL quarterbacks to be given the starting role on a major market team — the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, the Eagles sucked. They’d lost a Superbowl, badly, and rebounded into the cellar. Along came Cunningham.

He passed with a strong arm and acute accuracy while standing strong in the pocket and executed play action fake handoffs along with the best of them. But he was also the team’s leading rusher. He had to scramble because his offensive line just couldn’t keep the opposition’s defense from flattening the quarterback.

Cunningham was the archetype of today’s NFL superstar quarterbacks. He had all the skills — passing, reading defenses, calling audibles PLUS running, scrambling and improvising. But the media and most fans couldn’t fathom that a Black QB could do all that. He single handedly raised the bar and set a new standard for excellence, yet nobody was willing to give him the credit he was (and is) due.

As the result of Randall Cunningham, any athlete who aspires to become an NFL quarterback needs to have skills above and beyond the previous generation’s established bar — without slipping an iota in the mastery of ALL those skills as well.

So it goes with interactive marketing. Great design is not good enough to engage consumers in the Conversation Cloud along the Consumer Decision Journey. That’s why the recent (ugh … if we can call 2-3 years “recent”) rise of content strategy has become so important.

Successful brand communication, presence and engagement across digital and physical channels requires the focused effort and diligent discipline of content strategy. These areas of content strategy work are essential for launching and maintaining successful programs made of persuasive content:

Editorial Strategy

  • Definitions for the guidelines by which online content is governed: values, voice, tone, legal and regulatory concerns, user-generated content, etc.
  • Define the editorial calendar including content life cycles.

Web (Interactive) Copywriting

  • Writing useful, usable content intended for online publication.
  • Understanding the basics (and better) of user experience design.
  • Translate information architecture documentation.
  • Write effective metadata.
  • Manage a flexible, fluctuating content inventory.

Metadata Management

  • Identify the type and structure of metadata.
  • Outcome: identify, organize, use and re-use content in ways that are meaningful to key audiences.
  • Title
  • Description
  • Keywords and phrases
    • Market Defining Keywords (MDKW)
    • Informative Content Descriptors
  • Sample Meta Data (for
    Title: Chilliwack BC Canada – Chilliwack Life
    Description: Your source for living, working and playing in Chilliwack BC
    Keywords: Chilliwack BC british columbia canada

    What the actual meta data looks like in HTML
    <TITLE>Chilliwack BC Canada – Chilliwack Life</TITLE>
    <meta name=”DESCRIPTION” content=”Your source for living, working and playing in Chilliwack BC”>
    <meta name=”KEYWORDS” content=”Chilliwack BC british columbia canada”>

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • Edit and organize content on pages, screens and/or across a website – including metadata – to increase relevance to search engine keywords and phrases.
  • Apply link building best practices

Content Management Strategy

  • Define the technologies needed to capture, store, deliver and preserve content.
  • Considerations include publishing infrastructure, content life cycle(s) and work flow(s).

Content Channel Distribution

  • Define how and where (and sometimes why) content is available to users in various user-centered scenarios and across digital platforms based on personas/consumer insights.

Source: Kristina Halvorson, “The Discipline of Content Strategy”

More on this topic soon … This entry is a DRAFT (aka work in progress) that I’m posting for the benefit of feedback, discussion and my own inner process.

Drivers vs. Invitations

In the conversation cloud it costs too much and is so unwelcoming to push consumers toward brand destinations. The effort isn’t with the expense both in monetary terms and the erosion of good will. But advertisers persist in planning and executing campaigns in terms of drivers. Instead we need to think, plan and act in terms of invitations.

A great experience is reward in and of itself.  Think if a dinner party among friends. But it’s equally true of a meet up or business party that’s truly well planned and curated. You don’t need bribes to lure people into your home for a dinner party. You do send out an invitation that helpfully and creatively expresses what the theme and purpose of the meeting is all about.

Ultimately making a product purchase decision leads to a sort of meeting. It may be online in a cart or at a store at a counter. But one way or another the consumer needs to make time for that pivotal moment when the decision becomes a transaction.

Depth On Demand Meets the Path of Least Resistance and Most Return

Why is Redbox successful? It’s easy. No, I mean that literally. It is easy to use by offering the path of least resistance. I want a movie; I go to the kiosk. Plus it offers me, personally, the most return for my effort. I get the movie; I take it home. I watch it. Then I drop it back at the kiosk. And I get all of that for a buck — a single dollar.

It’s not just a good deal. It’s a great deal. As long as folks at home want to watch movies on discs, Redbox has the best deal in town.

Some critics, pundits and experts would argue that Redbox is not a paragon of 21st century commerce. They might say, fairly speaking, that it’s a short-term business that is suited to the short window of opportunity that will end in a few short years. Fair enough. Let’s not forget how Enron was adored by the business press and professional pundits alike.

Redbox does serve a purpose here and now, though. It provides the path of least resistance coupled with the most reward for a nominal fee. That’s a magical combination in any category of business.

Predictive Content Planning for Depth On Demand™

Now that we all agree advertising is “in the content business,” let’s look at content. How do we know that some forms of content will perform better than others? This is especially difficult for content that supports brands.

We need planning tools and methods for creating content – brand stories, article marketing, branding applications – that  befits the brand story, brand world, brand character and supports marketing goals that lead to measurable results (most frequently an impact on sales, share or volume).

Kristina Halvorson’s work, company, book and presentations are invaluable for defining content strategy (aka content management or editorial management) as a practice with heft. Let’s start there.

Then let’s look at possible models for Predictive Content Models based on qualitative research, social monitoring and search optimization as linguistic anthropology. In other words, we can use brand planning and social monitoring techniques to identify content areas that consumer groups (segments, profiles, personas) want or at least are likely to find interesting.

Establishing linkage (that’s a term I’m going to use a whole heck of a lot) to brand values, brand equity and the brand story is the ultimate measure for persuasive content. Taking a page from the promotional marketing playbook, linkage means defining that offer X is relevant and related to the brand. For example, any company can offer a cash prize or an exotic vacation; but choosing a prize structure that has conceptual and strategic linkage to the brand story and/or equity.

To be continued …