Why connection planning matters more than ever

The ad industry is facing a major identity crisis, and it’s not hard to see why.

The old-school consumer engagement model has been disrupted by rapid transformation in technology that is forcing unprecedented change for the marketing and communications industry.

Advertising is increasingly irrelevant, with ad blockers the norm. Engagement is an overused word, often translating into cookie-cutter media plans and one-size-fits-all creative platforms. Engaging consumers has never been more challenging.

More than ever, brands must plan for myriad ways of engagement. Media that merely pushes one-way messages is increasingly impotent. Like it or not, we now live in a world where two-way conversations are what move the needle for consumers.

It may sound easy but look at your personal social feeds. Are any of the brands you follow truly engaging you? The opportunity is to use technology and media to forge connections that are personal and relevant.

Enter connection planning. Its role is to identify where, when and how to connect. This involves a process of applying data and insights to align media and message, ultimately leading to strategies that truly connect brands to their consumers. Skilled connection planners employ art as well as science. Done well, a customized plan emerges that informs both media and creative.

Rather than seeing this big picture, marketers and their agencies often chase the next shiny object. Yet no one tactic or channel holds the golden key to a brand’s success. To effectively engage consumers today, the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts. If not, precious resources will be wasted.

A holistic view of consumer engagement and a disciplined approach to developing strategies is key. The laser-focus of connection planning is to move consumers toward your brand at every point in their journey.

Planning such brand interactions calls for an intimate understanding of how consumers want to be engaged – and then integrating data, insights, and strategies to meet them on their terms.

Connection planners identify micro-moments when the target is most receptive to certain messages, aligning these messages with media behaviors. This maximizes a brand’s abilities to best address consumers’ wants and needs.

Unfortunately, this often creates a classic means-and-ends confusion. By putting media first, connection planners begin with the end in mind so that creative can be built for the specific touchpoint it will serve. Thus, creative is the means to the strategic end. Conversely, ad agencies put creative first and make it an end in itself, spending little time understanding how it will actually work to engage consumers.

For ad agencies and clients alike, the connection planning discipline sparks innovative ways to align media and creative content. As agencies further specialize and clients retain multiple partners, such strategic integration matters all the more.

Time is running out. Technology is transforming and disrupting marketers’ playbooks. Many agencies and clients will soon be left behind. Now is the time to think differently. Connection planning has never mattered more.

Michelle Fitzgerald is a connection planner and principal at Brew: Creative Media in Minneapolis. She is also a faculty member in the master’s program in strategic communication at the University of Minnesota.