Connection planning today

Nearly 20 years after Connection Planning was introduced to the U.S. marketing and media community, it’s time to take stock of the state of the discipline.

The earliest developments of Connection Planning can be traced back to the U.K. with Naked and Unity as major influences in the late 1990s. New agency services followed, effectively launching the practice into marketing and media companies worldwide.

Since then, the discipline has taken many forms and titles including: Communications Planning, Context Planning and Engagement Planning.

As part of a small team who launched the practice at Fallon Worldwide, we defined Connection Planning as “any opportunity for a consumer to experience a brand, or a company to engage a consumer.”

Our planning centered on the five M’s of connection: the moment, mood, medium, milieu and mindset in which connections happen. These guiding principles continue to be the starting point to planning for the countless micro-moments consumers may choose to engage with a brand.

The consumer engagement model has been disrupted. Mobile and Social Media have fundamentally changed how we communicate with friends, family and the companies we do business.

To be successful, companies must plan for the myriad ways they engage people, evaluating the value they bring. They must be ready to engage in conversations that have shared value, rather than push one-way impressions.

More than ever, communication requires a deep understanding of consumer engagement to be effective – aligning data, insights, and strategies to meet consumers on their terms.

The role for Connection Planning is to provide a holistic view of consumer engagement and a disciplined approach to developing strategies that help engage consumers at every point in their journey.

Areas of expertise for Connection Planners include: targeting strategy, data and insights mining, consumer journey mapping, communications architecture, communications strategy, cross-channel planning and development.

This relatively new strategic planning function has made significant contributions during a time of radical change in the media landscape.

In the same way that Account Planning informs and guides creative development, Connection Planning works to enhance a message by considering the context in which that message is conveyed. By planning for moments and mindsets, brands can create relevant communications that have shared value.

As cultural change agents, Connection Planners are especially good at helping creative ideas thrive in new media platforms. For ad agencies, this has meant new ways of thinking about media  and making “micro-moments” part of our shared vernacular.

The notion of media as a distribution vehicle has shifted to media as a strategic advantage. This rapid transformation is creating unprecedented change for the marketing and communications industry.

As advertising becomes increasingly irrelevant and ad blockers become the norm for consumers, it’s time for marketers to reevaluate their approach. Connection Planning has never been more important.

Michelle Fitzgerald is a communications strategist and principal at Brew: Creative Media in Minneapolis. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Professional M.A. in Strategic Communication program at the University of Minnesota.