Vincent Niou
May 22, 2017

A blueprint for today’s digital planner

From speaking programmatic to understanding measurability, Vincent Niou of Essence Digital details the traits a modern media planner must possess.

A blueprint for today’s digital planner

Years ago, I cut my teeth in the industry as a digital planner. As such, the position is quite close to my heart.

The role of the digital planner has evolved as quickly as digital marketing itself. Back when offline channels comprised the lion’s share of media budgets, planners would dial up a few websites, negotiate some rates, sign a few IOs, and call it a day.

Over the years, planners would need to understand an ever-growing range of formats and channels. What started with display grew to include search, video, mobile, social and now programmatic. Today, with digital ad spend projected at over 40 percent of total media in APAC and over 50 percent by 2020 (eMarketer), the job of a planner continues to evolve.

While the skills required of each planner will vary depending on account, client or agency, we can begin forming a picture of what an “ideal” planner of today looks like based on the state of the industry. Here are several attributes I believe today’s model planner should possess.

Solid on the fundamentals

Whether media is transacted via direct or programmatic means, a planner should always begin with the fundamentals. This includes the following:

  • Solid knowledge of how communication strategy informs media tactics.
  • Firm grasp of the differing approaches required for brand and direct response campaigns.
  • Clear understanding of the relationship between reach and frequency, and how it differs depending on campaign goal.
  • Foundational understanding of the role of different media channels (display, search, video, social, and so on).

Speaks programmatic

Programmatic is certainly not a digital marketing panacea, and it comes with its own challenges. That said, I think we can all agree it’s here to stay. According to a study conducted by Forrester and commissioned by MediaMath, 41 percent of senior marketing professionals in APAC have already adopted programmatic buying into their processes.

Planners don’t need to be an expert DSP (demand-side platform) operator or be able to give a tutorial on server-to-server header bidding, but they understand the following:

  • Programmatic ecosystem and the role of each player (DSP, SSP, ad exchange, DMP).
  • Ways media can be transacted programmatically including open auction, private auction and programmatic guaranteed.
  • The path of an impression when bought programmatically.
  • The value of data, how it’s collected and how to leverage it (see next point).

Fluent in data

As the world becomes increasingly digitised, more consumer data becomes available. Planners need to understand the various types of data (first-, second- and third-party) and the use case for each. Leveraging data with programmatic tools enable an audience-centric planning approach. Previously, planners typically placed direct buys with properties that index highly against their target audience. Armed with the right data, planners today can instead directly address their audience with the right messaging when and where they are most receptive. Context is still a part of the game, but using data correctly changes the playing field.

Deal in direct

The hype surrounding programmatic doesn’t represent the death knell for “old school” direct buys. It'll be some time before programmatic reaches maturity, and until that time comes, many ad products still require direct booking. This is especially relevant in certain APAC markets where programmatic remains in its nascent stage. 

In a future world, the majority of inventory and data will transact across exchanges. However, there will still be a place for custom partnerships and bespoke executions requiring deep collaboration that must happen off-platform. Strong planners should be judicious in planning with either—or both—programmatic and direct paths.

Partner with publishers

Regardless of how media is traded, advertisers and publishers will always need to communicate. The ability to clearly communicate client requests and campaign parameters whilst building a strong rapport with partners will always be valuable. This isn’t limited to the above-mentioned direct buys, but also private programmatic deals that require conversation to ensure alignment on details such as inventory, data and floor prices.

Measurability in mind

A media plan loses much of its value if its impact cannot be properly measured. Digitally savvy clients want more than old proxies like CPC, CPV or last-click CPA. And for heaven's sake we should not still be discussing CTR.

On the front-end, we’ve seen the advent of metrics that correspond with quality. What started with viewability and brand safety has evolved to include a litany of metrics that align to attention. Superior planners are able to interpret these signals and how they relate to campaign objectives. 

Beyond in-flight signals, the gold standard for a campaign is to demonstrate that media drove causal, statistically significant results. Planners don’t need to be card-carrying data scientists fluent in SQL queries, but should be equipped to 1) interface with their analytics team to come up with a proper measurement plan and 2) be able to communicate post-campaign analysis in layman’s terms to the client.

Adapt for the future

Earlier, I discussed the pace at which the digital-media landscape has evolved. The consistent influx of new technology—including programmatic TV, AR, VR and haptics—is building new bridges for brands to connect with consumers. And pace of change will continue to accelerate. As such, arguably the most important qualities today’s digital planner should possess are a passion to learn and the ability to adapt. Our industry is a dynamic one, and so must be the skills of those who practice on the cutting-edge.

Vincent Niou is senior programmatic and partnerships director, APAC, for Essence Digital in Singapore.


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