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What is Media Planning?

Media planning is the process by which marketers determine where, when, and how often they will run an advertisement in order to maximize engagements and ROI. The media plan might split advertising spend and resources between various online and offline channels such as broadcast, print, paid ads, video ads or native content.

In today’s competitive marketing landscape, marketers need to serve consumers with the right message, at the right time, on the right channel in order to see engagements. Media planning is where marketers determine what these “rights” are.

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An effective media plan will result in a set of advertising opportunities that target a specific audience and fit in with the organization’s marketing budget. When establishing a media plan, marketers will often factor in the following considerations:

  • Who does the ad need to reach?
  • What is the marketing budget?
  • Conversion goals
  • Frequency of the message
  • Reach of the message
  • How to define success

Media planning is most often done by media planners at advertising agencies. Media planners must work with media buyers and the client organization to develop a strategy to maximize ROI on media spend. Media planners are required to have a firm understanding of the organization’s brand and target audience, various media platforms and developing media trends.

The Difference Between Media Planning and Media Buying

Media planning and media buying are related processes that often happen in conjunction with one another; however, they are different.

Media Planning

Media planning is more involved with formulating a strategy, evaluating its effectiveness, and adjusting, while buying is the execution of the strategy.

As noted, the media planner will evaluate brand and audience to determine the correct combination of messaging and media mix on which to advertise in order to reach consumers in a positive, impactful way.

Media Buying

Media buying is the process of purchasing ad space across various channels and platforms in coordination with the agreed-upon media plans and monitoring campaigns as they run. This means evaluating platform formats and rates to ensure they coincide with the plan, negotiating costs, keeping abreast of media trends and building relationships with counterparts at various channels and platforms. Media buying often leverages one of the following popular strategies:

  • Manual bidding
  • Direct buys
  • Programmatic buys
  • Real-time bidding

Challenges of Media Planning

Media planning can be challenging because there are so many contributing factors that must be accounted for, and because many believe that media planning strategies and processes have not modernized along with marketing. Challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Consumer-Level Targeting: The media plan must understand consumers at a granular level to determine what types of messages resonate with them, requiring in-depth analytics.
  • Platform Preference: Brands must also know the various channels and platforms that target audience members engage with and when. This will allow them to effectively choose media on which to run campaigns. All of this must be done with budget and media spend in mind.
  • Heavy Budget Focus: Media planning continues to revolve around budget rather than customer engagement. There is limited flexibility in a budget and plan to allow marketers to course correct as campaigns run and new insights are discovered. Modern media planning requires the flexibility to allocate budget to different channels if they prove to be more successful.
  • Integrating Measurements: Because there are so many channels online and offline, it has become infinitely more difficult for marketers to measure the success of these campaigns alongside each other to determine which are most effective and which should be updated.

Today, media planning has to adapt to focus on the consumer experience using flexible budgets and real-time, unified measurements that allow for media plan optimizations in-campaign.

The Essentials of Creating a Media Plan

Creating a media plan is a detailed process that requires planners to consider the needs of target consumers as well as the goals of the business. Here are the essential steps and considerations marketers must make when creating a media plan.

Determine media goals and objectives

It might be easy to assume that the goal is to drive conversions or engagement; however, that would oversimplify this step. Goals may vary by department, or there might be multiple objectives for one campaign. For example, for the sales team and sales goals, increased revenue is the objective. However, marketing objectives might be to increase brand awareness. Knowing the main goal of the campaign will determine how it runs, as well as messaging.

Once clear goals are established, media planners must conduct research into market trends and the competitive landscape. This research will offer visibility into where similar brands and goals have achieved success in the past, informing planning decisions. For example, perhaps a brand has long relied on email campaigns but research reveals that competitors have had greater success with native ads. This demonstrates how the organization should shift its plan.

Of course, when determining goals and setting objectives, media plans must factor in budgets. However, marketers should try to avoid assigning strict dollar amounts to specific channels. Rather, a flexible approach to marketing budget will allow for optimizations to be made as campaigns run.

Determine Target Audience

Marketing today is driven by creating positive customer experiences. This means that when developing messaging and selecting where to display those messages across the media mix, marketers need to be focusing on specific audience needs.

First, marketers need to examine which segment of the overall audience they are trying to engage. From there, marketers need to look at attribution measurements and engagement analytics to understand the types of ads these users engage with, which creative is most effective, and importantly, which channels these consumers use. While marketers often consult demographic information such as age, location, general interests, etc., they should be sure to incorporate person-level data gathered through a unified measurement approach to get the most tailored results.  

Frequency & Reach

Another key component of a media plan is considering reach and frequency. Reach refers to how many people the campaign will be in front of over a specific amount of time. Frequency refers to how many times the consumer will be exposed to the ad over the course of the campaign.  

There are a few popular approaches that marketers take when selecting frequency.

  • Continuity: This approach to frequency means that ads will run on a consistent schedule over the course of the campaign: for example, two ads per week. This strategy is often used for goods that are not seasonal and require regular reinforcement to stay top of mind.
  • Flighting: “Flights” refer to internment or alternating periods of advertisements followed by pauses in advertising on the channel altogether. This strategy works well for seasonal products or for those with less ad budget. For example, when there is a pause in a flighted television campaign, marketers may choose to run print ads instead.
  • Pulsing: This is a combination of flighting and continuity. Pulsed campaigns will incorporate low-intensity consistent advertising that is augmented by flights of higher-intensity ads during times when additional messaging can have a high impact.  

Selecting the Right Media

Goals, audience, reach, frequency, and budget all contribute to the ultimate decision of which media to invest in.

There are a variety of online and offline channels for marketers to choose from, and they must use the information they gathered in the research and goal-setting phases to determine which channels will bring them the most success.

Here are some of the most popular channels that marketers choose when media planning, along with their attributes.

Offline Media

  • Magazines
    • They have a long shelf life and often stay in a consumer’s possession for two to four weeks after being read.
    • Information in this medium tends to be retained longer, since people read faster than they can listen.
    • Research has shown there is a higher amount of trust in magazine ads than in other forms of media. Consumers are also less resistant to these kinds of advertisements, as these often tie in with their interests.
    • Publications tend to be very targeted (e.g., running magazines or cooking magazines).
    • They reach a secondary audience in addition to the target audience, since they are passed along to family and friends.
  • Newspapers
    • When selecting this medium, marketers can choose which section of the newspaper ads are placed for further targeting. If they want to target those interested in fashion, they can select that section of the newspaper for their ad.
    • Newspapers have a desirable audience for many marketers. Consider the following:
      • Newspaper readers are more likely to have higher education and earn a higher salary. This can be important when selecting ad space based on demographics.
      • The older the demographic, the longer they will spend reading the newspaper.
    • Advertising with local newspapers is a great way to ensure a brand’s message stays local.
  • Radio
    • Radio ads have a local appeal, allowing you to target specific areas or regions of the country.
    • It is an easy medium to build frequency with your target audience.
    • According to research, exposure to a radio ad and time to purchase is the shortest of any medium. Additionally, if paired with other forms of media, the overall campaigns were more effective.
    • This tends to be a lower-cost medium.
  • TV & Cable
    • This media is highly visual and can demonstrate products in everyday life. For example, if you sell a cleaning product, consumers can see the benefits of your product and how these can be applied in their home.
    • This is very pervasive, as the average American watches approximately five hours of television a day.
  • Out of Home
    • Media such as billboards are large and get attention. In a busy area, your message can reach 10,000 people in a month.
    • Out of home isn’t limited by billboards, only your creativity is. It is an extremely mobile option. (e.g., using displays to advertise luggage at an airport)

Online Media

  • Digital Publications
    • Many digital publications have opportunities for you to email their database through a personalized email or newsletter.
    • They can track open rates and understand conversion rates to your site or asset.
    • These are often specialized publications, making it easy to reach your target audience, and are great tools for lead generation campaigns.
  • PPC
    • Advertisers can capitalize on search intent.
    • Advertisers can retarget people who have visited their site.
    • PPC is an extremely cost-effective medium.
  • Social Media
    • Like PPC, social media is an extremely cost-effective medium.
    • It is also extremely targeted, allowing marketers to target by interests, age, marriage status, etc.
    • Social platforms are constructed on a basis of community, which allows your brand to connect more personally with consumers. It also gives your brand the chance for content to go viral.
  • Programmatic Advertising
    • Programmatic advertising is extremely targeted, using an algorithm to find and target specific audiences across digital platforms. When looking into this, there are two methods to consider:
      • Programmatic Bidding - uses demand side platforms to buy ads on the digital market based on target audience.
      • Real-Time Bidding - allows advertisers to bid on impressions to their target audience. If their bid wins, the ad is displayed right away.

Media Planning Tips

As marketers being to strategize on new media plans, they should keep these ideas in mind:

  • Reach: Select outlets and times that will best reach your target audience. For example, buying ad space during a live televised event (such as a sports game) ensures that viewers will be watching the program live and not fast forward through the commercials.
  • Establish clear goals: Is this a branding campaign, or are you looking to generate leads? How many people are you looking to reach?
  • Engagement: How do you encourage people to talk about your brand? Make sure creative has clear direction on what would resonate with this target audience based on demographics and viewership. Additionally, make sure you have a way to test the effectiveness of creative.
  • Attribution Models: Make sure that your team is using a marketing attribution model that can effectively track offline and online media. Using the right attribution model can ensure your team is making choices that make sense when planning media.

Additional Tips and Resources