Reframing the Planning Process

Headshot of VMLY&R Commerce US Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Baumann

The annual planning process is a time of year when we rethink previous approaches, promising not to make the same mistakes again. Typically, we lament aggressive timelines yet spend hours combing through secondary research to build our strategic approach. And still, we likely only get to surface-level audiences, targeted with non-category-specific learnings, that we refer to as “insights.”

What if we approach planning differently then? Systematically leveraging available data sources can increase efficiency and category specificity. But identifying the right data sets, and knowing how and where to involve them, remains a challenge.

Reframing your planning process against the following four key questions enables a consistent approach, while still leaving room to explore human truths and creativity in execution for brands to win their rightful share.

1. Who is the consumer?

Build a set of consumer/audience profiles that serve as lanes to journey down at greater depth. Start by investigating your core consumer — both current and potential targets. The current consumer is often where marketers focus, but digging into potential consumers creates new messaging opportunities — and inroads for greater incremental growth. Data sources like MRI Simmons, Global Web Index and other proprietary agency first-party platforms can form the basis of understanding for demographics, psychographics, lifestyle habits and then media touchpoints. These sources also help size current and potential audiences and dollar potentials.

2. What does the consumer say? 

Layer on learning from social listening tools like Infegy and Brandwatch, plus ratings and reviews, to get unfiltered, qualitative consumer perspectives at scale. Round out consumer profiles with qualitative research methods, such as focus groups, one-on-one interviews or shopper intercepts, to uncover preferences, attitudes and usages at a deeper level. This helps brands see various consumption moments, and which categories/brands they consider versus ultimately use for each occasion. Understanding what was ultimately consumed, what was considered and why brands did or didn’t win helps us build winning strategies.

3. How does our consumer shop?

The consumer and shopper aren’t necessarily the same individual, although we often use the terms interchangeably. For example, while Gen Z is a much-coveted cohort for current marketers, only one-third of Gen Z shoppers are 19-plus years old and act as the primary shopper for their households. The other two-thirds are consumers who heavily influence the actual shopper (i.e., a parent). Investigating the shopper that corresponds with key consumer groups helps answer questions like: What’s in the basket? What’s the average trip frequency and trip type for this shopper? Where are they shopping and cross-shopping in terms of retailers and channels? Comparisons in shopping behavior can identify gaps, ultimately unlocking ways to fill them.

4. Why buy? 

Finally, once we know the who (consumer or shopper), the what and the how, the final step is to get at the whys and why nots. Proprietary quantitative research studies can dig into these whys (triggers) and why nots (barriers) to category or brand usage today at scale. By creating look-alike segments against your initial consumer/shopper targets in your research study, you can tie together the above questions to clearly view your target and uncover ways to win. It’s important to discover unmet needs at a foundational level for any given consumer/shopper group, to strategically build the right moments, timing and messaging as you move to campaign execution throughout the year.

Using the insights from these questions will ensure one cohesive, strategic growth plan driving better outcomes for your category and brand.

- Michelle Baumann is Chief Strategy Officer VMLY&R Commerce US

Originally published in P2PI