42. Ivan Pejcic, Strategic Planner

Strategic Planner for Ogilvy, Ivan Pejcic has +9 years experience inspiring outstanding advertising campaigns while acting as a truth-keeper and diving into the consumer’s mindset and understand how consumers feel and interact with the brand.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? My job is to put truthfullness into the advertising process as well as a creative spark. I’m there during the initial meeting with the client to ask questions. Then, I research and prepare the brief – the starting point for every campaign.

Granted, most of the time planners aren’t involved in tactical or business-centric campaigns such as “30% off promotions” or slight adaptations of already existing advertising campaigns that don’t require a strategic brief. However whenever there is significant money, and branding reputation involved, this is when strategic planners step in. 

Once the brief has been completed, I present it to the creative director and then to the creative team who will be working on the campaign. Good creative directors have seen so many briefs, and have seen so many advertising situations that they instinctively ‘know’ when a brief is inspiring or not.

How do strategic planners research and prepare a brief? The main responsibility of planners is to dive into the consumer’s mindset and understand how consumers feel and interact with the brand. Some  brands have their own in-house marketing and consumer studies department, so I’ll begin with their research and analytics. Also, organizations such as TNS Sofres and Ipsos, to name a few, conduct studies and compile the information into reports that are available – some for free and some through a membership account.

You could even go directly into the street and talk to passerbys within your target demographic. One agency actually rented their brand’s car, drove 1,000+ miles around South America to experience it, and took notes to nourish their branding strategy.

Nowadays brands and agencies don’t have that kind of time and money at their disposable to create such a branding strategy, but it just goes to show you how important an in-depth branding strategy is to the success of any brand and advertising campaign. 

Do strategic planners remain actively involved in the advertising process after the brief is finished? I like to work closely with the creative team to exchange ideas and give them additional relevant information to guide their creative thinking. The creative process should be creative, but within the confines of what will most effectively touch people.

That being said, it can happen that during the creative process the central objective(s) outlined in the creative brief can be forgotten, which could cause the final project to go off rail. So because the strategic planners’ job is to inspire outstanding campaigns while acting as a truth-keeper, in a perfect world strategic planners are involved in every step of the campaign process.

What major topics do you cover in your strategic branding?  There are many ways to create a branding strategy depending on the context: Is it a new brand? Is it an established brand wanting a re-brand? Etc.

However, some major sections you should include are:

1. The Context. Brands may seek out new branding strategies for many reasons:

  • An issue with their product or product line
  • A bad reputation among users or in the press
  • Prices
  • Etc.

Therefore, the first question I ask is: “What is your brand’s main problem/objective? What is the problem you want to solve?”

Ogilvy asks an important question to its clients: “What is it about your brand that keeps you up at night?” This question helps me uncover the important issues driving the brand’s goals, which helps me know where I need to focus my attention.

2. The Objective. Next you should define a clear, concrete, and actionable objective.“Changing the mind of the consumer”, for example, is too generic, and isn’t active enough. Brands need to know what precisely you want your consumer (potential or already loyal consumer if you’re preparing a customer relationship management campaign) to do:

  • To make a change in the consumer’s life?
  • To purchase your product more often?
  • To step into a store and to take your product into their hands?
  • To give you their email address and contact information?
  • To taste your product for the first time?
  • To share your product with their friends?

For example, people don’t really ‘get’ the modern hybrid car because it’s not quick enough, it’s not a real car, etc. So a the hybrid car company’s main concern is to convince consumers to ‘at least give it a try.’ Studies have shown that for people who try a hybrid car, the conversion rate is much better than that of regular cars.

So in the case of a hybrid car, it will not help the creative team to create an advertising campaign aimed at increasing sales, even if increasing sales is our final goal. Instead, the more specific objective for the campaign should be to get the consumer to “Just try it.” This is a minor detail, but that clarification in the foundation of the brief changes the entire course of the advertising campaign.

But you can’t just simply ask consumers to try it. Instead, say something that entices the consumer to try it. Your end result: more sales due to a high conversion rate is the same, however the underlying message is significantly different.

3. The Strategic Message. Building upon your context, define your brand’s strategic message. What does your brand want to say.

There is a really good ad for toothpaste saying that “you could say anything with a smile” and that’s true.

Now, a generic and uncreative tagline for toothpastes would be “A perfect smile.” But this tagline applies to 100% of the toothpastes on the market – there is no superior value from this claim. So for a toothpaste to claim “You could say anything with a smile” makes for a much stronger position to build an advertising campaign on and allow the brand to stand out from it’s competitors.

So determine exatly what your brand’s competitive advantage is and how this advantage makes sense to your consumer.

4. The target audience. Who exactly are you going after? What is the brand’s current general perception of the target, and how can you discover and take advantage of opportunities with the target audience?

Additionally, there is cultural insight to take into account. The “Generation Y” Millenials (Those born from the late 70s to the early 2000s), for example,use image to define themselves, and they don’t want brands to provide them access to content anymore because they have by their own choice access to content. Millenials want to be curators of information rather than just consumers.

Today’s youth view content such as music as a form of free public service. So business models that charge for access to content isn’t as lucrative or acceptable today as it was in the past. Brands must take the changing generation’s beliefs into consideration.

So consider the cultural barriers preventing the consumer from hearing your message. Because we know Millenials are looking to be curators of information, brands can reach them by helping them shine socially.

For example, if a brand wants to convince its younger target demographic to use their product in a new way, something their research had revealed most younger people don’t do, then I would research and then brief the creative team on the young people’s (the target demographic’s) current habits.

For example:

  • What time they generally leave work and hit the bars.
  • What are the touchpoints they use.
  • Do they check social media for private messages from friends or text message invitations to parties, or Facebook to see what events are happening that evening as they leave work?
  • How do they commute from work.
  • While in commute, do they check the news on their phone or read the available newspapers, or do they listen to music with their earphones on? etc.

Gathering this research allows me to build a stronger creative brief to ensure that our creative team will reach the target audience precisely when they are most receptive to receiving the brand’s message.

Once you’ve defined the consumer’s path, it might be a good idea to include any existing creative campaigns that use the same touchpoints your research uncovered to make your brief more inspiring.

5. The message tonality. Is your branding message intended to be funny, professional, mature, serious, etc. That’s an important answer you have to have. 

6. Client limitations and constraints. Clients may impose limitations such as creative limitations, legal issues, time constraints, or to be shot or filmed in a desert…

7. The form. Is the advertising campaign a television commercial, radio spot, digital, a magazine spread or print ad, a mobile application, etc.

Then you can enrich your brief with any number of additional things, such as:

8. A hands on experience. Construct a typical consumer’s journey – “A day in the life of” – from the moment your product/service falls into the conscious awareness of your potential consumer to when the consumer actually tries your product out to when the consumer becomes a brand ambassador of your product. What are the steps involved?

Walk yourself step-by-step through the consumer journey to better understand how consumers think, any sticking points that prevent the consumer from engaging with your brand or product more deeply, and how your branding strategy and advertising campaigns could address those sticking points.

As a rule of thumb, don’t put too much information in your creative brief because too much information and facts can actually hamper inspiration and creativity. For creatives, keep your brief to one page max.

In my experience, the best briefs are when the creative team leaves the brief meeting with ideas already in their head. If your brief is boring, or leaves the creative team with more questions than answers, or worst, demotivated, then your creative brief was a failure. Include just enough information to spark creativity- you should be able to accomplish this in one page.

The clients, however, is a different story. The strategy you present to your clients should be longer and with much more information, facts, and case studies so the client understands and is convinced.

What happens if the creative director disagrees with the advice of your creative brief? This is bound to happen, and it can be a touchy subject because it raises the question of whether advertising agencies create ads to meet the client’s objective versus creating advertising to win the agency awards. Advertising agencies want the best for their clients, and they want to win awards, because brands want to work with award-winning ad agencies. 

In a perfect world, an advertising campaign will both solve the brands problems and win the advertising agency awards. Some brands, however, don’t like taking risks with thier image and prefer the ‘tried and true’ methods to advertising. Those creative briefs don’t typically lead to award winning advertising campaigns.

As far as the strategic planner is concerned, most of the time the brief is neutral from the award. What the strategic planner strives for is creative and effective. If you can’t balance those two dimensions, then you aren’t a fully-rounded strategic planner.

Some ad agencies focus on creativity, but lack efficiency with brand objectives or DNA, which can alienate the brand and make them feel that the agency only cares about winning awards.

Therefore, I’ll argue that the strategic planner’s objective is to create a brief that meets the client’s objective(s) and provides the creative team with the inspiration to create award winning campaigns.

What kinds of questions do you ask clients in preparing their branding strategy? There’s a lot of information available online, so you don’t want to waste time asking the client questions you could easily find online.

Therefore there are necessary questions I ask clients, but the most important thing during the client meeting is to pay attento to how the client answers your questions:

  • Pay very close attention to the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives they use to describe their product, their consumers, etc.
  • Do they speak of coffee shops, single mothers? etc?
  • What makes the client lose sleep at night?
  • What does the client believe is important to their consumers?
  • How do people react and interact with the product?
  • How far is the client willing to go to meet their objectives? Is the client risk-adverse?
  • (If possible) Can you take with you a protype or example of the product/service?

As for a template, in no particular order, and this list is by no means exhaustive:

ABOUT YOUR CONSUMER:

  • What is your target audience?
  • How old are they?
  • How much do they earn?
  • What are their defining habits?
  • Where do your consumers spend most of their time?
  • What is their mindset or lifestyle?
  • Can your target audience(s) be broken down into even smaller niche audiences?
  • What about your product/service would make a consumer talk about it to their social network?
  • How does the consumer interact with your product?
  • Where must they go to obtain it?
  • What is the consumer’s opinion about your brand and its category?

ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS OBJECTIVES:

  • What emotional experience do you want the consumer to have after having used your product/service?
  • If consumers don’t buy your product/service, what would they buy instead of it?
  • What is your unique selling proposition?
  • What is the emotional message of your product/service?
  • Where will consumers be able to purchase/obtain your product/service?
  • What type of font, typography, and logo do you use?
  • How is the product/service constructed?
  • How does your product/service compare to your competitor’s?
  • How does your current product/service fit into the long run of your brand?
  • Can your product/service be broken down into smaller, more digestible, packages?
  • Can your product/service be bundled together into a bigger package?
  • What images could be used to illustrate your brand or product/service?
  • What is your product design and packaging?
  • What is your actionnable business objectives?
  • How many products would you like to sell, etc?
  • How is your product be distributed?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How is your product/service made available to your consumers?
  • What up-sells or down-sells can you offer to offer consumers different purchasing options?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For a slightly more detailed industry analysis, refer to my article How to conduct a basic industry analysis.]

What’s a misconception people have about strategic planning? Most people don’t know strategic planning exists in an agency. Or if they do, they don’t fully understand the scope of what we do.

Some people mistake strategic planning with media planning (simply choosing which media the advertising campaign will be done in). 

I want to do your job, any advice? Don’t be Google planners. Good and specific insight isn’t always obtained from behind a desk or in front of a computer. The irony of this is that most of the time you are behind your desk and in front of your computer. Despite that, you should take the time to try the product, approach people on the street and ask them to try the product and explain their experience and opinion with the product and brand. Be more in the real life because you’re talking about, and trying to market to, real people in the real life, which is more effective. Use real-life as a supplement to your strategy. Pay attention to how consumers touch and feel your product, talk about it, the verbs they use to describe it. What is the user experience? 

Secondly, strategic planners tend get all of the blame when things go wrong, and none of the glory when things go right. Strategic planners aren’t running after awards for their work – there are no awards for strategic planners, therefore your job is to do the best work you can do for your company and your client. The upside is that strategic planning is a small industry; so even if you don’t appear in magazines, the people who matter in the advertising world know you played an integral part in the success of the award winning campaign.

Developing a good reputation in your industry goes a long way for your career.

Where do you go to for inspiration or gathering information?

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? In no particular order:

  • Set realistic goals based on your budget.
  • Starting off, I wouldn’t recommend buying a membership to research organisations; As a small business, you should be able to find enough information about your target demographic for free through Google.
  • Instead of spending money on advertising, why not spend it on strategic planning? For example, one of my colleagues attended the SXSW 2013 conference in Austin, Texas to fill his mind and feel the energy. This would also help you build contacts which could come in handy for you down the road. 
  • Think out of the box, and stay away from conventional advertising avenues, which tend to be rather expensive and highly-competitive.
  • Find Google adwords that aren’t in high demand but still reach your target audience.
  • Consider spending it on a public relations campaign.
  • Take a cultural trend already shared by many people and capitalize on it. For example, think of how many companies took advantage by doing the Harlem Shake at their company by including their website and logo in the video.

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