There is a strategic transition being driven by a divergence between standard planning approaches and emerging best practices. The standard approach suggests plans are set in stone and that every element will perform exactly as anticipated. However, even the best-laid plans can go awry and optimization becomes critical.
A typical communications campaign planning process includes the following overarching steps:
- Establish objectives and plan parameters
- Plan development
- Plan execution and monitoring
Once plan development is complete, the end result typically includes a flowchart showing tactics and where every penny of the budget is spent for the campaign’s duration. Plan optimization can sometimes fail to extend to offline tactics due to perceived challenges with measurement of non-digital elements. All forms of communication in the plan can, and should, be held to a higher, more measurable standard and be subject to the same level of scrutiny. Taking a more agile approach to planning, like optimization-based planning, can be an effective way to overcome these challenges.
Emerging Best Practice
Optimization-based planning means you go into a planning cycle with the intention to test a variety of tactics, and only the initial measurable time period for a campaign is planned and purchased, such as the first one to two months of an annual campaign. The budget balance is then set aside to reinvest into the most effective tactics or disciplines after the first cycle of reporting. Those that don’t meet specific performance criteria are eliminated.
There are many benefits to optimization-based planning:
- It allows a team to plan in an integrated fashion and levels the playing field for all disciplines beyond traditional and digital media, such as social, public relations, inbound and account-based marketing, to contribute. Though metrics and measurement capabilities may be slightly different across tactics, a method to compare performance across tactics is essential (and possible!).
- Budgets are not tied up in non-cancellable media contracts or other out-of-pocket costs. By formalizing plans only for the initial time period, the budget is not restricted within any tactic. This allows the team to modify the plan to concentrate spend on the efforts driving the most efficient results. The flexibility to focus on results or react to unexpected competitive situations increases.
- Results and efficiency improve over time, often at a much stronger pace than typical planning approaches. If there is a tactic across any discipline that is driving conversions at a much stronger and cost-efficient rate, there is freedom in this approach to reinvest into that tactic.
Optimization-based planning can drive results for brands across categories and budget sizes due to the incredible amount of flexibility provided. Follow these best practices to take full advantage of optimization-based planning:
- Secure complete upfront alignment from all stakeholders on KPIs and elimination criteria before any purchases are made. Critical to this aspect is to ensure every element can be measured.
- Set a firm deadline by which the initial optimizations will be made – and stick to it.
- Establish a format for integrated campaign reporting that includes every discipline, including owned, earned and paid elements.
- Set aside a portion of the creative development budget to make modifications to assets during the flight so top-performing messaging can be incorporated into remaining plan elements.
- Identify an optimization process owner. While each subject matter expert will monitor and make recommendations for their respective disciplines, this process requires an ultimate owner to lead overall campaign stewardship. The owner must ensure all elements and optimizations are properly timed, executed and that measurements align.
- Have client and agency teams communicate on a frequent basis. This is perhaps the most important factor for success.
The key to optimization-based planning is to take a holistic view of all marketing efforts and establish a clear set of performance expectations upfront. With a proper foundation and strong team communication, you’ll be on your way to your next successful campaign.