A month or so ago, respected colleague Nick Hirst won Gold in the 2012 Admap Prize for his article ‘Experience the future’. It caused a bit of a stir at the time and got me thinking about a few things myself, especially about how his ideas might be realised. I also did a lot of talking to Mark Hastings, who influenced some more of the thinking here.
There he is
To paraphrase Nick: There are two broad flavours of Brand Planner; the ‘conceptual’ and the ‘programmatic’. Traditionally the former would be found at a creative advertising agency thinking up the positioning behind slogans like ‘just do it’ and ‘every little helps’, whilst the latter has come from the world of the media agency, a bit more focussed on numbers, reach, and that kind of thing. Whilst they have both had their merits over time, there are gaps and missed opportunities in both ways of thinking, resulting in a current situation where media agencies are pitching creative work and ‘big idea’ agencies are bringing senior numbers people in to brand strategy teams.
But Nick didn’t think that either cross-pollination was really going to answer the emerging problem.
There’s a growing school of thought that has understood that we experience brands over time, in places and in different contexts. We build our relationships, as Paul Adams also says, through “many, lightweight interactions over time”.
The answer, Nick suggested, is that a form of Experience Planning becomes the future of Planning.
I agree. For a good few years now my personal grapple has been trying to understand where in an organisation I can most effectively ‘design’ how people and organisations interact. It’s something I’ve written about before. Luckily EP at Dare seems to be the right place for me.
Planning could say this if it was a person
But despite the perceived flaws, Brand Planning is a decades old discipline which has generated the stand-out communications ideas of our time, and it must continue to do so. What I understood from Nick’s piece was that these ideas need to be thought of now not as slogans, but as portable and flexible (please excuse this) ‘brand essences’ that people can engage with in a variety of contexts.
So arriving at something like a ‘customer experience objective’ in the first instance could go a long way towards answering this. From there you could brief everything in a far more creative and innovative way, as you look for ways to communicate an experience or feeling rather than a specific endline. Some are already doing this of course, in the shape of things like Gorilla and Apple.
But I’m not sure it would be exactly right for people who have so far focussed in Brand Planning to simply transition into becoming Experience Planners. Essentially I think it’s too much for one person.
The Experience Planning world has amassed years of know-how in things like User Experience, research, lab testing, and all of that stuff, and now we’re increasingly applying this digital thinking to ‘real life’ communications situations. We have this ability to go from high-level customer needs and experience objectives right down into specific moments and interactions; we use our understanding of technical underpinnings, aesthetics and user behaviour to guide people through often complex situations.
The complexities of life helpfully illustrated by this junction in Swindon
Each of these situations will be determined by a whole load of societal and brand-factors which as Experience Planners we absolutely need to understand. But I would argue that our skillsets shouldn’t be diluted by trying to develop our own techniques for uncovering and interpreting these factors into usable insight; that’s what Brand Planners are already awesome at.
So for the time being my proposal would be to explore teams of planners, just like creatives do. Brand and Experience Planners working together. Of course there will be crossover in thinking, and as we move forward and our disparate histories become more intertwined we may find we share similar spaces. Often the copywriter will contribute a visual idea, often the AD will have ideas on how the copy should work. It’s a discussion between a well-tuned team that results in a solid creative idea.
With the Brand/Experience Planning pairing, the opportunity is to work up solid long-term strategic objectives for entire brand experiences, which are simultaneously aware of market/demographic factors and behaviour/usage patterns. There are implications in terms of budgets and timelines, but the time saved in not re-establishing objectives and briefs across the life of a client would hopefully negate a lot of them.
So that sounds to me like a good way of setting ourselves up so that we’re making the most of both of our skillsets without diluting them, learning from each other, and keeping each other in check so that the experiences we create keep customer needs at heart.
What do you think?