Media Planning & Buying

The Engagement Pyramid: Turning Media Planning Upside Down

Posted by Tara Walpert Levy on November 29th, 2012 at 10:16 am

As a marketer, there’s one thing that keeps me up at night these days....”Where’s Waldo?” Well, not Waldo, exactly, but it often feels like that. Brands are empowered like never before to find the relatively few customers who really matter - but with all the new paths in front of us, it can feel overwhelming to figure out the best way.

We all have a target audience – our very own Waldo. But how do we find them among a sea of people that have little or no interest in hearing from us? And was the Waldo we set out to reach the only one we should have been looking for; maybe there are other Waldos we never thought about? Once we do find Waldo, how do we learn from him? How do we get him to find and influence other Waldos like him? How do we build a community of Waldos? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we move more people to become Waldos?

If you’ve worked in or studied marketing, you’re probably thinking back to Philip Kotler and the Marketing Funnel. The funnel is how most of us were taught to think about our customers’ journeys.

Most of us agree that in a world of four screens and constant digital content proliferation, the funnel is busted -- yet, we still plan media against it in the same way we always have. We start big and broad with traditional media like TV, print and out-of-home, using them to fill the top of our funnels.  Then, we focus on capturing interest through more active and intent-based media like search or online video.  And, finally, we utilize immersive experiences like our website or store to get to the consumers who actually matter -- the Waldos who will consider and ultimately choose our brand. We prioritize reach to get to engagement.

But here’s the rub -- reach is cheap. It’s the engagement that’s valuable. And -- to add insult to injury -- reach isn’t as cheap as it used to be. With today’s fragmentation, we are paying more and more money to reach less and less of our target audience. Worse, increasingly data shows we aren’t as good at defining our target audience as we think we are.

A recent Catalina Partners study found that “53 percent -- more than half -- of sales volume for the average brand fell outside of their demographic targets.” This suggests that we’re overdue for a paradigm shift in the way we think about media strategy, planning and execution.

Let’s start by thinking about what happens if we turn the traditional equation upside down -- from a “Media Funnel” to an “Engagement Pyramid”. Instead of starting with your broadest reach vehicles and trying to whittle that broad population down to the 5 percent who matter, start with the 5 percent and let them help you make the rest of your plan more effective.

Some advertisers are already charging down this path. For example, Nike has decreased spending on traditional media by 40% in the past three years, even though the total budget has increased. The money has gone to high engagement efforts, speaking specifically to highly engaged audiences at the top of the Pyramid. This strategy has allowed Nike not only to win awards at Cannes but more importantly to gain more share-of-mind among their potential customer base than their competitors.

Nike, and many others realize that audiences are shifting fast. They’re determined not to miss the opportunity to engage younger, wealthier, highly influential viewers who are increasingly online, on-demand, and on-the-go -- many of whom aren’t interacting with traditional media in the same way the previous generation has.

New ad formats that enable consumer choice also help brands better determine who their customers are.  And when people choose, they remember. Marketers can know they are reaching their most valuable audience when consumers choose to view their ads. Instead of reaching 50% of your Waldos, you reach 100%.  You reach Waldos you didn’t even know existed because they’re raising their hands, asking to engage.  All of the guessing goes out the window.  And, by utilizing ad formats that allow consumers to skip ads they aren’t interested in, marketers only pay for the valuable audience that chooses to view.  You never pay for that sea of people who are not Waldo. It’s John Wanamaker’s Conundrum, solved. And through the sharing of your brand’s content, you allow your Waldos to spread your message.

The concept of the Engagement Pyramid starts with surfacing the most likely to engage audiences -- through intent, through choice, through activity.  For some brands, the platforms that deliver these audiences could be owned and operated channels like a website, shelf space or a sales outlet -- for others it could be social media platforms, portals or a subset of digital channels.  This requires a total mindset shift in media planning -- from designing the strategy to figuring out how to measure it.  The ‘engagement’ metric of the next decade will become much more important than the GRP.

So, plan for 2013 with the Engagement Pyramid in mind.   Put the most likely to engage audiences - and platforms - at the center of your planning. Take advantage of media and ad formats that let people choose your brand to ensure you are maximizing your interactions with customers. Use digital signals of early advocacy and insights to enable you to to inform and enhance the rest of your media plan.  And finally, shift your budget to channels where you can measure your cost per engagement. Actively manage engagement metrics by setting objectives for them.

This is the recipe for a more creative, more productive, more exciting future for your brand and your business. This is the way for you to find and engage more Waldos.

One Response to “The Engagement Pyramid: Turning Media Planning Upside Down”

  1. Dave says:

    Good article. I like to use Pinterest as a good example. The founders didn't set out to make a website where 80% of their users are women sharing pictures of fashion, style, decorating and recipes but that's what it turned into. Now they know how and where to connect with their users. Communities, both virtual and real have a life of their own. Marketers need to understand that.
    Getting to know your customers is a very worthwhile investment. And I'm sure they will appreciate it.
    This may be of interest also -

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