By Juan Isaza, Strategic Planning VP DDB Mexico
Very often, advertising students and young practitioners ask me what you need to know in order to become a good strategic planner. It appears that in our universities, there is a very clear guide for those who want to be on the creative side or the account side. However, planning is still a dark area discovered only by those that come to work in an agency, maybe because they see how it works in the real world but rarely because there is a formal description for the position.
I would not able to describe scientifically what someone needs to know in order to become a good planner. Actually, it is very difficult to craft a definition of planning. I remember some years ago when we were trying to create the Colombian chapter of APG, we dedicated one of our first meetings to asking everyone what they did. It was incredible. We were a group of people all with the same position in different agencies and we all did different activities. Some were the quantitative support on figures and information, others coordinated the research projects, still others wrote brand stories or moderated focus groups. Some had an Anthropology background and others were fascinated with neuromarketing experiments. It seemed we all came from different planets.
The interesting thing, though, was that we all had something in common: That curiosity for understanding human behavior and the interest in finding new insights about a group of consumers and trying to find a unique path that would connect consumers and brands. That was when I understood that the essence of planning is the obsession for finding a new point of view, a unique thinking. It can be about a brand, about a marketplace or about a consumer. We were all obsessed with finding the best fuel for creative ideas. And then I understood that we had something else in common: We were all aware that in our hands was the responsibility of triggering the creative ideas. Almost all of us confessed that our job was inspiring the creative team to have a better input for creating better solutions.
The planner who wants his/her strategy to outshine the campaign is not a good planner. S/he might be a wannabe copywriter. I think that if strategic thinking does not make for a better creative idea then it is useless. No consumer sees the Powerpoint presentation. Consumer contact with the brand is through executions. The strategy goes on behind the scenes as a springboard. In diving, no one sees to the diving board but to the diver. The same happens with strategic planning: It is to make the creative idea bigger, more impactful and, obviously, more assertive.
I say that everything I know about planning I learned from Bill Bernbach, the man that is considered the most brilliant advertising mind of the 20th Century. However, even he was never considered a strategic planner at the time (the discipline was being born in the UK at that point). He always had that superior capacity to find the connection between consumers and brands. Bernbach used to say that "At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his actions, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him". He taught us with these words what any strategic planner needs to know about consumer research: It is necessary to go further and understand what is behind peoples' words. In another one of his famous sentences he taught us what any person that wants to understand consumer behavior needs to know: "We don't ask research to do what it was never meant to do, and that is to get an idea".