The Return of the Planner – Part 2 of 3

In my last post, I talked about how in the early 2000’s, we saw the end of an era for planners. In the previous few decades, planners at the great agencies were respected, sometimes vaunted beings. Often, they didn’t originally come from advertising per se. They were sometimes academics (sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists) but more often they were artists, such as documentary film-makers, or journalists, or just plain eclectic, interesting people.

What great planners have in common is insatiable curiosity. They ask “why?” relentlessly. Why are people willing to pay $5 for a cup of coffee? Why do they ignore certain products and brands, and go wild over others when the functional benefits are the same?

And they also ask “who” questions, as in “who is really making (or influencing) the buying decisions when it comes to this product?” and “who are our real customers? Do we really have the right target audiences?” Who and Why questions are the very basis of everything that makes a planner a planner. The”How” is not less important, but it involves many different specialists, from digital media to traditional tacticians.

An account planner can be an introvert or an extravert. But he must be intuitive. Planners who are deaf to what customers are really saying behind their words or actions – are not worth their salt.

His methods can be more cerebral or solitary, or highly participatory with his team and the client. But he has no choice but to engage with customers. Whether this is through focus groups, ideation sessions, interviews, site visits to retail and other environments, or simply through observation of human behavior in real settings, the planner must be an insightful observer of human behavior. And deeply interested in understanding the emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions behind these behaviours.

Because without understanding all of this, how can one consistently change customer behaviour to the benefit of our clients?

And preferably, the planner should then have the skills to articulate these observations and insights that persuade creative teams and clients, in a way that result in crucial “aha” moments. What good is an insight if you can’t convey it in writing and the spoken word, both formally and informally?

– W.