2021 WARC Awards for Asian Strategy judge, PHD Shanghai’s Cynthia Zhang, writes of the importance of balancing brand and performance within audience-centred media strategies.

Media strategy development is evolving from media optimisation to audience optimisation. Everything we do starts from analysing consumer insights. We try to illustrate and segment the audience by groups and then deep-dive the culture, industry, market and media insights that trigger consumer behaviors. It is an overthrow of the traditional way of doing comms planning.

The balance of brand building and driving performance perplexes most marketers and results in a debate on budget allocation among different channels. Brand-building media like TV, magazine and OOH are facing the challenge of conversion and trackability, while overly heavy investment on performance media like e-commerce can lead to the decay of brand health indicators. Thus, finding media strategies that can balance brand and performance KPIs has become a task in most client briefs.

The connecting power of TV 

From a communications perspective, TV is not only a big screen, it is a hub that connects audiences in family occasions.

Culture wise, watching TV after dinner constitutes the typical family time, where family members get together to watch, chat and discuss. The content shown during this period is easier to be talked about and triggers actions. And the big screen itself brings a better watching experience that triggers stronger desire and preference.

The importance of social functions

Young people today are grouped under different communities and tribes. ‘Social’ has become an attitude: the word ‘social’ itself is a function in all media channels, and channels that enable better social functions win a larger audience.

Therefore, media which enable stronger social functions will win the future channel share and play a bigger role in the media mix. Nowadays, the development of news, video, music, e-commerce, financial channels etc. is all working towards the enablement of a social function. And among all these channels, short videos and e-commerce are definitely ahead of the game.

On the other hand, social media is like a hub that connects all media channels. Whenever people see something new and impressive, they post on their social accounts immediately - it could be a fancy product, an OOH innovation, a piece of news, or a show. This requires marketers to make their campaigns and products bold, outstanding and naturally talkable. 

Balancing brand and performance

At the heart of every media strategy is consumer insights. We group people who have similar beliefs and habits towards some specific brands or products, then label them with different culture tags.

Each one of this year’s winners has unique and exclusive consumer insights based on its own market and culture. Some of them are about gender equality, others about social and environmental factors. What they all have in common, from the perspective of the target audience, is a core thought-provoking point, leading to their own single-minded proposition. 

I have always believed that good consumer insight is a magic weapon that can help campaigns succeed. When all human beings and people in the global village are concerned about a certain trend and change, it will become the best opportunity to create a campaign that can affect many people in the world and arouse resonance. 

One example that left me a deep impression is Ariel’s Share The Load campaign, as it combined deep audience insight with smart media planning that balanced brand and performance. In India, laundry was viewed as a woman’s job and unequal sleep had gone unnoticed. The core idea of Share The Load stemmed from the superior stain-removal properties of the brand, making laundry so easy that anyone could do it, not just women. 

After five years of award-winning comms, the challenge for Ariel was to exceed the success of its previous campaigns by delivering results on gender equality and ultimately leading growth for the brand. 

On World Sleep Day, the brand launched a TV ad called ‘First to wake up and last to sleep’. Then, to make the conversation more mainstream, it invited over 70 influential bloggers to discuss the topic, partnered with a popular YouTube influencer and launched #WorkFORHome across social channels. 

Finding the right synergies

Today, most traditional media are in the middle of a digital transformation, with data and tech development enabling us to get to know our audience better and do better audience planning and strategy development. Still, when it comes to TV, it’s important for brands to think about the role of this media and the synergy that can be built with other channels. The three priorities are:

  1. Finding the core target audience;
  2. Defining the consumer journey; and
  3. Syncing TV content with digital and social content.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC's 2021 Asian Strategy Report.