Complexity is the new normal, says Facebook’s Planning Director, Ian Edwards, as he explores the necessity of communications strategy. This essay originally appeared in WARC’s Future of Strategy 2018 report.

The media world is getting more complex. The fragmentation and complexity mean it is increasingly hard to be a 'generalist' planner and be effective. For someone to be able to build a media plan the ‘comms planner’ needs to have a good understanding of how a media channel works to deliver against a specific communications objective.

In digital channels there may literally be thousands of different advertising products available, which are then coupled with an endless list of ways to target these products to the ‘right’ consumer. This makes it very difficult for a generalist to know how best to use an individual channel to deliver against a communications objective.

Complexity requires expertise

The role of comms planning at Facebook is to work with agencies and sometimes clients directly, to deliver best practice as part of a broader mix of marketing channels. Facebook and Instagram are rarely going to be the only channels on the plan, so the challenge is to show how our products work as part of the mix and then help guide best practice within the platform. The need for comms planning at Facebook (and other digital platforms) reflects two changes in the industry. Firstly, the increased complexity requires experts and practitioners to really understand the opportunity new technology is affording advertisers. The amount of sub-optimal spend on digital media is mind-blowing and agencies need to find ways of getting the practitioner's view into the early stages of channel planning.

The second change is around the planning process. The concept of an annual planning cycle where a client essentially commits millions of pounds of spend before an ad is seen by a consumer has always raised questions.

These huge bets made by advertisers based on imperfect data (such as focus groups and surveys) need to be overhauled. A key focus of comms planning at Facebook is how advertisers can iterate on what works when it hits the real world, based on actual consumer interactions and then scale this on our platforms and also into other channels.

Understanding effectiveness

We have a small team of comms planners currently, but increasingly we spend our time focusing on understanding the principles that drive effective advertising both on our platform and on other channels at a category level. This comes from three main sources, the first of which is academic marketing theory.

Secondly, through our measurement partners and establishing meta-analysis along with these partners to see what is working consistently. Then finally, at a client level, we establish detailed learning agendas which look at what is working for individual clients and producing case studies to help highlight best practice.

Delivering the best returns

The current profile of comms planners at Facebook is people with 10+ years planning experience, who have a very strong grasp of the theory and have worked in multiple categories throughout their careers. Our focus is to be an extension of the planning teams and work with the planning community to simplify best practice and hopefully ensure that investing with Facebook is as effective as possible at delivering business outcomes.

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