May 18, 2022
A lot has changed in the last 50 years, but one thing has remained relatively the same. That’s how people think. In 1974, the JWT Planning Guide came out. This guide went over the fundamentals of advertising, and it’s still beloved today. In fact, here at Ladder, we also use a lot of JWT’s Planning Guide in our planning framework. As they say, if it ain’t broke…
JWT’s Planning Guide is still really relevant because it goes back to the fundamentals of good advertising. But, whilst it’s rightly revered, a great planning guide can only take you so far. The real trick goes beyond understanding fundamentals, and actually applying that understanding to the specific situation you’re facing - and for that you need expertise and experience. That’s how we came up with Ladder’s strategic planning framework. Here’s how we apply this framework to get successful ad creative that converts, using our three phase planning process.
In phase one of our growth planning framework, our goal is to build an accurate picture of the landscape. First we set out to get as much context as possible, working with each of our clients to understand the answer to one simple question: Where are we now? This includes looking at the market, users, competition, and creative approach. Here’s what that looks like:
We want to set the table to understand just what’s happening with their current advertising plans. When we look at the context, we look at a few specific things.
In our advertising planning framework, knowing who uses your product or service is especially important. Without a target demographic, your planning will come across disorganized at best and shallow at worst - but either way, it won’t drive growth. We seek to answer these questions with our clients.
In today’s world, where it’s never been easier to order a product online, there are more competitors than ever. When we look at competitors, there are really three categories we’re interested in. First, it’s your replacement competitors, competing to solve the same problem for consumers with a whole different solution. Then, it’s your indirect competitors, those who offer similar features and benefits but sit in another category. And third, it’s going to be your direct competitors, the ones who have a very similar product to yours. To figure out who your competitors are and how this can affect your marketing plan, we ask these questions.
Finding your competition is important. At Ladder, we use all sorts of tools to identify your competitors - your competition won’t always be where you think. We talk to the product experts first - the client. Then we dig deeper, looking at behavior online using social listening, and get targeted with industry reports and trends. But the client is incredibly knowledgeable here - You’re living this daily, so your input is hugely valuable to our team. We then take this information and use tools like our product management comp matrix (shown below). This can help you see where your target market is.
Your creative review is a look at what you’re doing now, what has worked in the past, and your brand fundamentals… things like brand guidelines, style guides, tone of voice and initial learnings from anything you’ve already run.
We then define the next steps. These include a defined/clear SOW, additional information that is needed from each client, and a review of the overall marketing calendar - clarifying how our activity fits in. We’ll conduct research based on where we see gaps or potential opportunities and start to build out working hypotheses.
Our phase 1 is delivered through internal and external meetings and core research, but we keep it quick so ideas are fresh. Here’s our schedule of client meetings:
In phase 2, our goal is to take what we’ve learned in Phase 1 and ask ourselves “why?” and ultimately “where could we be?”. We need to understand what is causing the status quo and how we can use our strengths to disrupt it. This is where we deepen our understanding of the key problems. Included in this phase are these steps.
So, why are we here? Why is our client with us? Once we’ve gotten all of the info from phase one, it’s time to analyze and figure out our next steps. At Ladder, we use a variety of different tools to solidify our research, including off-the-shelf market research (GWI), social listening (Meltwater), desk research, and other bespoke reports as needed. We seek to answer these key questions:
We look at the users overall. This includes a deep dive into the current customer base and the future customers our client hopes to have. We look at:
Now that we know why we are here, we have to figure out where could we be? We sit down with our information and analyze where we think we can get our client to. We go over value propositions, user insights, and more. We seek to rank the problems we are solving and look at the highest impact and lowest effort problems to solve in the short term. We also consider what we want to know one and 3 months from now, so we can appropriately design tests to help inform future decisions. It’s important to look at each of these questions:
In our final stage, we set the strategic marketing plan. This is how we summarize our key findings and plot for the next quarter. The important thing is to focus on our northstar and design a plan comprised of tests that build towards that goal. First, we come up with our quarterly strategic plan.
Each quarter, we should focus on a small set of key business problems and the related human problems. It must be clearly communicated. We can approach different issues on a quarterly basis as problems we are trying to solve are steeped in our data and campaign findings. They must however be in-line with the overall strategy.
It’s important to be ambitious but realistic. We should prioritize the problems we face and the opportunities we see. Ask yourself, which part of the funnel needs to be prioritized? Our advice: you could spend forever fixing your tracking problems, so if you’re new to this, build a basic user journey (funnel). This will help you to start learning about where you are losing people and not waste your time trying to build the perfect tracking set up. Tracking is valuable, but inaction while you wait for perfect tracking is costly - you need to get to a “minimum viable tracking” to make sure you can get the most important data you need for decision making.
Once you’ve come up with the plan, how do you know it actually works? By testing it. Our testing framework is another important part of the planning process. We need to balance short term objectives with a longer term vision. We know that the efficacy of our ads fades over time, so we need to be ready with the next big idea - that’s why we’re constantly asking ourselves, where will we be in a month?
How much smarter will we be in a month based on the test that we've designed today? Our overarching goal is really to be smarter and more advanced with each quarter, meaning our clients are getting more leads and turning more leads into customers. Are you struggling with creating a strategic plan for your advertising? We can help. Connect with us today to talk to a strategist.
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