I work as head of strategy for a content marketing agency. My background is in brand and comms strategy. I’m a planner at heart. And I was asked recently what makes a good planner.
It’s an interesting question. For me, it’s not an understanding of research – although that helps. It’s not the ability to pull insights out of data – although again that’s useful. I think the starting point for any good planner is knowledge.
The mind is an amazing thing. As we grow and learn, we acquire knowledge, and we access that knowledge as and when we need it. What sets the planner apart, for me, is the ability to make connections between those pieces of knowledge. To be able to instantly understand and contextualise social and cultural references. It’s a real skill and one that’s difficult to teach – because it relies so strongly on being widely read, widely experienced, widely travelled, and being a bit of a multi-disciplinarian academically.
I’m making it sound rather high-falutin’, but it’s not, really.
Because to be a good planner you have to ‘get’ both high and low culture. Your record collection – if you still have one – should stretch from Girls Aloud to Verdi and stop off everywhere in between. You have to understand, and even try to enjoy, The Voice, not just bury your head in HBO box-sets. You have to have spent, and enjoyed, a long weekend in Bonnie Doon and not just spend your weekends doing boutique hotel city breaks.
In behavioural economics, the paradox of choice talks about two types of consumer – the maximiser and the satisficer.
The maximiser is the expert in a field – and purchases products that signal that expertise to others. She wears rare or vintage labels. She eats only at the newest, most hard-to-find restaurants, before they become big. She goes to far-flung places on holiday. Her product choices define her and set her apart from others. The aim is to outdo her peer group.
The satisficer on the other hand wants nothing more than to fit in. To avoid products that are rubbish, or products that make him look or feel foolish. For satisficers, good enough is good enough. They’re not using their purchase behaviour to compete, but to conform. The satisficer is likely to buy whatever record his friends are buying, shop at whatever clothes shop his friends are shopping in, and read whatever book his friends are reading. He’s motivated not by choice optimisation, but by risk aversion. And this is a) much more powerful and b) much more prevalent in society as a motivator.
Now, here’s the rub. Planners are likely to be maximisers – maximisers, after all, research their purchases to make the optimal decision. But if you’re to be a good planner, you have to, I think, even in your personal life, learn to appreciate satisficer goods. You have to widen your cultural and consumerist intake to include them and appreciate them. Most brands shouldn’t be built with the maximiser in mind, and yet we spend a lot of time looking for the differentiator, because we’re naturally maximisers ourselves.
I’m getting a little off topic, because I originally wanted to write here about Google’s Knowledge Graph.
It strikes me that Google’s knowledge graph is starting to encroach on the planner’s turf. Right now, it’s important that we’re able to retain lots of cultural and social knowledge and make quick connections between them in order to find the killer insights for creative to build on. But it’s relatively well documented that the internet is making us forget stuff, and now with knowledge graph, it not only retains knowledge for us, but allows us to both retrieve it easily and make intelligent connections between facts.
Now, it’s not perfect. But it’s getting better all the time. And if we’re not careful pretty soon an intern with a laptop and no experience of life whatsoever will be able to do what it previously took years of a life well lived and experienced to achieve. And that will really take the fun out of it all.
Richard Parker is head of strategy at Edge.