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Digested Read: How (Not) To Plan, Section 1.

New year = new ventures – in my case, this includes a series of digested reads, with a focus on ad strategy books. I'm kicking it off with the APG's How (Not) To Plan.

Firstly: the book is already a digested read, so this will be the super-distilled version. I'll tackle it section by section.

Section 1 is all about Setting Objectives.


"Effective communication starts with agreeing with your clients what it's supposed to do. [O]ften, this stage is rushed, fudged, based on flawed thinking or skipped altogether."

1.1 How (Not) To Make a Plan

The authors talk about how "marketing objectives [...] have lost their grip on reality." However, "there is evidence from the IPA Databank that better objective setting leads to more effective campaigns. Best practice is to identify exactly what business results you want. And exactly what you need people to think, feel, and do to deliver those results." Also? "A campaign can't deliver unless it reaches enough people [nor] outshout[s] the competition."


  • Set and agree SMART objectives

  • Start with business / commercial objectives (targets for sales, profit, marketshare, etc.), then set marketing objectives (e.g. customer numbers)

  • Check if the marketing objectives can deliver the business objectives (recalibrate if not), THEN set the comms objectives (who's your audience and how can you influence them?)

  • Ensure the budgets are sufficient

  • Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each objective - these will be the basis for evaluating performance

Comments: This seems kind of basic to me - but there's probably a reason why it needs to be emphasized...

Case study - 2016 John Lewis IPA Case

The ultimate aim here was to keep permanent employees ("Partners") happy, and the commercial, marketing, and communications objectives were all developed to deliver this, with clearly linked KPIs.

1.2 How (Not) To Define Your Competition

Chasing ROI and efficiency, two competing ice cream brands moved away from "big" advertising to digital – and were ultimately losing market share to smaller competitors.

Why? Because "[w]ithout big, famous advertising, the public started to forget about these two brand leaders [...] despite product improvements."

This "Mephisto Waltz" often takes place when two big brands "become so obsessed with competing with each other that they become mirror images [...] making it easy for challenger brands to sneak in."


  • Track market share, not sales, as a more accurate performance metric

  • Look at long-term trends – "the movements that really matter often take place over years"

  • "Markets are less segmented that you think"

  • Competition is linked to size (bigger brand = bigger threat) EXCEPT if it's lots of small brands

  • Look beyond your category to anticipate "disruptive" competitors

  • Don't think niche and grow your category

Comments: Having read ahead, there are definitely recurring themes running through this book– e.g. about how markets aren't all that segmented and how scale matters.

Case study - "Financial Services Brand"

A company looked at short-term sales but not long-term trends – and lost ground to competitors.

1.3 How (Not) To Think About Loyalty

As per the IPA Databank: most loyalty campaigns don't work – if one does, it's likely because it's achieved another objective (viz Tesco and O2). "When brands do grow, it's nearly all through penetration."

Ehrenberg has consistently found that loyalty campaigns don't work, but instead brands listened to consultancies like Bain which emphasize the importance of loyalty despite lack of empirical evidence.

"[C]onventional 'loyalty' metrics, such as frequency of purchase among existing users or customer retention rates, are poor ways to measure the strength of that brand relationship." To maximise growth and profitability, "you need to talk to everyone in your category," not just existing customers "with communication that strengthens people's relationship with your brand."


  • Focus on how your campaign will influence behavioral metrics (frequency, weight of purchase, average spend per transaction, share of category requirement, retention rates, repurchase rates, cross-selling rates) instead of "loyalty"

  • Brands can't succeed because they have a small number of intensely loyal customers - few people are loyal to only one brand, and the loyalists have negligible impact on sales and profit

  • Penetration and loyalty are interlinked and are both aspects of propensity to buy, and they grow together

  • Prioritize penetration - "have creative ideas that appeal to people who don't care about you"

  • Supporting higher prices is more profitable than increasing volume; "price sensitivity may be the best loyalty measure of all"

Case study: O2, 2004

O2's campaign highlighted the service's benefits, ostensibly speaking to existing customers, and achieved 80:1 ROI. However, as the campaign ran in mass media (achieving wide penetration), most people who saw it weren't actually O2 customers - "the main effect was to recruit customers."

1.4 How (Not) To "Convert" People

Many brands have plans to "convert" target audiences to gain them as customers, but this is based on a fallacy: "Our 'beliefs' about brands are nowhere near as stable and consistent as we think" and "most people don't have strong beliefs about brands."

Similarly, behavior patterns are "fluid and messy" and our brand opinions and choices fluctuate depending on our mood or occasions.

"Purchases affect brand image more than brand image affects sales."


  • "Think 'nudging,' not 'conversion'" – make it more likely that people will choose a brand

  • A brand's "buyers" and "non-buyers" probably aren't all that different from each other

  • When writing a brief

    • Avoid

      • Setting objectives like "make people do x"

      • Words like: persuade, convert, recruit, acquire, switch, swap, exchange

    • Do use words such as

      • Remind, associate, feel, nudge

  • Advertising doesn't influence people strongly and needs to be sustainable

  • Don't focus on brand image scores

  • "Target situations and states of mind, not segments"

Comments: This seems very targeted to mass-market goods and doesn't seem to take high-end luxury products into account. Again, the message that advertising is weak and frequency and reach are extremely important is called out.

1.5 How (Not) To Deal with "Alienation"

Don't worry too much about alienating existing customers – this concern is "based on two flawed ideas about how marketing works." 1: people don't have strong opinions about brands. 2: brand users aren't different from non-users.

"Regular, long-term users of your brand are unlikely to defect just because they don't much like a new ad." [Comment: This is an interesting point to investigate]

Their example: Super Noodles repositioned itself from a kids' food to a "post-pub blokes' snack" with "irreverent" ads – but moms weren't alienated and sales among this segment also went up. "Good ads tend to work for everyone."

"Market research overestimates people's resistance to change and boldness, and underestimates 'herd effects'" and fear of alienation "can kill the bold, penetration-gaining ideas that you need for brand growth." (Example: a specific Love / Hate Marmite ad wasn't liked by some of the audiences, but it was bold and became popular.)


  • Don't worry so much about alienating customers but DO think about whether your planned ads are actually offensive

  • "Controversy can be helpful (up to a point) by increasing salience"

  • The authors say "there's no evidence of advertising that has had a negative effect on sales" [Comment: Again, a great one to check.]

  • Be more concerned about indifference than alienation

  • People don't like change but DO like following public opinion

  • Aggressive marketing is the "easiest way" to alienate people, so make your comms appealing, useful, or both

Overall comments: Definite trends and themes are starting to emerge – most crucially the fact that people aren't very loyal to brands and don't care all that much about ads. I'll conclude the series with an overall summary article.


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