Marketing is a field that is constantly in a state of flux and it’s never more obvious than when you look at the way we practice the profession today in relation to what it was like even as recently as ten years ago. Thanks to the rapidfire growth of e-commerce and the widespread adoption of online and digital marketing, businesses today have a much bigger audience to cater to – but it comes with a much bigger challenge. For online businesses to actually connect with the people they want to connect with, they need to plan out their strategy very carefully.
That’s where media planning comes in.
Table of Contents
- What is media planning?
- Why is media planning outsourced?
- Do you need media planning?
- Who is media planning for?
- Pros of media planning
- Cons of media planning
- How do you start media planning?
- How do I start creating a media plan?
- Do I use media planning or media buying?
- What are the best channels to use for media planning?
- The Best Proven Media Planning Tips
- The best media planning tools to use
- What else do I need to know about media planning?
What is media planning?
Media planning, in the context of social media, involves scheduling your posts according to when your target audience is most likely to see them and when they’ll make the biggest impact.
It’s normally outsourced to marketing agencies or marketers who really know the audience that you’re trying to reach, and it takes several factors into account – from what kind of person you’re trying to speak to, when is the best time to post for maximum engagement and ROI, and how to achieve the best possible results for your brand.
Why is media planning outsourced?
Media planning takes a lot of research. You need to know your audience. You need to know what platforms they like, how they’re most likely to respond to a message, what sort of offers will appeal to them on social media, what time they’re active on social media, and most importantly, what they would ignore or actively avoid.
A lot of today’s audiences are on social media because of the easy access to brands they support and like. However, getting through to those audiences can be difficult because of the constant conversations that are happening on social media, which can lead to advertising fatigue and messages from the brands they want to support getting lost.
That’s why outsourcing your media planning to marketers who have the time and expertise to actually put behind the research is a good idea – however, it can absolutely be done in-house if you want to do it yourself.
Do you need media planning?
Media planning has always been important, even when brands advertised through TV, newspapers, and billboards. Today, it is an absolute necessity and an essential part of running a successful business both online and offline. Not only does it get your name out there, but it also helps you create a calendar of content that you can cycle through so you never go quiet and risk losing audience attention.
Who is media planning for?
Every company benefits from media planning, though smaller enterprises might find that some of the options for media are outside of their budget at the moment. Media planners don’t focus exclusively on online or digital media planning, although digital is having a moment right now – they focus on every sort of media available, including legacy channels such as television adverts, magazines, newspapers, and even billboards.
That said, there is no barrier to entry for media planning. If you can budget for online or digital media, you can absolutely plan your upcoming posts to maximise your benefits.
Pros of media planning
Besides the obvious advantages of media planning, such as greater ROI and improved brand awareness, there are several other benefits that come with media planning that will help any business stay on track:
Better processes overall
To accurately plan your media, you need an idea of what it takes to produce the content. Media planning works in advance, so you have ample time to get all your processes in place and improve your effectiveness through all areas of the business.
Target the right audiences
Much of media planning relies on having a laser-focused awareness of what kind of audience will best suit your brand, and to keep track of that audience throughout the communication process. As a result, your messaging is never misaligned and you’re always targeting just the right audience.
Optimising your content
If you know exactly what your audience responds to and when they’re online to respond to it, you can create content months in advance, clearing up time and space for you to work on other aspects of your business.
Cons of media planning
The biggest problem with media planning is that it is time-consuming. From researching your audiences to staying up to date with trends to constantly running and re-running tests, there’s a lot of time involved in media planning that might take you away from working the way you do normally.
Here are some other issues with media planning that you need to consider before deciding on what’s best for your brand.
A lot of what resonates online does so because you see an ad in the right place and at the right time, and a big aspect of media planning is remaining sufficiently up-to-date with trends and audiences to know when that right time is. To leverage most benefit for your brand, you need to know when the right time to post is: too early, and you hit the peak season, maybe at the height where your message gets drowned out. Too late, and nobody is looking for the product or service you’re selling.
Most of the time, a media planner who has been working in the industry for some years has their information gathering patterns down pat. However, for someone starting out, this can be a lot to build up from scratch.
A good media planner has to know the following:
- The audience that the brand is speaking to – what are their ages? What do they like? Where are they most likely to spend their time online?
- What tone of voice or brand messaging is likely to resonate with that audience – do they like posts speaking about bargains? Are they more interested in posts that explain the product or creative approaches that put the product in new light?
- What are the current marketing trends that can affect the brand message? As trends change yearly, it’s important to know what the predictions are before you plan out your content. Putting out content that doesn’t fit in with marketing trends isn’t necessarily a problem, however it will limit the reach and the impact of your messaging.
This part can be done in-house, however it requires constant research to maintain the most relevant and up to date information. It’s especially important if your brand is mostly online, as the idea of what is relevant online changes rapidly.
This isn’t just a case of posting content on social and letting it run its course: there are different metrics that media planners test for to achieve the goals that clients set out.
A number of tools exist to help make this easier, such as Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Buffer, Quintly, and so on – however, the tools are only there to aid you when you know what you’re looking for. If you don’t have an understanding of the market around you, gauging whether a post is doing well or poorly might be difficult even with all the tools in the world to help you, and you might also struggle to see how best to improve a post that is performing poorly if you don’t know what’s going on in the wider marketing sphere.
Achieving success on multiple channels.
Chances are, you probably communicate through multiple channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok – not to mention the offline channels, such as magazine advertising, TV, and radio.
Different channels will require different content, or at the very least, a different content plan to make the most of the channels that you use. Each piece of content posted to different channels will yield vastly different results, and success will look very different depending on what goals the business has set. A campaign that focuses on vanity metrics, such as impressions, will look very different from a campaign that is focused on conversions, and so no content plan will truly fit all your available channels without amending certain aspects of what you’re posting.
Not all brands will be able to afford the high budgets that are necessary for wholesale audience engagement, so sometimes a sacrifice has to be made. As social media veers increasingly towards pay-and-play frameworks, just throwing money at the problem of marketing doesn’t quite mean that your message will be listened to – and sometimes, the budget to do that just isn’t there.
The solution is easy: marketers and media planners can work on an effective marketing campaign that doesn’t use huge budgets. Impactful, low-budget campaigns can yield just as much payoff as more expensive campaigns, and by being careful with your budget, you can eke out your spend to last for what really matters. There are some campaigns where higher budgets are warranted, but there are always ways to make the most of a campaign, regardless of spend.
How do you start media planning?
Media planning always seeks to answer a ‘why’.
Say you have a brand. That brand wants to sell a greater number of its products or services to a particular audience, so it takes out an ad on social media and boosts it to run frequently. Within a week, the brand notices that the ad has not had its intended effect; in fact, numbers have dropped.
A media planner looks at that scenario and breaks it down into four separate parts.
- Why? – the marketing problem at the root of media planning. In this case, it would be ‘why are we not selling at the volume we thought we would?’
- How? – once the problem is identified, how do we go about solving it? What does the client want to achieve, and how do we get to that stage?
- What? – what can we use to achieve that goal? What do we need to know before we do – for example, do we need an idea for budget or target audience?
- When? – when do we actually need to implement this plan? What are the strategies we need to start implementing this plan, and how can we get the biggest value for what we want?
In general, all of these questions can be solved through a media plan. By isolating the steps we can take, we can see how each moment leads into the next, and use research and analysis to determine the goals of each individual stage.
How do I start creating a media plan?
There are dozens of media plan templates available online, and they will all roughly follow the same pattern as the others. If you’re interested in creating your own, there are a few steps that you need to follow in order to make sure that you create the best possible plan.
Here’s the steps you need to create a media plan that can support all your goals.
1. Set media goals and objectives
What do you want your brand to achieve through media planning? Do you want better reach? More ROI? Do you want to bring in more customers? Do you want to advertise a particular deal or product? A lot goes into the early stages of a media plan specifically because you need all that research behind you to go into the next step. You need to know what the landscape you’re advertising in is – for example, are you primarily speaking on social media? Who are your competitors in that field? What’s the best way you can approach your marketing issues?
You have to fully analyse the brand: the environment it is in, the clients it attracts, the conversations it can spark, the audience it is speaking to, and the primary competitors it has. Once you have those answers, you can set quantifiable, achievable KPIs and goals and move from there.
2. Set a target audience
Every brand has an audience in mind when they communicate, and media planning needs to know what that audience is. Audience definition is crucial for a media plan as it defines the message that the business will send out – a message which might not reach the right people. Different audiences can react differently to messaging, and you want to make sure that your messaging reaches the right people at the right time to have the biggest impact. Target audiences, however, require researching – but once you’ve put in the effort to set your media goal, finding your target audience will not be a complicated endeavour.
Some questions to ask yourself are: who will this product appeal to? How will the messaging come across? What media are they most likely to spend time on? What times will they likely be online?
Once you have the answers to those questions, you can build your target audience into your plan, working on their habits and their likes and dislikes.
3. Set the timing and the frequency
If you post every day, there is a likelihood that your messages will be seen – however, there is also a chance that your messages will just fall on deaf ears, as posting regularly could encourage your audience to ignore you. Different media will require different frequencies due to budget and other considerations – for example, if you take out an ad on the radio, it might be expensive but you might have to pay for it to run far less than if you pick out a digital or social media ad.
You also need to pick when the ad will run. This will be determined by your target audience: after all, you need to post in a way that makes sense for your audience, whether that’s 5PM on a Friday or a continuous loop of ads over the weekend. There are a few timing patterns you can opt for:
- Continuous – this means that the ad will run on a consistent schedule, so say Friday to Sunday. This works best for products that have a lot of competition, and which need the extra boost of recognition it takes to remain top-of-mind.
- Intermittent – this means that ads will run seasonally or when needed, which works well if you have a product that is only in stock for a limited time.
- Pulsing – ads will run consistently but for short bursts of time. It increases recall and builds relationships with your clients.
Your audience might not see your message if you don’t think about the reach first. The reach of a campaign will be primarily determined by your audience and the content that you are posting. If your content is very generalised, then you might want to target a more mass audience in order to get the message across, or you can focus on attracting niche audiences through specalised and specific messaging.
5. Conduct market research
You’ve researched your audience. You’ve researched your buyers. What remains is to research your market: the place where you are going to sell your product or service. Here, you’ll focus on your competitors: what are they doing with similar products? How can you provide a service that is even better than theirs?
Do I use media planning or media buying?
Media planning and media buying are both very important aspects of your campaigns, and while they can seem similar, they’re actually completely different and happen at separate points of the campaign.
If you’re using media planning, then you are focused on strategy and media, and you’re developing a plan for your brand to increase ROI based on a number of budgets. Your ultimate goal is to reach the largest number of people at the lowest possible cost, which also means that you need to pick when your messages are advertised.
Additionally, media planning is constant: constant planning, constant monitoring, constant review and optimisation. The content has to remain front and centre of every communication effort and evaluated based on a number of factors and as plans change. The effectiveness of the campaign will depend on making adjustments to the plan along the way to build a foolproof campaign that will help you to achieve your goals. .
On the other hand, media buying follows on from media strategy by putting the plan into practice. Media buying focuses on buying inventory across channels to actually carry out the media plan.
The role of the media buyer is to make sure that they create and build relationships with media vendors and media specialists. Although automating your media buying is a popular choice, you might still want to opt for a specialist who can narrow down what you need to the smallest customisation.
Media buyers also monitor the ad performance and monitor it from a technical perspective so that any adjustments can be made in accordance with the media plan. For example, if posting at a specific time is yielding a different result to what the media plan suggests, then the media buyer can suggest changing the plan so that people post at that time rather than the original stipulated time.
What are the best channels to use for media planning?
The best channel to use for media planning is the one where your audience is. Media channels are split into offline and online channels, and the way that they are selected is determined through audience research. Regardless of which channel you opt for, they both have pros and cons to consider.
Offline channels consist of television, radio, billboards and outdoor advertising, newspapers, and magazines. They are highly effective and persuasive, however it is difficult to track the impact of an offline campaign as a successful online campaign can look very different to a successful offline campaign.
A successful offline campaign should lead to increased sales, increased website traffic, better leads, and more sales – however, this is not always the case.
To use offline advertising, you can opt for:
- Newspapers – very good for targeting locals, newspapers are also read by a specific demographic, and if that happens to overlap with your ideal audience, there are dedicated sections of the newspaper that you can opt for to maximise your ad’s impact.
- Magazines – while another print medium, magazines tend to be seen as more of a luxury product than newspapers, and consumers can keep them for upwards of four weeks. Each magazine is tailored to a different audience, which makes it easy to pick the one you advertise on. Similar to newspapers, they also have a tailor-made audience, one that might be actively looking for products related to the magazine’s subject which can make the audience more inclined to follow ads.
- TV/Cable – although most people are on streaming services right now, there is still a substantial amount of people who look to television for their entertainment, and that makes them prime audiences to look at. Visual ads that highlight the product can do very well on a medium that champions crisp video and beautiful imagery, and consumers might be more inclined to look into a brand that they can see moving.
- Radio – this is an especially good medium if the product you’re selling is part of an established brand and not much groundwork needs to be done to introduce the brand itself. It’s an excellent, low-cost way to reach the local audience, though bear in mind that language barriers and the reduced use of radio can limit your potential audiences.
- Outdoor media – every advertising campaign that sets up shop outside of a consumer’s house (such as billboards, road signs, bus shelters, shop windows, and car wraps) can be very effective if done at the right time, however it might be difficult to refine targeting as much as the above. It can be very expensive to run, though depending on the location, thousands of people a day can see the campaign.
Online channels comprise of social media, programmatic advertising, digital publications, and ppc. A lot of brands have increasingly moved to digital platforms for advertising or worked on creating a hybrid advertising platform, and this does not seem to be changing any time soon. The benefit of advertising online is that the channels that you use are easy to track, and measuring the success of a campaign can be very easy once you decide which social media platform you are using.
- Social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, BeReal, TikTok: everyone is on one of these channels, and some people are on multiple. The bread and butter of online advertising, social media channels can be both highly targeted and highly tracked, making it the easiest way to dip your toe into online advertising. It can be a relatively low-cost way to reach a dedicated audience, however bear in mind that many brands are also advertising on social media, and advertising fatigue can be a real problem for a brand to overcome. Social media is great if you want to build a brand that has a community feeling.
- Programmatic advertising – otherwise known as gaming the algorithm, programmatic advertising isn’t just limited to social media! You can use programmatic advertising both to buy ads on the digital market or to create a bidding war between advertisers based around their target audience.
- PPC – if you’ve seen anything to do with Google Ads, you’re already familiar with PPC. Pay-per-click (PPC) can be either search ads – which show up on the search engine result page – or display ads. Both target specific audiences and interests, making it highly specialised and easy to measure. That said, it’s incredibly competitive, and might be difficult for your brand to make any kind of lasting impression. Search PPC in particular is aggressively bid on, which means that this can drive up the cost of keywords that you need to use for your brand. Small budgets can struggle to work with these monetary limitations as a result.
- Digital publications – similar to magazines, digital publications are targeted to niche audiences, and it is excellent news for advertisers who really want to target people with a particular interest.
The Best Proven Media Planning Tips
The best media plan is the one that works for you – however, there’s a way of making sure that you start on the right track. Here are a few essential tips that can help you when it comes to creating the perfect media plan.
- Always answer your questions: every media plan sets out to answer the ‘why’ of a brand problem, and to do that, you need to question everything you’re doing. By questioning every step of your plan, you make sure you stay on track to achieve your goals.
- Set goals: every media plan needs goals to focus on. There cannot be clear and measurable solutions otherwise, so make sure that you have a single goal that you can focus on, and one that you can boil down to a single sentence.
- Understand your audience: your audience is who you’re trying to cater to and reach, so understand who they are as intimately as you can. Understand what they like, what they don’t like, and how they can benefit from your communications.
- Build a personality and a voice for your brand: If you want your brand to stand out, there’s a lot you can do with a distinctive brand and personality; not only will it make your brand memorable, it will help you to create recall with your audience.
- Create a content journey: You have to know how consumers are going to find your ads and what action they will take once they do. It’s good to understand your customer journey from the point of the consumer as you can quickly identify any weak points.
The best media planning tools to use
Using media planning tools will help you to build a media plan that can guide you and help you build a seamless plan from start to finish.
There are a ton of resources to help you create a better picture of your intended audience, industry, and competitors, but some of our favourites are:
- GlobalWebIndex – the biggest database for digital consumer statistics, with powerful analytic tools and free reports.
- Edelman Trust Barometer – free reports that help to keep track of the latest trends in consumer trust.
- Data Reportal – global analysis of social media and social media usage.
- comScore – online planning resource that evaluates media usage and ad spend across platforms and countries.
- AhRefs – keyword research platform that identifies what the most trending keywords are for a particular industry or product.
If you’re going to work on multiple platforms, having a tool that can help you streamline your campaigns and monitor for insights is far better than manually monitoring all campaigns.
- Buffer – a web and mobile app that helps you pre-schedule and manage posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
- Hootsuite – a social media monitoring tool where you can manage multiple social networks and profiles and measure their results in one place.
- Loomly – helps you to create, optimise, and preview posts and ideas as well as allowing you to schedule your posts directly from the app. You can track the performance of everything you post via Loomly, and see how you’re doing.
- ContentCal – a mapping software that gives a visual element to your ideas, and makes it easier to track your projects. It uses automatic posting and workflows within the platform itself, allowing you to keep all your images, schedules, and campaign plans in one place.
- DYNO Mapper – a content planning tool that can help you create content and integrates with Google Analytics so you can have a deeper understanding of your customers.
We’ve broken down two of the most popular project management tools, Asana and Trello, in another blog – however, there are several others that can prove just as good. Our favourites are:
- Notion – a hybrid content-planning/project-management tool that allows you to assign tasks, create calendars, and has a very visual element. It can sync seamlessly with Google suite tools.
- ProjectManager – a project manager tool that uses Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and a dashboard where you can follow your content plan’s details.
- Airtable – a spreadsheet and database programme that allows you to keep track of multiple content marketers or collaborators on your team. Airtable has tools and features that are designed for content planning.
What else do I need to know about media planning?
It may take time for a media planner to see a definitive change in the way that their campaigns run. Given the longevity of most media planning campaigns, what we can recommend is that media planners take their time and tweak their plans as often as possible to see about getting the best benefits.
You can download media planning templates to help you develop a solid media plan to follow. Some of our favourites come from Hootsuite.
As always, you can always outsource your media planning to a team like Switch who can absolutely help you decide what sort of media planning you need.