Someone recently was e-mailing me back and forth about various aspects of media planning. At one point, he wrote “I guess you will now bring up the topic of Market by Market Planning. After all, you basically made a career of it.” He probably did not mean it kindly. I was not offended, however. In fact, I am proud to plead guilty.
Market by Market Media Planning recognizes a few truths in the U.S. marketplace. The first is that there are 210 Nielsen DMA’s in the U.S. No two are alike. TV viewing levels, Radio usage, cable and satellite penetration and usage vary significantly from place to place as do internet usage and even sagging newspaper readership. If you really want to execute a proper media plan, you must know the markets that you are operating in and you get a fairly tight handle on what the national media that you buy are delivering in each key marketplace.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the most sensitive market by market analysis tends to be done outside of the major agency hubs. How is that possible? Well, if you are plotting media strategy for a client that advertises in 15 markets in America’s heartland, you face a few challenges. You don’t have national media and its great efficiencies and your client’s pockets are not all that deep. But, if you do the proper digging you can level the playing field significantly for your greatly outspent client.
The really good practitioners of market by market planning are intense and real wonks. They know their markets cold. As a result, they do not deliver a media plan. They deliver plans. A very difficult man whom I once worked with paid me the most meaningful compliment of my career in a client meeting. He said, “Don, will deliver you as many media plans as you have markets.” He was not being a salesman. He knew me.
A good market by market approach often starts with a BDI/CDI analysis. It is pretty straight forward although many young people are not taught it anymore. BDI stands for Brand Development Index which is local sales in a market indexed to overall brand sales (so if Market X is 1% of the US and you have 1.5% of your total sales there, your BDI is 150). Similarly, CDI is Category Development Index is local sales for the category relative to total category sales. Sometimes, smaller players cannot get their hands on such category data.
As a general rule, you tend to add more weight to markets that have high brand potential and high category potential (the old fish where the fish are thesis). Also, you may want to add to markets with high brand potential but low category potential. Individual analysis is always required.
Then, the next step that many of us used was to provide relative costs across markets. A great case came up in the go-go 1980’s. At that time, Cleveland, the rust belt queen, was approximately the same size in terms of TV households as Houston, a Southwestern boom town. But TV in Houston cost twice as much per household reached as Cleveland. Our client let us add weight in Cleveland and he claimed that we squeezed significantly more cases of out that market over the year. More importantly, the money we saved by not spending more in Houston allowed us to prop up several mid-sized opportunity markets with decent radio schedules. Such opportunities and cost imbalances still exist in 2011 but how many dig to ferret them out?
Market by market focused planners use radio better than most. They look at distribution in each market and the relative costs of each medium in each market. Often, metro radio is a better play if money is tight or distribution not strong across the much larger DMA. When they use TV, they customize a day-part mix for each DMA. Outdoor often plays a larger role or is the sole medium in some markets.
If you execute well in each market, good things usually happen. I know that many of us who embraced authentic market by market activity saved clients millions over the years. How much did we increase sales? Impossible to say but it had to be stronger than a cookie cutter plan that is virtually the same everywhere.
National advertisers should key on market by market considerations as well but few do it well. Many people feel that the network TV or national magazine efficiencies even things out. But, in reality, they do not. Few, if any, products with national distribution have flat sales across the country. Everyone has strongholds and almost every product underachieves somewhere. Also, media delivery is not consistent either. If you buy a 1000 rating points on network TV, you may deliver 1300 in Montgomery, Alabama but only 730 in San Francisco. Many players add weight in the top 10 or top 20 markets. That helps in some cases but they would generally be better served if they did an extensive BDI/CDI analysis, did a relative cost index for favored media, and added the right medium to local markets where it had the best chance of doing some good.
Importantly, with on-line media, a great deal of work needs to be done to reflect market by market projections and their blending with conventional media.
Why doesn’t everyone do market by market right? Well, it takes time. And, today, time is money. Understaffed teams with untrained personnel get people on the air and many negotiate terrific rates. But great costs only take you so far if the messages are not landing sufficiently in the optimal roster of markets.
Has market by market planning disappeared? No, but most people do not go far enough in their analyses. And, the best practitioners, as mentioned above, are often off the beaten path. People in places such as Burlington, Akron, Omaha, Salt Lake and Portland, Oregon are often doing great work for moderate sized clients. Each market gets a truly customized media effort and they have made their client more competitive in a tough environment. Ask your agency about market to market considerations and probe a bit. You may be pleasantly surprised or you may be justifiably annoyed.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at email@example.com