Analytics is Strategy / Planning is Not

For a long time, I’ve been working in advertising under the moniker “Analytics.” I’ve done so at agencies that specialized in “lower-funnel,” “upper-funnel,” and everything in between.

What I’ve come to learn is that Analytics is Strategy. Only in advertising do we have the idea of “Strategists” who don’t consistently use data to back up their thinking.

Of course, this makes me That Guy. The one that’s pointing out something everyone knows intuitively, which they selectively choose to ignore because it’s not the way things are done. Meaning, it’s not the way things are scoped.

If you’re doing Strategy without Analytics (data/numbers), what are you doing, exactly? Everyone else uses math: McKinsey, Ideo, Facebook, Google. Only in advertising do we think our Strategy is a different beast than Strategy as these organizations take it. (they’re succeeding, btw)

I’ve come to realize that Strategy needs Analytics, but it’s different than Account Planning. Historically, Account Planning has revolved around taking “small things,” human insights, and making them feel bigger and campaign-worthy. “Got milk” is a classic example, pulled from qualitative focus groups. In the past, this was enough.

Strategy, on the other hand (as people outside of advertising understand it) is about making big things small, approachable, and actionable. It’s about helping marketers tap into & influence the large trends that are affecting their brands, and about architecting cross-channel communications approaches that will be effective. It’s about modeling in their entirety, the efforts in a $30MM-100MM brand advertising budget to ensure the best chances of success. It’s becoming a lot more important.

Of course you need Data & Analytics in Strategy as I’ve described above. But many agencies have Planners as Strategists (and as CSOs). Now, hear me be fair: this can work. There are some Planners turned CSOs I’ve worked with who’ve demonstrated the ability to transcend & learn, and my hat’s off to them. But there are many more who think the art of Strategy is one of getting along with our industry’s “creatives.” Sometimes these people want to be Creative Directors themselves. All the creatives I’ve worked with tend to like rigorous strategy, and analytics alongside it. They want to learn and improve. Who wouldn’t? What they don’t like are 50-slide “planning decks,” with lots of clever verbiage but no logical anchors, no direction, and no plan in sight.

As an industry we’ve done a poor job at quantifying our value, and acting as trusted advisors to our clients. As a result, we’ve let management consultants edge in on our work while allowing procurement to negotiate our services as if we’re office chairs and legal pads.

I don’t have the answer, but I know part of the problem. The industry needs to become more strategic. First and foremost, to understand the difference between strategy & planning. Secondly, to commit to modeled measures of success and have honest conversations about what’s working and not. Thirdly, to quantify the break-through impact of quality creative in clever, inventive ways (I have a few).

Lastly, to recognize Analytics as a step in the right direction — not the wrong one. When you’ve got quality Analysts you’ve got a meaningful aid in delivering quality right-brain thinking. And getting paid for it.