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What Brand Planners Sound Like

A month ago we blogged about the proliferation of planners. There are account planners, brand planners, digital strategists, engagement planners… with new breeds being born every day.

We asked planners to respond to these questions:

1. What kind of planner are you?
2. What questions do you solve and how do you solve them?
3. Why are you uniquely qualified for this role?

Michele K, a strategist at one of the large network agencies, replies:


I think this is an interesting question that deserves to be thought out better for the industry. Because it is so fragmented, it’s confusing and young planners might not know what they’re getting into, or what they’re supposed to be doing.

I believe that it’s a matter of what drives a planner as a person vs. what role they fit themselves into.

For example, there are definitely the guys that can crunch numbers and find meaning with big data. I believe these guys are fundamentally different from planners like me.

I am a brand planner but consider myself a creative strategist. I work for creative over client. I want the creative to solve the business challenge yes, but I think it’s more important for the creative to be breakthrough so people actually give a shit and give up 2 seconds of their attention span to make a perception difference.

What drives me is unique, fresh, cultural and behavioral insights. The problem with those is that for emerging trends, or something new, there’s not a lot of big data or research to back those brand spanking new perspectives, or you could call them hypotheses.

I think more and more, gone are the days of the gut planner. I think a lot of planners got into it because they are intrinsically aware of emerging trends and what moves culture. Which has it’s flaws for sure. I can understand why a CMO wouldn’t want to put his millions on the line against a strategy that some 20-something year old “believes” is totally sick dude.

As you can tell I’m more of a qual girl. I like going out on the streets, talking to real people, impromptu focus groups, and the like to get my perspectives. I think the gut planner is being replaced by the data planner because that’s where the world is going in general. Why take a leap of faith when you can test it first? Makes sense. But I do believe she/he still has their place. Depends on the project, client and relationships with creatives.

My start as a planner was at a small creative shop. So I may be biased in my training. Everything was scrappy and on-the-go. Not a lot of money for big research tools.

I’ve moved on to a big agency known for it’s planning chops. It’s the opposite. Money for research tools, but don’t have the nimbleness for the scrappy creative research (so far).

While culturally I think I fit better at the small agency, I think that I was hired here to bring that type of planning and push the boundaries of client/creative relationships. It’s good to have the data guys and the gut guys working together.

I think my unique qualities lie in my thinking, which is a pretty soft skill to take into other areas, but fits really well into planning. I have the ability to consume a lot of information in a day (I read/watch/listen to everything on the internet every day it seems; from food culture, sports, feminist blogs, bro blogs, film sites, tech sites, NYTimes, The Onion, BuzzFeed, fashion, music, science, NatGeo, poetry, whatever. you get the picture) and create an image in my mind of what’s going on with culture that day. That sounds vague. It’s the end of the day and the caffeine is wearing thin. But what I mean is that I see the big picture, and I find new thought provoking insights/hypothesis/conclusions about people and culture. Is that a skill? I’m not sure. It’s more of a trait. It’s like being that stoner that has important things to say about nothing in particular.

Not a lot of people have this ability. Or maybe they do, but they just can’t communicate it (which is a whole other skill I won’t get into.) It might not seem important, but if it helps give creatives something new and interesting to say about a product that hasn’t changed in 30 years, it’s enough.


[Jen:] I was so delighted with Michele’s reply, I asked her this follow-up question:  

What are the most critical questions I can ask to judge the skill/aptitude of a brand planner?

I think the type of person a planner is is important. Are they humble? Are they insightful? Are they empathetic? How are their storytelling/presentaiton/speaking skills? Those are things you can tell from a conversation, but I believe these are key characteristics. Planners that know too much, say too much, or need attention or credit for “having the idea” are no bueno.

It depends on the client/agency what type of planner they are looking for. But critically it will be about how they see things. Planners that are dead weight are ones that make obvious observations. If you feel like you’ve learning something from a conversation with a planner than they’re probably the sage type you want on your team.

Good questions might be, what books have you read most recently. Tell me about them. What’s your favorite book and why? Where do you think “client category/product” will be in 10 years with all these changing technologies and societal norms? What’s the most interesting shift happening in culture right now that most people haven’t identified yet?

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