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It’s Time For Your Media Planning To Focus On People

4 minute read | Jay Nielsen, SVP, Global Planning Products, Nielsen | February 2021

If you’re still planning your media the way you did a year ago, you’re a bit late to the party. Just like it has done to everything else, COVID-19 has thrown traditional media norms for a loop, forcing a massive reset amid rapidly evolving consumer behaviors. So in that way, banking on yesterday’s data and processes to succeed heading into 2021 is a recipe for dubious budget allocations, missed opportunity and wasted spend.

The depth, breadth and duration of the pandemic will have lasting effects on consumer behavior, as many of the shifts that have taken place over the past 10 months have now solidified into full-fledged, ingrained habits. Advertising, unsurprisingly, paused during the height of the first wave of lockdowns, but media usage skyrocketed. Shortly thereafter, media engagement normalized to seasonal levels, but the share of time spent with platforms and channels had shifted. Those shifts, and the ones ahead, are what brands need to be on top of—so they can appropriately plan and optimize their spend accordingly.

With change coming more quickly than ever, planning and optimizing might seem like a dizzying prospect. It absolutely doesn’t have to be. Importantly, brands need to re-focus their efforts on people—the north star for any marketing message, advertisement or campaign. Additionally, they need to maintain that focus 24/7, not just once or twice a year. By focusing on people and approaching the planning process continuously, campaign efficiency and effectiveness will assuredly improve.


The marketing landscape has many nicknames for people: audience or customer segments, consumer groups, targets. By adopting a people-based lens, marketers can set aside words with variant meanings and focus on truth. Syndicated third-party and first-party data alike need to work together to ensure that campaigns are effective and successful. That success hinges on people, not impressions, devices or bots. Connections with real people have never been more important, and marketers who design their planning around people, then adjust to changing behaviors and habits, will reap the benefits for years to come. The connections marketers make with their customers will be true, authentic and meaningful, and so will their bottom lines. 

Unlike in times past, modern marketers need to adopt agile practices and stay nimble. Static marketing proposals and plans based on data from six months ago are no longer viable for successful media planning. Pandemic aside, people change, as do their behaviors, so media plans need to be able to follow suit. To accommodate uncertainty, fluidity and the unforeseen, brands should use a flexible and continuous framework for all media planning.

Media planning process


In thinking about ways to remain people-focused and continuously planning, brands should use the same demographic profiles across their software solutions to ensure that their planning and buying stays accurate. This requires broader collaborations across the media landscape, yet facilitates true connections between targets and plans. The days of relying on spreadsheets are over. Data-driven solutions help marketers connect the same key demographic from refinement to optimization to buying. Specific demographics are just that—specific. So when data isn’t connected or aligned, it’s very easy to confuse moms who are shopping for SUVs with women aged 25-54 if all you’ve got to go on is a spreadsheet. Both groups are similar, but similar isn’t good enough anymore. For example, if you’re aiming to reach women 25-54 in your media buying system and you accidentally substitute the right value for moms shopping for SUVs, your target reach will be off. 

When your systems are connected, accuracy and efficiency will improve—without question. Time is another benefit. When a marketer loads competitive intelligence data into a reach and frequency planning system, brands can optimize a previous schedule for a future scenario with a click of a mouse. 

The future is people. Center your plan on people, plan around people and connect your data around people. That’s the blueprint for media planning success, and the data, complemented by an agile approach  to it, will pave the road for effective marketing plans today and tomorrow—regardless of any unforeseen uncertainties.

For additional insight, view the recording of our recent media planning webinar with Forrester. Or if you need help with your ad spend and media planning, you can learn more about Nielsen’s Ad IntelClear Decisions and Media Impact solutions.

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