Medium to large-sized advertising agencies divide their work into various departments, traditionally splitting functions into interacting with clients and looking out for their interests (account management), buying advertising (media), and creating advertising (creative). The importance of the voice of the consumer has grown over time. Around the 1980s US ad agencies introduced a new discipline from the UK called account planning which became a primary function in most US ad agencies in the 90s. Account planning brings the consumer into the process of developing advertising.
Account planners have often been called 'the left side of a creative brain'. Their primary function is to find consumer truth and insight that helps the creative teams to create work that is not only entertaining and highly memorable, but that is relevant to the consumer and effective in the marketplace. Creative ideas that drive business are more typically the result of a strong collaboration between creative teams and account planners. Account planners (sometimes also called brand planners and strategic planners) use primary and secondary research to inform their strategic thinking and are ultimately responsible for the work that informs, and the penning of, the creative brief. If the creatives are closest to the idea, and the account manager is closest to the client, the account planner is closest to the consumer. The account planner is the person on an advertising team who is most likely to have spent time with consumers (for B to C) or customers (B to B), observing the consumer's path to purchase, by using research such as ethnographies, focus groups or quantitative/social studies, asking consumers how they think about and use the product or service. And in an era in which the brand is at least as important as a specific product (for instance, Nike as a brand has a place in the culture that far exceeds the particular performance characteristics of their shoes), the account planner is responsible for understanding the place of the brand in the consumer's mind. This is not just a simple research function - planning truly begins when research ends - and account planners stay engaged in the campaign process from the initial client briefing and throughout the advertising cycle. Rather than offering research insights to others at a single point in time, they use research to continue to provide insights within the campaign process and most importantly these days, help to track advertising effectiveness. Whereas previously, account planners focused on the use of traditional primary research tools, digital/social networks have given them the ability to listen to and interact with consumers in new ways, and to work more closely with channel or media planners throughout the process closely also, to not only help plan effective advertising but also engage with consumers in the most effective ways.
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