Why single-channel superiority is a fantasy

Nick Bauer
By Nick Bauer | 24 September 2021
Nick Bauer.

Spark Foundry’s group strategy director, Nick Bauer, says media planning is about diversification and the sum of the parts. Any study that claims single-channel superiority ignores the synergies achieved with multi-channel ecosystem planning. 

I've always thought of media planning as having many similarities with financial investment services.

We have a near-infinite number of assets classes (media channels/ formats) to choose from to generate a return on investment.

Marketing volatility is considered both friend and our foe.

And we utilise vast amounts of business, category, and media data (with a dose of strategist instinct) to make calculated investment decisions that deliver to client objectives. 

Yet, perhaps the single most significant similarity is that sound and responsible media investment, like a financial investment, is about diversification and balancing your investments. 

Look at any diversified portfolio, and you'll see a mix of Australian stocks, international stocks, government bonds, cash and property, all working together to provide a solid and consistent annual return year after year. The smartest and surest way to get a return, is to expand to a suite of assets rather than pilling all into one class.

So, I find it interesting that many published media typology research papers lean towards single-channel supremacy rather than diversification and a sum of the parts approach.

There's a quote from Matthew Lemke, an income portfolio manager at Prime Value Assets Management, who said:

"Diversity is the most powerful of all investment principles because markets are unpredictable and there are proven benefits to spreading risk."

As COVID continues to change behaviour at unprecedented speeds, there is a genuine opportunity to apply learnings from the fields of financial investment.

Markets are unpredictable

Media consumption volatility has never been higher and has fundamentally changed the way media agencies have used historical channel performance to predict future performance.

The industry responded with audience and cost buffers. However, the best response to deliver efficiency and effectiveness is through media plan diversification.

Using multiple media typologies diversifies against an individual medium experiencing a consumption shock – be it from government intervention or the ratings collapse of a tent pole program impacting total publisher audiences.

Proven benefits to spreading risk

Going beyond risk management, diversification brings other proven benefits. To talk about one channel in isolation is to miss the whole point of media planning - it is the sum of the parts that make the campaign successful — this is why attribution is such a devil of a task.

Planning media with a multi-channel lens is probably the most fundamental media planning principle we have (outside of reach), supported by numerous research pieces.

The most infamous, Analytics Partners' multi-channel marketing chart, extracted via their ROI Genome project, summarises that multi-platform campaigns improve ROI by 19%. And that each additional medium adds additional ROI performance up to five platforms.

Of course, budget, seasonality and economies of scale all play part when considering additional channels, but pound-for-pound ecosystem campaigns are far more impactful that single channel campaigns. 

A balanced ecosystem

This is why agencies build campaigns with a multi-stage ecosystem in mind. In creating a balanced and hedged ecosystem, an agency ensures that a client's campaign investment has a sufficient mix of low-risk low return media mixed in with high-risk, higher return media.

It is the collective sum of the parts working in synergy that achieves overarching campaign objectives - the art and science of our craft. 

Diversification and nuance are why media planners exist, and a sum of the parts approach has never been more critical.

It’s time for our industry to stop picking favourites and embrace whole system thinking. As our financial investment friends would say, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

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