08 February 2012

Spider Charts Are Just Wrong

If you work in marketing or advertising, chances are you’ve seen a spider chart. These are supposed to impress upon us the vast number of consumer touchpoints reached by your IMC plan.

Although actual arachnids have eight legs, most marketing spider charts have many more. The more the merrier! Surround the consumer! I call this spidermania. You can see some examples, here, here and here.

There is a corollary effect to spidermania: Matching Luggage. This is the persistent belief that all marketing communications for a brand or product must look exactly alike.

Where did Spider Charts come from?

In the days of Ye Olde Marketing the media landscape was known territory and easy to navigate for clients, agencies and consumers. Even if your map went beyond broadcast and print media to include public relations or sports marketing or – remember this one? – guerrilla marketing, the task of budget allocation was straightforward.

When cable TV exploded, direct marketing matured, the Internet emerged and shopper marketing was invented, the landscape looked like those parts of Medieval maps warning Here Be Dragons. We tried in vain to organize everything in a way that made sense. Spider charts became a widely used tool.

Spider Charts illustrate how Clients and Agencies Use Media

The problem is that spider charts represent how marketing and advertising people use media. This perspective distorts your view in three ways:

1. You can’t guarantee a consumer will see all these things. They may look nice on the conference room wall, but what if the consumer only sees one or two executions? Will you still achieve your goal?
2. Assumes a “push” approach to marketing communications. Reach. Frequency. Penetration. These are important but we can no longer succeed with them alone. Some legs of the spider don’t work that way.
3. Misses the role of dialogue among consumers. Word-of-mouth has always outperformed any advertising, it was just hard to know how – until now. Social Media is not “push” nor “pull” but friends recommending things to friends. Spider charts miss that.

So what’s a better way?

Gigantic Venn Diagram Illustrates How Consumers Use Media

Marketing communications today is like a Gigantic Venn Diagram, its design constantly shifting from client to client, and from project to project. It would be nice if all the various media would just stay still for a moment and let us plan a client’s marketing communications. But it won’t. There will always be some new medium, platform or tactic bubbling up in the minds of programmers, entrepreneurs or venture capitalists.

By the way, this is wonderful. The Gigantic Venn Diagram may be confounding, but it should also be exciting. This is the best time in history to work in marketing communications.

It’s also reality. Consumers use these different media interchangeably and simultaneously. TV and Social Media. Mobile and Retail. QR codes and Direct Mail.

So what looks good on the conference room wall?

You may like spider charts for presentation purposes, and if it works for you, at least proceed with caution. Here are three other ways.

· Divide according to the purchase cycle. Many of you use the path to purchase or a funnel diagram to describe how the different media work together. We have been working with McKinsey for the past three years utilizing their Consumer Decision Journey.
· Organize according to media usage. Imagine a chart that divides advertising (communication that interrupts and/or persuades) from information or entertainment (communication that invites participation). Consumers use these very differently and so should we.
· Draw a Gigantic Venn Diagram. Honestly I am not sure yet if the GVD is a good presentation tool or maybe just a way to think about things during the planning process. It has definitely helped immerse me in a particular project, but only after I’ve done my homework.

That homework is critical. The same consumer insight that drives a creative brief should drive a channel plan. If you haven’t done that work, then you won’t get anywhere.

In any case, my hope is that phony spidermania has bitten the dust.

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