Media-neutral planning from a direct marketing perspective is a more valid concept than it might first appear, as DM's heritage perfectly fits the ideals of media neutrality.
The importance of multimedia, data-driven campaigns and stringent measurement techniques ensure that campaigns are planned and media routes selected on the basis of hard data and not predisposition.
The chief characteristics of media neutrality are as follows: The selection of individual channels and media should be on the basis of their individual and then collective merits.
They should be chosen according to brand and customer centricity.
There should be ongoing evaluation of effect to determine return on investment and future activity optimisation.
No medium has a greater chance of being selected than any other. Where to start and how to select channels and media is subject to interpretation.
For some, it is about putting the brand at the heart of the media and channel selection process. For others, it is about customer-centricity. Meanwhile, another group sees it as putting ideas at the centre of the campaign.
Another area of disagreement is over where media neutral planning is initiated, with clients, media agencies and "total communications agencies" all being cited.
One key issue is the impact of the media-neutral philosophy on any discipline, channel or medium. Will there be winners and losers? Will TV's dominance be threatened or enhanced? Perhaps other media with softer impact will struggle to demonstrate the same effects, so could become more difficult to justify.
And what about the impact on DM? In fact, DM has traditionally had to be media neutral because data lies at its heart and this defines past performance and appropriate selection of future media.
DM's heritage means that the choice of media within any campaign is more inclined to be based on fitness for task than predisposition. One piece of evidence of this is the range of channels used by DM compared with above-the-line. Not only do we offer traditional routes to markets, such as TV and press, but also online, inserts, events and product sampling. Only when you understand the merits of each can you produce a truly media-neutral solution.
Where there is a need for change in DM is in the interface between media planning and brand planning. We must understand how best to fuse the knowledge of these twin disciplines to greater effect in understanding the potential of multimedia campaigns. While this may cause turf wars, it is not so difficult in DM as it is for abovetheline agencies.
Much of the debate about media-neutral planning centres on whether clients or agencies should be the instigators. This is pointless, as it looks as though the best agencies will be going to their clients with media-neutral proposals - not least because their competitors may get there first. Fear should, at least, ensure the issues get discussed.
Media-neutral planning's future depends upon how far the industry can measure activity. It seems the debate is a tale of two disciplines in this respect. As the saying goes, you can't improve what you can't measure.