What a complex world us marketers live in. Where once we had a fairly limited and well-defined selection of tools and channels at our disposal, the current landscape is one of fragmentation and specialisation, driven by continued digital innovation. From content and social media marketing, to SEO, PPC and programmatic…today’s marketers often work with a variety of in-house teams, agencies and suppliers, all providing fairly niche services.
Managing that level of complexity can be challenging for a number of reasons, none more so than ensuring that brand messages remain consistent across varied formats and channels. When you consider how many people may be involved in communicating with potential customers, it’s easy to see how a concept or message could be inadvertently diluted or twisted from its original meaning.
In 2016, Digital Marketing Magazine published an article which argued that marketers need to “stop thinking channel and start thinking consumer”, the premise being that customers and clients don’t make a distinction between a video, a social media post and a banner ad (or any other form of content for that matter). What they see is a series of communications that are either aligned in terms of look, feel and messaging, or not. At first glance that sounds pretty obvious and achievable, so why is true integration still seen as the holy grail of marketing communications?
Introducing integrated marketing communications
Integrated marketing communications (IMC) was first defined in 1989 by the American Association of Advertising Agencies as “an approach to achieving the objectives of a marketing campaign through a well-coordinated use of different promotional methods that are intended to reinforce each other”. The key words here are “well-coordinated”. Achieving this panacea of effective marketing requires someone with full oversight of all communications activity, who has the ability and authority to ensure that everyone is briefed and managed appropriately at all times.
A further aim of IMC is described as allowing “one medium’s weakness to be offset by another medium’s strength, with elements synergised to support each other and create greater impact”. Again, this requires a bird’s eye view of the whole marketing process and the skills to identify and rectify any imbalances. Not so simple after all.
As anyone who has ever studied marketing will know, theorists and academics love a good letter-based model – think of the 7Ps of the marketing mix (or 4Ps if you’re a purist). Well, IMC has the 4Cs, which stand for:
- Coherence– different communications are logically connected
- Consistency– multiple messages support and reinforce, and are not contradictory
- Continuity– communications are connected and consistent through time
- Complementary– synergistic, or the sum of the parts is greater than the whole
O2 is one company that has gained a reputation for slick, cohesive communications. The mobile operator’s ‘Be More Dog’ campaign is held up as a prime example of an integrated approach at its best, winning Campaign Magazine’s campaign of the year in 2013. The clarion call to meet life head-on with style and panache comes across in all of the company’s communications, which complement each other and lead people on a journey across different channels and formats. To find out more about how ‘Be More Dog’ achieves the 4Cs check out this Smart Insights case study.
Break down silos
One of the biggest barriers to IMC is created by the fact that marketing is often handled by numerous people, all with varying objectives and modes of operation. It may not be intentional, but individuals, teams and agencies often end up working in silos, beavering away to achieve their specific goals with little or no visibility of other links in the chain.
How often does your advertising agency meet your content team? Have your SEO and PPC specialists ever sat down and had a conversation? Is your PR team privy to your programmatic advertising plan?
True marketing integration requires everyone involved, whether internal or external, to understand the big picture and be sensitive to the work of others. Let’s not kid ourselves that this is an easy task, but it all starts with effective communication between the various parties. If you’re a marketing director or manager in charge of multiple teams and suppliers then try holding cross-functional refresher meetings on the brand’s tone and key messages. Make these as open and relaxed as possible to allow ideas or concerns to bubble to the surface.
You could also think about holding joint planning meetings and encouraging your agencies to talk to each other on a day-to-day basis, seeing each other as part of a bigger team that is working towards the same goal. Pave the way for discussion, sharing and collaboration and you might find that the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing
Planning for integration is one thing, but assessing whether it’s happened is quite another. Be prepared to sit down at regular intervals and make an honest, thorough assessment of all your activity. Are all the elements working in harmony or is something out of alignment? Is the message coming across loud and clear in some places but being lost in others? Could your customers be confused by variations in your brand identity?
These issues can be particularly prevalent if you’re targeting different segments with diverse needs or behaviours. If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions then try asking your target audience directly through a survey or focus group.
Don’t be afraid to challenge activity that doesn’t fit or reflect the wider strategy. If you can spot inconsistency then you can be sure that others will too. Similarly, you may identify missed opportunities to enhance your message or communicate with people more effectively, which can be built into your future plans.
To achieve true integration you are aiming to speak with one voice in everything you do. That might start with your marketing communications, but it applies equally across the rest of the business, from your sales team to customer service and beyond. Remember, people don’t interact with channels or teams; they interact with brands.