Integrated communications is the talk of the town - but not everybody understands the lingo. Is defining and practicing integrated communications the most important challenge facing the marketing industry today?
By Neil Davey, editor
The modern customer is a multichannel animal. He consumes a wide variety of different media, and is the recipient of communications and services across numerous distributive channels. Brands are therefore bombarded – by their agencies and the consumers themselves – with the message that if they are to do an effective job at marketing, they have to look across all of the channels. This presents opportunities – and, of course, this also presents challenges.
Neil Morris, deputy managing director, Institute of Direct Marketing
One challenge in particular that seems to have businesses breaking into a sweat is that of integrated marketing. There's a buzz around it. There's the feeling that we should all be doing it. But when the topic is raised there are a lot of nervous glances around the room. Even those who are confident their business is executing integrated marketing may in fact be doing nothing of the sort.
"There are a small number of marketers that really understand it but probably the majority of marketers get by without really having to unpick it all," suggests Neil Morris, deputy managing director of the Institute of Direct Marketing. "And we bandy the terms 'multichannel' and 'integrated' around with fairly gay abandon."
Make no mistake, this is an area shrouded in confusion. So, what is multichannel marketing, what is integrated marketing – and how can they be achieved?
Working in unison
Let's start with the common ground. There is agreement that multichannel marketing encompasses the efforts of businesses to get communications and services into the marketplace across a number of distributive channels. Some suggest that for multichannel to be truly effective, the channels in question need to operate in unison, rather than as siloed campaigns.
"Effective multichannel campaign marketing should be a cohesive process that emphasises the delivery of consistent messages to each individual, accommodating their feedback and actions to maintain a dynamic single view of the customer's profile," explains Jeremy Bedford, manager of Neolane UK. "Rather than operating in silos, teams must work in concert to make sure that a campaign simply uses the right blend of media to reach the customer and achieve an objective, rather than each media team having their own campaigns and their own objectives."
Certainly this is a valuable goal, given the problems associated with having a dedicated management team for each channel, campaign project plan and set of resources. In this scenario, as Bedford highlights, every campaign is treated like a project, with little or no cross-channel coordination. "Goals will be short-term; for the one channel, for the one campaign," he continues.
"Channel teams may even compete for the same customer, the company's marketers trying desperately to achieve the lacklustre 1 - 2 percent response rate that seems to have become instilled in marketing mythology as somehow ‘the acceptable goal' of campaign marketing. The bottom line is that isolated channel approaches and poor personalisation lead to communications that are out of kilter with customer expectations and good brand management."
Therefore, this would suggest that for multichannel marketing to be fully effective, it requires an element of integration. And Aprimo's director of marketing EMEA David Arrowsmith suggests that this integration should extend to the strategic thinking behind the campaign, urging a shift away from the traditional view of what constitutes campaign success in multichannel marketing.
Jeremy Bedford, Neolane UK
"Multichannel marketing means that you have to accept that some of the effort that you put into channels is not always going to see a direct effect where you would expect it to," he explains. "These issues regularly raise their heads in the activities of companies the likes of John Lewis – it sends out a catalogue, it has online capability, and it has stores. If it sends me a catalogue, I may decide to buy a television but want to touch it and feel it so go into the store.
"But then after that has confirmed my choice I may decide to actually order it on the internet. So is that successful or not? The company could view the catalogue as a disaster because it sent me a very expensive catalogue and I haven't bought anything. But if you take a very integrated view of marketing, then it has been a success because it has driven a piece of business."
As Bedford and Arrowsmith highlight, for multichannel to be most effective – and perhaps most measurable - there needs to be aspects that are integrated. But neither of these approaches are, by definition, integrated marketing – as has sometimes been mistakenly suggested.
Indeed, Forrester refers to integrated marketing as "weaving together digital and physical channels to engage consumers' emotions, deliver brand experiences and form ongoing relationships."
But IDM's Morris is more specific about what constitutes integrated marketing. "At the top level, integration is about media. It is about coordinating the timing of those messages, their proposition and their offers, such that they are all mutually reinforcing. Had you used all the individual media separately, it wouldn't have had the same impetus and response as the assemblage.
"However, in its biggest sense, integration is bringing the channels together with the media in a plan that is optimised to give you the best overall results. People often think of integration as just integration of media - and certainly if you are coming at it from a digital marketing perspective you might be more inclined to think of integration as a media-based planning activity. But the complete picture of integrated marketing is when that planning includes all of that activity through your channels as well."
Richard Wheaton, [email protected]
Richard Wheaton, managing director of OgilvyOne's digital and direct marketing company, [email protected], is in agreement – but has seen how even the efforts of those who understand the minutiae of integrated marketing have fallen short in their efforts.
"The more you integrate your messaging, your timing and your flighting across the different channels, the better you will be," he suggests. "At the moment, the classic mistake is when firms start a TV campaign, hit consumers and generate interest, but when they rush to their computers to find out more about the company, they aren't there yet because they haven't integrated – or even started – the search campaign, which typically takes a few weeks to get alive and generate good indexes."
Certainly, defining integrated communications and practicing remain two of the most important jobs that the marketing industry has to wrestle with at this time. As Wheaton suggests: "There isn't an agency that isn't grappling with this... it's where the marketing and advertising industries are at the moment."
Yet Morris remains confident that a comprehensive understanding will creep into the marketing world – and is already witnessing encouraging signs.
"Classically, the way that marketing has been organised means that junior marketing managers tend to be responsible for one particular channel or medium. As they become more senior they have to manage and control multiple silos, and that is their opportunity to say 'let's bring these things together!' In the past, that was very much where companies like Mars and Coca-Cola got it right, but a growing number of other organisations are now appreciating that their senior marketers need to also bring these different areas of cost and return together, and maximise the mix.
"And the internet has really brought this to the fore, because whether you are just sending out a catalogue, a piece of direct mail or a TV commercial, invariably customers will expect there to be a website and invariably that leads to you needing to have email to support and promote that website. And so whether you like it or not, you become a multimedia, multichannel business."
And as a result it would appear that the consumer isn't the only one becoming a more complex animal. "Today's marketer is having to get more on top of this than ever before and it is a huge challenge," Morris concludes. "In fact, the marketer is thought of as the archetypal multitasker these days – if you can't multitask, you can't market."
For advice on implementing an integrated marketing campaign, courtesy of the Institute of Direct Marketing, click here.
To read Jennifer Kirkby's analyst report on this topic and the internet's role in marketing and customer strategies, click here.