by Ellen SchweppeIntegrated marketing communications is designed to make all aspects of marketing communications—advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and e-commerce—work together as a unified force, rather than letting each work in isolation.
Integrated marketing communications is designed to make all aspects of marketing communications—advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and e-commerce—work together as a unified force, rather than letting each work in isolation.
If your company is like most, you use a number of tactics to communicate with customers and prospects—sales calls, a Web site, a newsletter, informational brochures, and articles and advertisements in local and industry publications, to name a few.
But do all of your marketing and communications efforts work together to deliver a clear, consistent, and compelling message to your various customers?
And does everyone in the company know what your marketing strategy is? Do they know how to use your company’s marketing messages in their everyday contacts with customers?
The beginning of the year is a good time to look at developing a comprehensive strategy that coordinates all of your company’s marketing communications efforts to achieve the best results. Integrating your marketing communications can be your New Year’s resolution for your company.
Integrated marketing communications is a commonsense concept. It involves carefully coordinating various communications channels to deliver a clear and persuasive message about the company and its products or services.
Pioneered by Dr. Don E. Schulz of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, integrated marketing communications has been implemented in Fortune 500 companies and other businesses worldwide.
It is designed to make all aspects of marketing communications—advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing and e-commerce—work together as a unified force, rather than letting each work in isolation.
The idea behind integrated marketing communications is to build positive and lasting relationships with customers and other stakeholders. When they hear consistent messages and see similar visuals, they are more likely to pay attention to and act on them.
A well-designed integrated marketing communications plan helps all of the people who represent your company to the public—salespeople, customer service representatives, the receptionist, and the CEO—understand the importance of their roles in creating relationships with your clients.
Elements of the Program
Several elements define an effective integrated marketing communications program: It focuses on the customer. The plan centers on the customer’s point of view, rather than on the company’s products or services. The strategy begins with a clear understanding of the customer and what motivates purchasing decisions.
Particularly in a changing market, the products and services you sell need to match what customers want and need to buy, and the buying experience you offer needs to meet customers’ expectations.
It is driven by data. The plan is based on the wealth of data available to help marketers identify and understand the company’s customers—their needs, motivations, attitudes, and behaviors—and make informed decisions on how to communicate with them effectively. Data also helps a company better understand its competitors and the overall market.
Data sources can include a company’s customer database, sales results, customer surveys, demographic profiles, and industry reviews. Among the resources available from ALTA® is its annual survey with A.M. Best Co. (available at www.alta.org under Research), which covers economic results, business risks, and challenges the industry faces in the changing real estate and insurance markets.
It integrates all communications efforts. Customers and other stakeholders—such as business partners, regulators, employees and the media—don’t distinguish between messages aimed at them and those intended for others. Integrating a company’s communications disciplines ensures that all of your target audiences hear a consistent voice.
And integration is not limited to communications disciplines. All a company’s business processes—from product development to customer service—need to be aligned to achieve the greatest marketing success. It creates an effective brand. A brand is all of the attributes—good and bad—that influence what customers think of a company. A brand identity can include a name, a symbol, a positioning statement, organizational values, or a combination of these.
The value of a brand lies in what people think it will deliver. Ideally, you want customers to think of what they want from a brand, such as outstanding service or quick turnaround, and associate that attribute with your company.
Creating a successful brand strategy requires a deep understanding of the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. It also requires integrating your brand strategy throughout the company at every point of public contact.
One adopter of integrated marketing communications is Saturn Corporation, which based its strategy on extensive customer research. Marketers identified 40 contact points between the car company and its customers, including when a customer sees a Saturn ad, walks into a showroom, and brings a car in for service.
Saturn used its research to create consistent communications and build relationships with buyers. It also developed staff training programs that recognize the importance of people other than communications professionals in communicating with consumers.
Fidelity Investments developed an integrated marketing program to boost awareness of Powerstreet, its online investor program. Among the elements were briefings to inform analysts and reporters about its online brokerage offerings, participation in trade shows and industry forums, distribution of business card-size CD-ROMs to connect investors to Fidelity.com, and email communications and meetings to educate employees. The Fidelity program also featured “guerilla marketing” techniques to deliver investing messages to business professionals on their way to work. It included giving breakfast bags to commuters boarding ferries and trains and running TV ads in airport business lounges and videos on in-flight programming.
Keys To Building Your Program
Developing an integrated marketing communications plan involves several steps, but the payoff is a more focused and effective effort that reaches your most important audiences and advances your company’s overall mission.
Establish a budget. Determine what resources you will devote to your integrated marketing communications effort in terms of money, people, and time. Knowing what you intend to spend will help you focus on doing what is most important to your company’s success.
Conduct research. Collect and analyze data on which you can build a unified strategy that reaches every market segment with a coordinated message. Focus on the wants, needs, and perceptions of customers and prospects. What motivates them to buy the types of products and services you offer? What makes them become repeat customers?
Set goals and objectives. From your customers’ point of view, what do you want your communications efforts to achieve? What do you want customers, prospects, and other audiences to do or think as a result of your marketing communications efforts? What measurable objectives will get you there?
Identify target audiences and design messages. Determine the audiences you need to reach, including customers, prospects, business partners, suppliers, regulators, legislators, and local and industry media. What coordinated, complimentary messages will work for the audiences identified? How will you position your company and the unique solution it provides?
The ALTA® Title Industry Marketing Kit (see sidebar) includes language on the value of title insurance that you can incorporate into your message development. Another source is ALTA®’s Title Insurance Primer, a publication on what title insurance is and its importance as a safeguard for real estate purchase and investment.
Develop the strategy. Determine the steps you need to take to achieve your goals and objectives and reach your target audiences with your integrated messages. How will you use your company’s various communications disciplines to build positive relationships with customers and other stakeholders? What tactics will help you achieve your goals and objectives and enable you to have a coordinated dialogue with your customers? Determine who will be responsible for executing each plan component. Figure out how you will manage all of the components to ensure that they remain both targeted and synchronized, particularly if those components fall under the responsibility of different departments. Establish a timeline for carrying out the plan. Execute the plan. Once the plan is in place, make sure those directly involved are on board and have the tools and training they need to carry out their part. At the same time, communicate the plan to everyone in the company, even those without a specific role. Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Every employee can influence your customers’ buying experience and, as a result, contribute to the plan’s success. Among the training tools ALTA® offers members is “Title Triumph®: The Game of Land Title Knowledge,” a team-building tool you can use to reinforce employees’ industry knowledge and improve their ability to communicate your messages to customers. The question-and-answer board game is available on the ALTA® Web site. Evaluate results. As you carry out the plan, test what works and feed the results back into the plan. Did you accomplish your goals and objectives? What did you learn in the process that you didn’t know before? What do you need to do differently next time?
Part of the evaluation process should be getting direct feedback from customers, which can help you adjust your plan to be even more effective. As former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them.”
Challenges to Success
Because it involves looking at communications on a macro level rather than at individual components, adopting an integrated marketing communications program takes a broad perspective.
That can be a challenge in organizations in which marketing, public relations, and advertising are separate disciplines. A key to success is ensuring that integrated marketing communications has top-level support. “Perhaps the greatest barrier to implementing integrated marketing communications (IMC) in a given company is the absence of direct support from the CEO,” wrote University of South Florida Professor Loyd Pettegrew in “IF IMC is So Good, Why Isn’t It Being Implemented?” in Northwestern University’s 2000-2001 Journal of Marketing Communications at http://jimc.medill.northwestern.edu/index.html.
To be effective, Pettegrew says, an integrated marketing communications program must be implemented systemically and simultaneously at all levels and functions of a company. It also must fit the unique culture in which it operates, because a one-size-fits-all program does not exist.
Despite the challenges of integrating your marketing communications, the payoff can be a business strategy that enables your company to build profitable, long-term relationships with customers and other stakeholders.
|Ellen Schweppe is president of Ellen Schweppe Company, LLC, an editorial services firm serving the financial services and other industries. She can be reached at email@example.com or (703) 435-5621.|