Integrated marketing and communications – is it just hype?

Forgive my self-indulgence, but after 20 years of working in the world of marketing I sometimes like to reflect and, with a small hint of cynicism, ask if what I do for a living adds value to this world.

When I first started my own business, many years ago, I was determined to tell people that mine was a totally integrated marketing and communications consultancy. Generally I would receive polite replies of agreement and the occasional, but more truthful retort – “Well what on earth is integrated marketing anyway?”

With a degree of humility I would mutter, “surely everyone knows it’s a management strategy and multi-discipline focused on the organisation-wide optimisation of unique value for stakeholders.” * Right, see the problem with reading too many textbooks and spouting jargon. May be with me not really knowing what it was and not being able too clearly define it, how could I expect my prospects and clients to understand and see the benefits. It sounded good anyway!

Now I can speak confidently knowing that, with evidence to back me up, integrated marketing and communications is an immensely powerful tool. No matter how good your products or services, they won’t sell if people don’t know about them or understand the benefit of using them. Look at Apple, Microsoft and Dell, for example, who were quick to grasp the importance of integrating their marketing campaigns, which has been fundamental to their growth. It’s about staying one step ahead of the competition and I truly believe companies that master this integration will achieve that goal.

However, although today the concept appears to be more readily used, particularly with the onset of social media, marketing people are now using it to describe their ability to integrate traditional offline marketing with the new social media channels – of which its effective use, in my mind, is still far from understood by many.

That’s the key, integrated marketing is a good thing, as long as you understand its use. So today my definition is: ‘integrated marketing and communication is the combination of marketing tactics to help deliver one marketing strategy to raise brand awareness, build customer trust and a like of what you offer’.

In this sense then an integrated approach is not a strategy, it’s the tactical delivery of a marketing strategy. I think that distinction is critical, because without the right strategy no amount of talk about integrating multiple platforms and mediums makes much sense. In fact, in many instances integration is simply interpreted as doing more kinds of activity. The problem with more activity is that activity without a central strategy can actually cause one activity to conflict with another.

The key is to get your branding and messages right and ensure that all the forms of communication that you use are carefully linked together and work in harmony rather than in isolation. The sum is greater than their constituent parts – providing they speak consistently with one voice all the time, every time.

I absolutely believe the real integration opportunity, and especially today with the intentional blending of online and offline tools and tactics around a single marketing strategy. Although it requires a lot of effort it delivers many benefits. It can create competitive advantage, enhance your reputation, motivate your staff and ultimately boost sales and profit.

Some tips:

  • Get senior management buy-in.
  • Integrate at different levels of management. Put ‘integration’ on the agenda for various types of management meetings.
  • Ensure the brand book is used to maintain common visual standards for the use of logos, typefaces, colours and so on.
  • Focus on a clear marketing communications strategy. Have crystal clear communications objectives; clear positioning statements. Link core values into every communication.
  • Specify what you need to do in order to achieve your objectives.
  • Think customers first and wrap communications around the customer’s buying process. Identify the stages they go through before, during and after a purchase.
  • Build relationships with your customers and brand values. Customer retention is as important as customer acquisition.
  • Develop a good marketing information system which defines who needs what information when. A customer database for example, can help the telesales, direct marketing and sales force.
  • Share your imagery, artwork. Think how it can be used across all collateral to create consistency and save costs.
  • Be prepared to change it all. Markets and customers change so learn from experience, test and look to constantly improve.

*Jenkinson, A. and Mathews, B. (2007) Integrated Marketing and its implications for personalized customer marketing strategies. J Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice. Vol 8 No. 3. pp. 93-209. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK

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