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New Rules for Integrated Marketing in a Complicated World

It’s hard to imagine just how shocked Don Draper, Darrin Stephens and even more recent “Thirty Something” ad execs would be at how intimately today’s companies can communicate with their customers – and in how many ways.

They would also be beside themselves with excitement. After all, what could be more thrilling to a marketer than communicating in a way that feels like one-on-one with large groups of customers, across virtually every media channel, but without the hefty media budget for that kind of reach and frequency?

Of course, their excitement would be immediately replaced by shock, once again, when they realize that the vast majority of today’s companies are not taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Then and Now

In the past, creating even a sophisticated IMC strategy was fairly easy: You developed a single brand-based message and communicated it across multiple channels – all four of them (print, broadcast, outdoor and direct mail).

The very definition of IMC was simple, too:

An approach to achieving the objectives of a marketing campaign through the well-coordinated use of different promotional methods intended to reinforce each other (American Association of Advertising Agencies).

Today’s IMC is far more complex. Today’s definition of IMC is:

The development of marketing strategies and creative campaigns that weave together multiple marketing disciplines that are selected and then executed to suit the particular goals of the brand. Instead of simply using various media to help tell a brand’s overall story [the old way], with IMC the marketing leverages each communication channel’s intrinsic strengths [emphasis is mine] to achieve a greater impact together than each channel could achieve individually.

Oh, it goes on:

It requires the marketer to understand each medium’s limitation, including the audience’s ability/willingness to absorb messaging from that medium. This understanding is integrated into a campaign’s strategic plan from the very beginning of planning – so that the brand no longer simply speaks with consistency, but speaks with planned efficacy [emphasis is mine]. (Bennett, STIROLOGY, April 2013)

What makes today’s IMC particularly tricky is:

  • The sheer volume of existing communication channels combined with the rapid introduction of new channels and technologies.
  • The vast differences in customer behavior, expectations and types of business interactions within each channel.
  • The extremely fast pace at which content is shared and the very short lifespan (sometimes mere minutes) of that content.
  • The somewhat uncomfortable fact that customers now share control of the conversation.
  • The ever-increasing growth of mobile and the resulting need to integrate online and place-based experiences.
  • The strong customer demand for access and convenience.

These challenges leave companies with more questions than answers:

  • Which communication channels do we choose?
  • How do we decipher each channel?
  • What’s our message for each channel?
  • How does it all fit together?
  • Where are we going to find all that content?

It’s one thing to understand the definition of IMC and another to understand how to do it. Here are three new rules for today’s IMC that will help do it right.

IMC Still Starts with the Brand, But the Brand is More Important than Ever

Even though you’re going to tailor your communications to each channel, every message has to stem directly from your company’s brand – for the very reason that today’s multitude of ways in which we communicate with customers creates a greater risk of inconsistency and a faster message breakdown.

You might be saying, “Well, if every message is a direct expression of the brand, aren’t our messages going to get boring?”

Not if your brand is steeped in meaning and relevancy. Here’s why: In the past, all marketers had to articulate was their company’s primary value to its clients and communicate that value across all marketing channels, consistently and for a long time.

Today’s IMC, requires a bigger brand story (deeper meaning and relevancy) because you not only need a larger well from which to pull content in order to stay agile across very different communication channels, but also meaningful, resonant ideas with which to engage your customers.

In order to achieve a brand that’s steeped in meaning and relevancy, you will need to develop a complete brand platform that includes:

  • Purpose and Vision (and, perhaps, its big, hairy audacious goal)
  • Position and Competitive Advantage
  • Brand Promise
  • Brand Essence
  • Value Proposition
  • Brand Values
  • Brand Personality
  • Brand Story

When you take the time to develop each of these brand elements, you create multiple branches of messaging possibility – all connected to the same tree. If you don’t take the time, you will be struggling to figure out what to say next – and with content flying by at lightening speed, you will definitely need something to say next.

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Integrated Marketing Involves More Channels than Ever – But, for Goodness Sake, Don’t Use Them All

Effective IMC relies on knowing your customers. Ask yourself:

  • What communication channels do our audiences use and respect?
  • What type of business interactions do they engage in on each channel?
  • Is the channel itself and the type of engagement it creates in alignment with our brand strategy and also our business and marketing goals?

Not every communication vehicle will be a fit – either because your customers are not there, not there en masse or because the communication channel is not right for your brand.

Be super picky and start slow. Once you do choose channels, jump in with both feet and, above all, keep going. Today’s IMC is a long-term endeavor and you’ll need to give it some time before seeing results.

Integrated Marketing Is Now More Complicated, But It’s More Effective, Too

Everything we’ve stated about the complicated nature of today’s IMC is true. But don’t let that stop you. Instead, view the factors that make today’s IMC complicated as your get-out-of-jail-free card for allowing experimentation and creating a continuous improvement model.

Here’s a very basic action plan:

  • Start by making sure your brand is steeped in meaning and relevancy. In other words, develop all elements of a full brand platform.
  • Extract your messages directly from your brand platform. For example, create a message point related to your brand promise and each of your brand values.
  • Develop original content and distribute carefully curated content from outside sources that reinforces each message you want to communicate. For example, if one of your messages is about innovation, you can: 1) write original articles, white papers, trend reports, etc., that support this message and position your company as an innovation expert; and 2) mix that content with relevant third-party resources, such as expert articles, market research and best practices.
  • Identify most suitable communication channels for each piece of content and/or adjust each piece of content so that it fits with a specific channel. For example, if you write an article, you can: 1) post that article on your blog and create an eblast with a teaser and link it to your blog post; 2) share an article to select industry groups on LinkedIn; and 3) post one point from your article each day for a week on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Publish your original and curated content on a regular basis. It helps to create an editorial calendar with each topic mapped out and every piece of content related to each topic scheduled with dates and distribution channels.
  • Monitor your results, looking for impressions, engagement and specific actions taken, as well as results against a specific goal, such as increasing subscriptions to your e-newsletter.
  • Build on what’s working and cease doing what’s not.

With just these three new rules in mind, companies can conduct IMC much more effectively and with less overwhelm.

Remember: The time you spend examining and expanding your brand platform, creating your messages, creating your content and planning your content distribution will be well worth it as you develop new and deeper relationships with your customers. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be one of the few companies leveraging the vast and powerful opportunities afforded by the new IMC.