3 Simple Reasons that Integrated Marketing Communications has Already Won
The debates about Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) appear to be continuing unabated. Integrated Marketing Communications, if you haven’t run in to this phrase before, is a set of strategies that remove the traditional boundaries between public relations, marketing, advertising and other corporate messaging, in both the online and offline spaces, to create an environment where all efforts are coordinated in a synchronized way.
These debates repeatedly raise a few questions. Is IMC a winning strategy? Is it the future? Is it the right thing to do? Can it be implemented in an old-school organization? … and others.
Recently I’ve been attending #IMCChat, a great weekly Twitter Group Chat hosted by Beth Harte (@BethHarte on Twitter) and Anna Barcelos (@abarcelos on Twitter), and after these sessions and a number of side discussions decided that it’s time for me to weigh in.
Many of the arguments for and against separation of advertising, marketing, product management, branding and public relations are internally focused. Questions abound as to the merits of having silos, or silos with communication, or no silos at all, with discussion focused on whether these approaches work for the organization.
Inward-Facing Analysis is Fundamentally Flawed
I believe that any inward-based analysis is fundamentally flawed, that the battle was already fought in public on the social web, and has essentially nothing to do with the “view from inside the castle.”
Why do I feel comfortable making such a bald proclamation? The answer lies in the social media era itself, which I think of as starting around the time of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which was published ten years ago and recently revised. The words of each of the 95 theses seem to be just as powerful today as they were ten years ago, and perhaps even more so.
Three Reasons IMC has Already Won
1) As a Potential Customer, Information Delivery Silos were Merged Long Ago
In a print and broadcast world, organizations were faced with a choice. With each expensive placement, whether a page in a magazine, newspaper or journal, or an ad spot on a prime time television show, or a sponsor placement on drive-time radio, a decision would be made as to whether that slot would be used for primarily PR, marketing or product advertising purposes. Message delivery options were expensive and “one shot” broadcasts—essentially a silo of message delivery.
Today people are real-time connected to social, mobile networks, spending more and more time online, and less and less time with any connection to print or broadcast media. Modern web sites, information pages, social media networks, blogs, webinars and Internet-enabled social gatherings in Twitter Group Chats or virtual worlds are complex environments. These environments do not support the traditional monolithic view of silos of “communications intent.”
Silo-based communications using these tools appears non-sensical to today’s consumers. What would people think of seeing one web site that is purely for public relations, another web site for marketing, and yet another for product sales—all for the same company?
From the customer’s perspective, there is no separation between these disciplines and the information provided. They will make brand judgements from how you interact in social media, from the tone and content of blog posts, from how crisis responses are handled, from design of web sites and online catalog systems, and from how well integrated the whole of the company’s presence is across the web.
In addition, or maybe this is the primary point, with every public contact from an organization, there will be thousands of people scrutinizing the contact for consistency, hypocrisy, the appearance of gamesmanship and value. These thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, of people will then immediately share and amplify their observations using the web, social media and personal video broadcasting.
It is all part of one whole from the customer’s perspective. Your customers have huge, global peer groups whose focus is to penetrate attempts at spin, and to cross-check attempts to manipulate and control messaging. Inconsistency will be noticed immediately, and detract from the brand, across types of contact. That’s just the way it is these days, no matter what the voices behind the castle wall say to each other.
Well-crafted corporate presentations meld the experience at all contact points together so that customers and potential customers receive elements of marketing, PR, and advertising in every encounter with the company, regardless of how the customer prefers to engage in contact.
2) A Consistent Social Media Customer Experience Requires Integrated Skills and Thinking
Integrated skills and thinking across these disciplines is required for consistency in today’s transparency-amplified public operating environment. A single customer support rep’s snarky comment could become the next PR crisis. A PR or marketing message that conflicts with sales materials, or is blatantly contradictory to the current trend of public discussions will be caught, often within minutes, and amplified to be a global real-time discussion. This discussion is visible to all, indexed by all the major search engines, and retained essentially forever to be retrieved by search queries days, months or years later.
Customers and potential customers watch the public face of a company over time, and in particular through the inevitable public crises. How did the company respond? Was it open and forthright, or did the previously “social” company retreat to information hiding and spin management?
Without integrated skills, and integrated operations, the risk of delivering uncoordinated, inconsistent perspectives escalates, and during times of crisis escalates the likelihood that the person “on the firing line” will not respond in a way that is positive for all aspects of the issue (across these disciplines.)
3) IMC First-Movers are Well Positioned to Disruptively Eliminate Competitors
It is easy to say “we can get to that later.” Unfortunately for many companies today, getting to this issue later may mean a discovery that your market has been appropriated by a competitor who is more nimble through effective IMC. Today’s fast-moving startups do not tend to have the walled garden structures in place that support non-integrated marketing communications, for good reason. In their model, anyone and everyone in the company is a public ambassador, and must understand these issues in order to advance the organization’s goals.
Speed, effectiveness, efficiency, consistency, authenticity and across the board direct engagement between employees, organizational groups, prospects and customers are a required part of competing with today’s social-enabled companies. Integration reduces operating friction, reduces the amount of time, effort and money required to make decisions and pro-actively generate results in all three areas.
Speed is now a critical factor, in ways that were not true even a year or two ago. Real-time communications via Twitter, Google Buzz and other real time status updating services capture an increasing share of Internet users’ information for search results and purchase decisions. The rate of information spread when a topic goes “hot” is like a wildfire, and a non-integrated organization will likely take much longer to respond than an integrated one. When minutes and hours matter in the public’s perception of organizational effectiveness, do you want to leave the impression with customers that you don’t care, merely because it took too many meetings to figure out who’s doing what?
The Real Question
The real question is “Will your organization integrate these disciplines before one of your competitors does, then uses their advantage to disrupt your market segment and renders your operating model obsolete?”