Integrated Marketing Communications makes your activities more effective
Promotional and brand-building activities are more effective when they’re linked. Links make your activities feel consistent to your customers. It makes you look trustworthy and professional. Customers are confident that they know what they’ll get when they buy from you.
That advice is perfectly aligned with our maxim that most marketing is only common sense. Yet most of us don’t do it.
This isn’t just our guidance. It’s based on the research of Don Schultz and his team. Schultz is often called the father of integrated marketing. He was a professor at Northwestern, near Chicago, which just happens to be the university my niece went to.
It’s a shame to condense a life’s work into a soundbite but we’re going to focus on his summary of integrated marketing communications:
“Integrated Marketing Communications… ensures that all forms of communications and messages are carefully linked together… At its most basic level… it means integrating all the promotional tools so that they work together in harmony.”
If you take a look at the way most small to medium enterprises run (i.e. anything under £50m turnover), you’ll have to conclude that most marketing communications are not integrated.
And that means our marketing is not as effective as it should be.
So what needs to be “integrated”? What does “integrated marketing communications” mean? Well, you could read Schultz’s two books to find out. They’re Integrated Marketing Communications and IMC: The Next Generation. But you don’t have time. So let’s skip to a condensed version.
The visual element
The way your communications look is the most obvious element of integrated marketing communications. They don’t have to be identical but they have to share enough visual cues to obviously belong to the same brand.
- Stick to the same colours, logos and typefaces.
- Use a similar construction. Don’t flip from a huge image and few words to lots of words and a thumbnail.
- Use similar text quantities. Don’t run one promotion that uses 100 words in small print and another that uses 2 words in a headline.
- Use similar image styles. Don’t use cartoons in one and photos in another.
This consistency saves you time. Consider it an efficiency move rather than a straight-jacket around your creativity. If all your communications share a similar look-and-feel, they’re easier to produce. You use and reuse the same template. You don’t have to design everything from scratch.
This level of integration sits perfectly with the Ehrenberg-Bass principle of distinctiveness. In his book “How Brands Grow”, Byron Sharp shows that strong brands develop from promoting the same assets over and over again.
It’s no coincidence that the world’s most famous brands still use their original logos.
He doesn’t quite go as far as to say that what you promote doesn’t matter but he comes close. You can be sure he doesn’t care that his logo looks like an avatar from a 90’s video game. He only cares that you recognise it.
What’s less encouraging is that Byron Sharp points out that big businesses always win the distinctiveness battle against regular businesses. They have the budget to paint their logo in front of every eyeball.
That doesn’t mean regular businesses like ours should ignore consistency. We can still develop distinctiveness in our smaller geographies or market niches. And consistency looks professional, anytime, anywhere.
The second dimension of integration is between channels. Be wary of any advice that your promotions on Instagram should be dramatically different to your email campaigns. It’s wrong.
By all means take advantage of features that are only available from certain channels. You can show video on web pages but not in a print advert. You can encourage feedback better on social media than in a TV advert. So use video. Encourage feedback.
But remember that every promotional channel should serve your campaign. It’s not the other way round. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. The consistency of your campaign means more than the channel you use to promote it. Just because Pinterest lets you pin cartoon ears to people doesn’t mean your campaign has to.
Imposing consistency across channels will become ever more important as we start to realise how beneficial it is to use multiple channels. Analytics Partners did some wonderful research that showed the more channels you use, the more effective your campaign is.
In short, their research tells us that using more channels has more impact than spending more in one channel. But that only works if we’re consistent across channels.
The third dimension is consistency between activities. For example, your marketing may encompass sales promotions, PR (including social media), events and brand-building.
Some activities are short-term, some are long. Some are handled by one department, some by another. Some are handled in-house, some are out-sourced. Some are aimed at one type of customer, some at another.
There are numerous reasons why different activities develop inconsistently. There are lots of excuses for not integrating our activities. But somebody has to take responsibility for stopping that, for imposing the integration and consistency that makes all activities more productive.
That ‘somebody’ is you.
Consistency across time is the biggest struggle for regular businesses. We discover a can’t-fail concept and want to flip to it three months after we launched our last can’t-fail concept. We don’t give our approaches the years they need to bear fruit.
This is a bigger problem for SMEs because we don’t have the hierarchies that slow big business down. When the MD has a new idea, she can demand it’s put into practice straight-away. In a bigger organisation, the committees, teams and processes that normally hold it back have the perversely positive effect of imposing a level of consistency that helps marketing communications.
It can be especially difficult for SMEs to maintain the same style or flavour to their marketing communications. They replace their entire marketing department when yesterday’s Marketing Executive is replaced by today’s. In big businesses, the department has momentum that outlives individuals.
Nevertheless, you need to decide on a style and stick to it. If you’re promoting classy underwear, don’t run a social media campaign of people at famous landmarks flashing their scrundies.
Style matters as much as content. Red Bull’s next theme is not going to be a Scrabble Challenge. Red Bull means risky, fun and ambitious. They finance blokes jumping from space, F1 teams, air races and the soapbox challenge. They’re very different activities sharing a compelling style.
If only the drink didn’t taste like cough medicine.
So far you might have got the impression that the only thing that matters in integrated marketing communications is consistency. You might be thinking that it doesn’t matter what you promote or how you promote it as long as it’s always ‘on message’.
Think again. The content does matter in one enormous way.
Whatever you promote has to fit your brand attributes. If you’re known for quality, don’t promote price. If you’re known as dependably dull, don’t promote excitement. It costs big business millions to convince people they’re something they’re not. And they usually fail. Do any of us really believe banks are “in it together” with us? Whatever “it” is?
Regular businesses don’t have the budget to even try to promote a false attribute. We can only promote brand attributes we actually have. How do we know what they are? That’s where a brand survey becomes so important. You absolutely have to know how you’re seen by your customers and the wider market.
Integrated marketing communications helps growth.
You’ll notice that successful brands are very good at integrated marketing communications. If it’s a simple red advert with white text, it’s Virgin. If it’s turquoise, grey and yellow with dotty text, it’s EE. If somebody throws himself down Everest in coracle, he’s probably sponsored by Red Bull.
This is no coincidence.
It’s not that integrated marketing communications make you instantly successful. Making your sales promotions and brand building more consistent won’t immediately turn your local travel agency into Airbnb. But applying that type of consistency is one of the things companies like Airbnb do so well.
Big businesses are big and successful because they’re better at what they do. What’s frustrating is that they don’t have to be better. Their marketing practices are not secret. They’re not even surprising. Is there anything earth-shattering in this article? No.
We can do it just as well as they do.
- The DIY route. If you want to put integrated marketing communications into action, you need:
- Define your visual consistency. Have you set your logo, brand colours and typefaces?
- Do you know your brand attributes? If not, do a brand survey. Otherwise you’ll try to promote brand attributes you don’t have.
- Decide on the style you want to promote. Make sure it’s consistent with your brand attributes. There’s a reason Michael Parkinson doesn’t offer you a Parker pen for drinking Red Bull.
- Write down the style guide. Identify a process for changing it so it’s not derailed by one person’s whim (even if that person is the latest marketing god).
- Plan all of a promotion’s communications at the same time, even if some of them won’t be executed immediately. Maintain a hitlist of channels you usually consider. Pick which are relevant to that promotion and create the materials for it.
- Create a marketing communications plan then stick to that plan. Don’t do ad-hoc activities. Avoid the shiny-shiny syndrome so perfectly illustrated by this Marketoonist cartoon.
- The Assisted route. If you don’t have the time, people or system to do this yourself, well, that’s what we’re here for. Give us a call. We’re surprisingly friendly.