BtoB

GUEST COLUMN: Don Schultz

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I have been asked to review the major changes in integrated b-to-b marketing communication over the past five years. Thus the headline. Marcom has been up and down. Electronic marketing communication was born, died and was resurrected. Mobile communication has exploded. Traditional marketers have faded away. Stalwarts have changed direction. New powers have risen. It has been quite a half-decade.

Major changes impacting or influencing integration have been:

1. The rise of brands and branding. Brands are holistic, demanding integration. You can't have a disintegrated brand as you can separate advertising, public relations and sales promotion programs. Branding has done more for integration than anything else.

2. The need for internal marketing. Senior managers are beginning to understand customers are acquired, retained or lost based on brand experiences. And those come not just from products and services, but from people inside the company. Understanding that integration and alignment of both internal and external communications are critical to ongoing success seems to have arrived. The organizational challenges of internal communication haven't been solved, but the problem has been recognized.

3. The challenge of accountability. Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecards, EVA and a host of other senior management quantitative measures were just starting at the turn of the century, but they are driving communication in a whole new direction-that is, "What do we get back from what we spend?" Senior management's four primary questions for marcom today are:

How much should we invest?

What should we invest in?

What will be the return?

When will that return occur?

Most marcom managers can't answer those questions today. Some new tools are coming that may help. Accountability will not go away. It's something marcom will have to resolve going forward.

4. Electronic marketing as "killer apps." These new tools, developed in the late 1990s, died with the panic of the dot-com bust. Today, electronic communication such as interactive, mobile, short-messaging systems and the like are booming. The rebirth of electronic communication is forcing marketing managers to understand integration in a whole new way: integration on the fly or continuous integration, something we've not dealt with before.

5. The transition of information. This will have the most impact on marcom today and tomorrow. Traditionally, marketers distributed information to customers and prospects-product information, specifications, persuasive messages, etc.-using a host of outbound channels such as advertising, public relations and direct marketing. Today, customers conduct their own information searches, as in, "Let's google that market." Today, buyers commonly know more about solutions, alternatives, costs and the like than the seller. It is a true shift in marketplace power. That challenges how traditional marcom activities such as sales forces, advertising, trade shows, public relations and other approaches should be used, at what cost and with what result.

As for the future. ... Customers have moved to multitasking, multimedia views of information gathering. Marcom is still stuck in traditional "one medium at a time" planning, implementation and measurement. We plan communication programs separately and independently, distribute messages separately and measure message impact separately and independently. Yet customers access and use them together, often at the same time, i.e., multitasking with multiple media forms. Marcom must find ways to deal with these multitasking customers. The key word for the next half-decade must be synergy-how marcom adds to, multiplies or perhaps even destroys the value of multiple messages and impressions customers receive. The whispered word in the famous movie "The Graduate" was "plastics." In marcom, it will likely be "synergy."

Don Schultz is professor emeritus-in-service at Northwestern University and president of Agora Inc. He can be reached at dschultz@northwestern.edu.

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