The concept of "integrated communications" seems so easy and logical. It seems smart to bring all the various communications disciplines together into a cohesive and connected message. But anyone who works in b-to-b marketing knows that this remains an elusive and frustrating goal.
Why is this so hard? And how can we make it easier?
Not surprisingly, the answers involve a number of factors. First of all, marketers have to better understand the purchase or consideration process cycle through which their customers pass.
As a general rule, broad scale advertising and public relations messages are more effective early in the process, when awareness and consideration are the key objectives. For example, a hardware manufacturer targeting the IT professional audience would likely target broad messaging in trade publications.
As the target moves through the purchase cycle, they will need more information to build brand disposition and preference. These messages can be better delivered online or through direct marketing materials. Direct marketing is an ideal vehicle in which to spell out your productâs performance benchmarks and specifications compared with a competitorâs product.
As prospects get closer to a final decision, you should use your Web site, sales calls and events to close the sale. On your Web site, customers should be able to quickly and easily locate what they are looking for, including several ways to contact you.
Before you worry about any of that, though, you need to identify the purchase consideration cycle in your business. How long does it take customers to move through each successive stage? These cycles can vary in length, depending on the type of technology your company offers.
Next, you need to recognize that integrated communications programs typically incorporate a number of different groups of people. Depending on the size of your operation, these groups could include the advertising agency, the direct marketing agency, the public relations partner, the Web team and event partners. You must bring these parties together. They should help prepare an overall integrated communications strategy from which all messages and materials emanate. They need to come to a shared conclusion about the most effective communication channel at each stage of the purchase cycleâand about how much of the marketing budget each stage will require.
Finally, you have to execute a disciplined plan. Look at your marketing and communications plan. Are you clear on the objectives of a particular program? Are they clear to your partners? Are there logical points where your target will move from awareness to disposition to preference to trial to advocacy? Are you maximizing the potential of every customer touch point? Are you capturing data about who they are and how you can better serve them? Are you measuring the effectiveness of your programs?
There are no simple answers. It requires a disciplined strategy, aggressive execution and a willingness to measure effec-tivenessâchanging whatever is not working and trying again. It also requires getting historically disconnected parts working together. Winning marketers in the coming years will be those who understand the importance of connected marketing and reap the efficiencies true integration can offer.
Michael McLarenis exec VP-director of client service for McCann-Erickson, San Francisco. His e-mail is email@example.com.