MARKETERS NEED FUSION, NOT ILLUSION: COMMUNICATING BRAND BENEFITS IN TOMORROW'S WORLD REQUIRES NEW 'INTEGRATION'

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Despite the merger and acquisition monsoon sweeping away nearly every last independent marketing communications shop, "integrated marketing" as a whole is still not necessarily greater than the sum of its parts.

While it makes theoretical sense for ad agencies to acquire various "below the line" capabilities and for marketing services companies to enhance their own client offerings, not one will fully leverage the potential of its myriad of services until the ideal structure is in place.

What they are in fact building is the illusion of integration.

It makes no sense to align these separate disciplines when they continue to operate in their own isolated silos. The disciplines themselves need to be re-evaluated on the basis of the current consumer and communications environment.

SEPARATION OF DISCIPLINES

The issue is that the disciplines of advertising (meant to influence consumer attitudes) and promotion (intended to change consumer behavior) continue to be planned, executed and evaluated separately. Even on the edge of the millennium, advertising and promotion are still implemented as if the marketing and communications environments were the same as in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, virtually everything has changed! The new reality is that the media have been fragmented to a point where it is im- possible for the vast majority of brands to achieve effective reach and frequency levels. Consumer lifestyles are equally fragmented and time starved.

In addition, budgets are being squeezed to meet the short-term demands of the financial community; brands and categories have been line-extended to shelf-death, and brand loyalty is defunct in the vast majority of categories.

Adding to the maelstrom are a growth in regional and high-quality private-label brands and a retailer focus on knocking unprofitable products off shelves via category management, or "efficient product assortment." Manufacturers approach their marketing communications based on driving short-term volume. Technology enables them to evaluate return on investment against all programming. Because of the increased focus on driving retailer "support," power and funding are flowing inexorably into the field.

NEW SKILL SETS

All these changes demand new communications strategies and skill sets that are dramatically different from those of the past.

The fusion of advertising and promotion disciplines must be the next step for marketing communications -- not integrating separate disciplines.

Advertising must be immediately accountable for volume results. Promotion must support and reinforce a brand's positioning. These critical objectives cannot be achieved unless advertising and promotion are practiced as one discipline.

All brand messaging must possess the ability to build image/equity and also deliver a specific "call to action." At the foundation of this new discipline is zero-based planning that evaluates all potential strategies and tactics as equally important.

Advertising historically has had a lifestyle focus that sought to communicate a brand-driven reason why the product fit into the consumer's life. Today, time is the currency, image is the "real world" and the mandate is to communicate a solution -- that is, a specific, tangible reason why a brand helps make a consumer's life better. Required is a relevant communication combined with a call to action.

A COMBINED OBJECTIVE

This new discipline will need to achieve habit-creation as opposed to warm-and-fuzzy image creation. The objective will be to communicate relevant product usage and drive purchase frequency (habit) instead of providing purely emotional reasons to buy.

Brands need to attain a new level of relevance among these solution-oriented consumers, and this applies to a wide assortment of product categories -- including automobiles, beverages, computers, financial services, food and healthcare.

If consumer advertising and promotion budgets are to get a chance at the more than 50% share of the marketing pie currently eaten by non-equity-building trade promotion, the disciplines as we know them will need a dramatic overhaul.

Given this new environment, neither traditional advertising or promotion can deliver the level of long-term image and profitable volume-building that is required to keep a brand competitive. No longer can brands afford not to know which 50% of the marketing budget is working. It all needs to work.

Whether to connect emotionally with advertising or go in for the quick sale with promotion is a debate that makes sense only in a world that no longer exists. The image-building capability of advertising combined with the call-to-action components of promotion provide a communications approach that drives accountable volume today.

THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

Prove to consumers how the product or service makes their lives better and provide a rational reason to buy now and later. Specifically, in the brand communication world of tomorrow, all brand/equity messaging should include a call to action. All call-to-action messaging should include an equity communication.

Complete fusion of these powerful practices will finally make the whole collection of marketing communications greater than the sum of its formerly separate parts.

Mr. Kramer is president of J. Brown/LMC Group, Stamford, Conn., an integrated

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