The Case for Integrated Marketing Communications
A Well-Rounded Diet Builds Strong Bodies
Many years ago I visited New Guinea. Known as the "Dark Island," the country was far more primitive than even Africa, the so-called "Dark Continent," where I'd spent three years working in the Peace Corps and traveling. One experience stands out in my memory.
New Guinea is a harsh, but fascinating country, whose inhabitants' wealth and respect is measured in terms of the most pigs and the biggest yams. We were on our way to meet the mud-men, a tribe renowned for their ferociousness and cunning. Due to the rugged, mountainous terrain, tribes very seldom come into contact with each other. The mud-warriors, though, had been repeatedly invaded over the centuries and for self-preservation had devised a unique method of warfare: they crafted fantastical and frightening helmet masks made out of mud to strike fear into the hearts of marauders.
When we arrived in the village, the starkness of their poverty was a shock. Thin and malnourished women nursed sickly infants. Huts were unkempt. Trash and flies were everywhere. We were told that tourists (us!) were now the tribe's main source of income.
These people had lost their agrarian foundation. No crops were sown, few pigs were bred, and yams were as anemic as the villagers. They'd naively banked their livelihood on a single means of survival, one that was sporadic at best and rife with underhanded dealings by the tourist traders in the capital city.
Know Your Market
Marketing programs fail for the same reasons: Putting all faith (and resources) into a single activity, and lacking necessary information to make informed decisions.
It's amazing how often I hear printers tell me "Oh, we did a brochure, but it didn't get us any new business." Or, "I ran a couple of ads in a trade magazine, but the return on my investment didn't justify continuing." Or, "I have a website, but no one can tell me the number of leads we've gotten from it." Or, "We rely totally on our sales team for new business. If they don't bring it in, they're out."
It's no wonder marketing has such a bad rap. These singular efforts are bound to disappoint, since they are usually turned on and off like a faucet. To be effective, marketing, like sales, has to be ongoing. It must be approached strategically. And it should be comprised of a range of programs that provide two-way communications: getting your message to the customer and getting feedback from the customer.
In previous columns I've talked about the importance of branding, the nuts and bolts of lead generation, the necessity of two-way communications with your clients and prospects. Now, let's put these concepts into the larger context of integrated marketing communications: What it is, why it works, and how it can be measured.
First, let's agree that print sales is a relationship-driven activity. Sustaining positive relationships with clients brings brand loyalty and expanded opportunities. Building relationships with prospects brings new business.
Let's also agree that our mission is to serve clients. Gone are the days when we could rely on a better mousetrap to bring in customers. In today's competitive climate, ever-improved mousetraps come to market every day. The goal is to know clients and prospects so well that you're always a step ahead of them in offering solutions to their evolving business needs.
Your database is the backbone of any successful marketing program. It should contain as much information as you can capture about individual print buying habits, client satisfaction levels with your performance, perceptions in the marketplace about your company and competitors, etc.
Surprisingly, this information isn't necessarily hard to come by. Sales reps intuitively know its value, and often store such data in their rolodexes and laptop computers. The trick is to get the information transposed and into a functional, centralized database that can be cross-referenced, manipulated and analyzed. The ability to segment and classify clients and prospects enables you to design targeted, individualized messages to each group.
Establishing channels for client feedback is the second key ingredient in the marketing mix. The Internet is an obvious vehicle for this, although traditional methods like focus groups, phone surveys and mailed questionnaires are also effective. It's important to remember, though, that today's allegiances and attitudes can change overnight. Therefore, it's vital to make this two-way communication an integral part of any marketing effort.
How And Why It Works
Two marketing strategies must be developed for an effective integrated marketing communications program: Your communications strategy (what is being communicated) and the execution strategy (how it will be communicated.)
The communications strategy begins with knowledge about your client/prospect. This knowledge forces a consistent, unified message-one brand, one benefit, one selling idea-to be delivered to the marketplace. Key elements of a communications strategy include: client profiles, competitive benefits, a defined brand personality that separates you from the competition, articulation of the real and perceived reasons why clients should believe in the promise of your brand, identified contact points where you will most effectively communicate your message, established criteria and accountability for measuring success or failure, and creation of feedback mechanisms.
The blend of marketing vehicles you select-branding, publicity, advertising, direct marketing, events, websites, etc.-will vary depending upon your objectives and which are most likely to reach your market. Just remember not to depend on only one. And don't forget the Internet. Online e-mail, e-newsletters, affiliate programs, and other online direct marketing tools can be effective, particularly for those clients and prospects who spend lots of time at their computers.
Remember we agreed that print sales are relationship-based? Well, integrated marketing communications is founded on the 1-2-1 marketing premise: The better you know your prospect, the more personalized, targeted message you can hone, and the more loyal and profitable they will be over a lifetime. Hundreds of books have been written about the psychology of sales, how people process and store information, how brand loyalties are won and lost, and how niche-media has created thousands of contact points for communications delivery.
Today's information-overloaded society necessitates marketing strategies that can be executed with surgical precision.
In many instances, the idea of measuring response comes as an afterthought. Your marketing campaign has a compelling message; your support materials are beautifully designed with sensational imagery; and your website is inviting and rich in content. You just know phones will be ringing off the hook and e-mails pouring in the minute the campaign is launched. But what if they do? Who's going to answer all those calls; who's going to respond to all those e-mails? And how are you going to know who's responding to what piece and which offer, so you can fine-tune your message the next time around?
Planning is the answer. Your campaign should always include mechanisms for measuring response. You may solicit responses; e.g., call today and receive a free Pantone Color Formula Guide, or fill out and return this card and you'll be eligible for a week's vacation in Hawaii, or give us your e-mail address and fill out the following questionnaire and you'll be entered into our drawing for a brand new G4! If you have time, you can pre-test incentives on individual markets to determine which ones are most effective.
And don't forget . . . every response and every new piece of information-including customer complaints, questions, inquiries, etc.-needs to go back into that all-important database, the lifeblood of all your marketing efforts. It's not that successful integrated marketing programs are difficult to achieve, they just demand planning and hard work, requirements too often not followed.
Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.
© 1999 Charlotte Mills Seligman
September 15, 1999