5 ways to rise to the challenge of integrated communication

There are some terms in marketing which get used so much and in so many different ways that they can actually start to become confusing and unhelpful. Concepts like 'insight' and 'big ideas' are two well-established examples. Another of growing concern is that of 'integrated brand communication'.

Who can argue with the fact that any brand's communication needs to be integrated? But who can explain clearly and simply what we actually mean by this?

As digital channels continue to transform the media landscape, there are some new and changing ways in which marketers should be seeking to join up and orchestrate their brand activities in order for them to have maximum impact. It only takes the disjointed experience of receiving an email on your phone that is linked to a non-mobile website or a smooth online purchase marred by the poor experience with a subcontracted delivery company for a customer to go elsewhere.

Here are five ways to rise to the challenge of integration. And I'll use McDonald's to bring things to life, a brand that has won numerous IPA and Marketing Society Awards for Excellence and effectiveness of its brand communication in recent years.

1. Integrated marketing objectives

The key starting point is to integrate the core objectives for communication across three distinct levels:

  • Desired impact on business results
  • Changes in customer behaviour needed to deliver these results
  • Changes in customer attitudes and feelings towards the brand that will trigger these behaviours

In the McDonald's recent 'extended hours' campaign, the brand objective was to increase sales in stores that are open after 11pm. It sought to attract the attention of people out and about at night, a segment they termed 'night owls', and get them to build a visit to a McDonald's into their night-time rituals. However, this had to be done in a highly targeted way to ensure they went to the specific stores open at that time of night.

2. Integrated multi-channel campaigns

Having clarified the purpose for communication, the next challenge is to develop campaigns that deliver the right message to the right customers through the right channels at the right time. At the heart of the McDonald's campaign was a 'restaurant finder' app which enabled hungry night owls to find an open McDonald's outlet. Local radio and outdoor advertising were also used to raise awareness, as was banner advertising on relevant websites and ads in channels such as ATMs and service stations to connect with people's existing night-time habits. The final results were impressive with over 6.8 million people visiting the restaurant finder app in a 12-month period and a 4% uplift in night-time sales volumes, delivering an ROI of £2.71 on each £1 invested.

3. Integrated 'always on' engagement

This campaign-driven approach to communication is important, but it is only part of the story. In the digital era, people can choose to connect and communicate with brands at anytime through a wide variety of channels, not just when the brand has something it wants to talk to them about. Marketers need to think about creating and supporting a dynamic brand ecosystem where 'push' campaigns play a significant role, but where engaging brand assets and conversations are maintained throughout the customer journey to enable customers to 'pull' and 'share' brand-related content on their own terms. This requires broadening the scope of marketing programmes beyond campaigns alone to integrate more 'always on' activity. McDonald's recognised this fact as it took steps to revitalise its business after the PR problems it experienced in the early 2000s. Whilst shifting its approach on issues such as health, nutrition and sustainable sourcing, it also adopted a more open and engaging stance to the public, press, government and NGOs. A website was launched called 'Make Up Your Own Mind' to provide a forum for people to ask questions, raise concerns and receive honest feedback from the company. This has since been renamed 'What Makes McDonald's?' and it provides an important interface to help customers find out more about what is going on behind the scenes.

4. Integrated cross-functional alignment

To deliver integration on this broader scale, it is essential to view marketing programmes from the customer's perspective right across all the potential touchpoints they have with the brand. And to deliver a joined up, consistent experience requires going well beyond integrating the work marketers do externally with their various comms agencies, difficult as this can be in itself. The imperative now is to join up the company's activities on a broader basis by communicating effectively internally and aligning teams cross-functionally to deliver a seamless customer experience. The customer should never bear witness to the internal divisions or silos within a company, no matter how difficult this may be to achieve in practice. Jill McDonald, CEO of McDonald's in Northern Europe, gave her view on this at the recent Marketing Leaders Programme: "being able to understand in your organisation what's going to engage other functions is something marketers have to work out. How you put the customer first differs by organisation, so there will be different hot buttons to press. For my organisation, ensuring there is customer data, quantitative as well as qualitative, is important to help people understand not just what's happening with customers, but how they're thinking and feeling. You have to be able to bring to life your ideas in a way that demonstrates how they are going to grow the business."

5. Integrated brand-building

To inspire and guide this complex range of activity, it is vital that all of a brand's activities remain firmly rooted in the business and brand vision and values. In the case of McDonald's, the vision that has driven its revitalisation has been to be 'a modern progressive burger company'. In branding terms, research in 2008 revealed McDonald's performed poorly on category driving attributes such as perceptions of food quality and integrity, as well as customer affinity for the brand. This was partly a consequence of the fact that brand communication had previously focused on promotional activities highlighting value and variety. A shift in strategy resulted in using brand communication to strengthen consumer trust and affinity, integrated with innovation in the product and service offer such as healthier menu choices and refurbished store environments. The overall results have been impressive with McDonald's having recently posted 27 consecutive quarters of growth in its UK business.

Achieving integration on this scale is certainly a big ask, but as a result it is an increasingly potent source of competitive differentiation that can drive long term customer loyalty and brand advocacy. It requires linking business and marketing strategy, financial and customer metrics, strategic brand thinking, practical in-market execution, and external multi-agency and internal cross-functional activity. Handling this challenge is at the core of a marketer's role in business today. By rising to it successfully, the opportunities for marketers to drive sustainable growth are extremely exciting as the recent success of McDonald's has proved.

Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s marketing capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Marketing Capability.

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