Putting the Customer at the Center of it All

October 19th, 2007

Integrated marketing is among the most discussed approaches around, considered to be the holy grail of marketing. Driven by the staggering fragmentation of media usage, the growing role and power of the consumer as influencer, the rapid emergence of the Internet as a viable marketing channel, and the ever-increasing pressure for marketers to demonstrate a return on marketing investment.

Yet, according to Forrester Research, only 14% of marketers can correctly define the term and a mere 9% are using it at the highest level of optimization.

So what is integrated marketing? Why is it so hard to attain? And where do you start?

First: what it’s not. It’s not merely a consistent message in all media at all touch points or making everything look alike. Real integrated marketing is more than mere coordination of the message across multiple channels.

Integrated marketing is a holistic discipline that inspires coherent and creative organizational structures, as well as cultural and brand alignment around fundamental truths of the brand in order to deliver value to customers. It puts the customer at the center of it all.

There are two primary challenges:

Engaging all “customer-facing” functions in the effort.
A major impediment to building a customer-centric organization that can practice integrated marketing is the conflicting goals of the primary customer-facing departments: sales, marketing and service.

Breaking down silo prejudice within marketing groups.
There are often three centers of power that vie for dominance: brand marketing, direct marketing and interactive marketing. These functions tend to have different goals and are measured differently – sometimes with competing metrics.

The reality is that the road to integration is rife with the temptation for silo mentality, making it difficult to get past the prejudice of one solution over another. And, in the hyper-drive to achieve goals, it’s too easy to lose sight of customers as people and instead think of them in terms of “objects” that need to be optimized.

But it’s possible, and worth the effort, because the rewards are great. Research by the Centre for Integrated Marketing has determined that the typical scale of benefit for marketers adopting integrated marketing was a 10 – 25% enhancement in business performance.

This gain is achieved due to a number of interrelated factors:

  • Improvements in customer attitudes and behaviors from more consistent experiences of brand value.
  • Synergy and multiplier effects on profitability from improvements in customer attitudes and behaviors.
  • More efficient (and effective) media choices and mixes, as well as better deployment of communication disciplines.
  • More flowing, efficient (and effective) business processes, creating higher added value.
  • Substantially enhanced evaluation and improved applied learning across the organization.
  • Improvements in staff morale, cohesion, stress and creativity.
  • Reduced employee replacement costs, employee cost/benefit synergies and an enhanced employee cost/customer value ratio.
  • Reduction in internal fragmentation and cost holes.
  • More cost effective use of agencies and business partners with better team results.
  • Cost-effective synergies.

5 Basic Tips for Getting Started

1) Define your objective (why)
Start with clearly defining your strategic marketing objectives within the context of the overall business objectives. Is your key objective to increase shares? Protect your leadership position? Enhance loyalty? Change the game? Drive sales?

Understanding that every marketing initiative that involves communications has a blend of five elements that can impact the overall experience for the customer, we use a tool called the Bozell FOCUS model to map the intensity of the marketing objective in the five key areas. As we develop our plans, this tool provides a helpful reference framework for determining the value of each plan component at every potential touch point.

Our FOCUS tool takes into account that every marketing effort contains a blend of five elements that can be related to overall experience for the customer. However, the significance or intensity of each element varies based on strategic goals.

FEEL (the Brand Experience): interacting with the brand’s tangible and intangible deliverables from store and website design, communications tone, product availability, design form, value or pleasure in use.

OPPORTUNITY (for Relationship Building): building the relationship or affinity – emotional bond, brand know-how or expertise, as well as building personal knowledge about the customer.

CREATE (and Enhance Perceptions): of the brand promise, value proposition, core values or brand values.

UPHOLD (Provide Help and Support): in relationship to needs and wants. From availability of new services/products to consultancy in the purchase process, in-use status reporting or resolution of a post-purchase problem.

STIMULATE (Activating the Sale): stimulate the customer towards further investigation, trial or purchase.

2) Understand your customers and prospects in relation to your brand (WHO)
Really understand them. Beyond the stats. Mine your databases; append data to customer files to get a richer and fuller picture of who your current customers are.

Through a process we use called Smartargeting, we often help our clients quantify and define the best prospects through modeling and other data analytics processes. We determine answers to questions like: Are those who look like my best current customers also my best prospects? If not, who is? Where are they?

Once defined, learn as much as you can about them. What motivates them? What are their likes and dislikes? What is their day like? What are the natural touch points where they may come in contact with your brand? What are the touch points during their day that might be relevant to your objectives?

3) Engage all customer-facing and marketing groups in the pre-planning process (WHAT)

Sounds cumbersome and it can be, but by doing so you get skin in the game from all parties and your plan is more integrated right out of the gate. Present your focus model that indicates the intensity of the goal against the five elements and a clear profile of your best prospects/customers to the group and discuss openly where things intersect, converge or diverge for the customer/prospect relative to your respective areas.

4) Develop a silo- and media-neutral plan (HOW & WHERE)
By designing a coordinated, sequenced plan where each touch point, communication and channel has a distinct, unique role in engaging the customer to achieve your objective so you can create a strong customer experience. (Tip: Think of it as an orchestra where no single instrument is prominent, but instead together they make beautiful music. Hence, don’t necessarily think advertising first with other things wrapped around it as support.) With this type of orchestrated plan, the emphasis isn’t so much on consistency but on authenticity and on the notion of a journey where a clear destination exists and a dialogue with successive communications (based on response) develops.

5) Monitor your efforts and make adjustments as needed (WHEN)

Stay engaged. Monitor word on the street. It’s easy now to set up alerts to find out when someone is talking about you, especially online. Actively solicit feedback and have a real, ongoing dialogue with customers as well stakeholders inside your organization. If something’s not quite right, fix it.

Putting your customers and prospects at the center of it all creates a richer, continuously evolving and dynamic experience that brings your brand benefits to life.

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