The coronavirus outbreak fast-tracked digital convergence and there is no stopping it. Integrated communication in marketing is absolutely critical for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Just as digitilisation is puzzling most executives, integrating marketing communication has SME owners and marketing executives perplexed but there is no reason to shy away from it.
The principle of integration stipulates that all communication emanating from a single strategic base will generate a significant return on investment in marketing communication when compared to traditional media activities that most SMEs are partial to.
Only a handful of SMEs are trying integrated marketing communication. A vast majority of Indian companies are still sticking to traditional independent communication protocols that only deliver fragmented messaging.
For a brand and enterprise, integration will unlock significant synergies. It will also lead to a stronger customer connection. For an advertising agency, it promises a complete partnership with the client brand that provides a greater share of the marketing communications outlay.
While ad veterans may argue that these views are, too, idealistic, there are three fundamental issues that can potentially derail practical benefits of integration in MarCom:
1 Advertising agencies, which invented integrated MarCom, are constrained by serious media bias. If an ad agency is designing an integrated communication campaign, it typically revolves around advertising. No doubt it is important and necessary but advertising is not everything in communication or integrated marketing.
It becomes difficult for ad agencies that earn their commission from media-driven efforts to advise clients on a non-biased integrated media plan. This can be resolved by SMEs asking agencies to work on a retainer and without media commissions.
2 Many SMEs and large enterprises themselves are not organised enough to embrace integration programmes. Their marketing teams are structured around specific media platforms, with key managers given a mandate to work within specific media budgets and negotiate better deals and innovate in media.
In such a structure, integration and centralisation amounts to a loss of individual power and seemingly powerless job descriptions with fewer decision-making options.
3 Integrated marketing communication begins too far down the value chain to be effective. The current model features tactical communication plans managed by tactical specialists. These plans need to be modified first on the strategic level to get the full benefits of integration.
These issues have to be addressed by SMEs before embarking on an integrated MarCom programme. It may be a good idea to think of a new approach to integrated marketing that essentially starts the whole campaign a step earlier than the communication stage.
What SMEs need is a holistic communication playbook that engages the senior leadership team, including the promoters and owners. It involves strategy, finance, marketing and advertising early in the plan, ensuring that brand management is done properly to optimise its value.
The starting point is always the business goal and not marketing communication. At its core lies the integration of all communication activities associated with the management of the enterprise’s most valuable assets—its brand.
A good integrated MarCom process flows from the basics of brand value management –the strategic management that oversees the building of brands to create long-term value.
Such initiatives begin with understanding the role of the brand in the business model and a determination of how the enterprise can use the brand for sustained growth.
It requires a clear understanding of the brand as a financial asset and identifying the drivers of brand value so that these can be influenced and controlled through an integrated communication programme.
By embracing such a process, SMEs will have the tools to manage the drivers of brand value–an issue overlooked by most SMEs even before the pandemic.The process serves as a catalyst for uniting strategic, financial and marketing management in a joint effort toward building brand value and creating more assets. It will also help in removing internal barriers in the way of realising the full potential of the integrated communication effort.