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Integrated marketing must change for the digital world

Neil Davidson
Integrated marketing must change for the digital world Neil Davidson
Marketing's model for integrated communications is now redundant. The increased importance of the internet in consumers' lives and their reliance on search engines has redefined the role for integrated communications and the importance of creative ideas. Creative ideas should no longer drive integration, the strategy and process need to be driven by digital.
The old brand-building model needs to be challenged
The concept of building strong and consistent brands across all marketing channels sits at the heart of the dominant model of integration. Integration usually happens at four levels: visually (the 'matching luggage' model), tone of voice, the campaign idea and the brand idea. It's based on the 2 + 2 = 5 argument: that consistency across channels builds extra awareness in the consumer's mind and that there is a halo effect, whereby high brand awareness and recognition warms up consumers for sales in channels such as direct marketing and retail.
These old ways are being challenged. Brands such as Google no longer rely on investing in brand advertising and are more flexible in how they use their brand attributes. Google's playing with its logo to coincide with events such as St. Patrick's Day is a good example. Forward-looking brands have seen that consumers' relationships with brands have changed because they are much more cynical, no longer passive and no longer only engage with brands in passive media such as TV.
Changing consumer behaviour and attitudes points the way
I carried out research with younger consumers recently and what they said reinforced this changing relationship between them and brands and media:

  • Digital is at the heart of their lives -- it is their main media for content, peer communications and information gathering. Nothing else comes close, not even mobile.

  • Digital search is a core part of their behaviour. URLs are too much hassle to write down, and they know they can find anything they need via a search engine.

  • There is no emotional bond with TV in the way that consumers once had.

  • Most brand advertising fails to connect with them, especially on TV.

  • Google is their ultimate brand. It enables them in the most important parts of their lives and other brands are judged against this benchmark.

  • Their relationships with classic integrated brand campaigns are different. Every brand campaign is now a response campaign, whether we like or not, because of digital search. 
Because of this, understanding and influencing search behaviour is now as important as influencing brand perceptions. Also, it's not only sales that are made in the digital channel, but decisions on whether a consumer relates to a brand or not.
A new digital model for integrated communications
Integrated communications will still build brands, but it will be done differently. The objectives of integration need to change, to go beyond reinforcing brands and creative ideas, to maximise the next stages of the relationship when consumers respond to and then engage with them in digital channels. The process also needs to change, to use the insights available from search data and to then own the potential search outcomes:

  • Defining strategies and campaign objectives -- search data insights (from a brand's website data and keyword research data, offering insights into search behaviour) now have to be part of the strategic planning process. Both are consumer insight on tap, offering insights into how they view a sector or a brand, competitive brands and gaps in the market, both in terms of overall positioning and search insights. If you want some examples of how to use keyword data to do this, have a look at the free Keyword Research Guide offered by Wordtracker, one of the largest keyword data providers. Search objectives and strategies should be added to brand and sales objectives, and all three should work together.

  • Creative briefing stage -- creative teams should understand the search terms being used within the sector and by their target audience, as well as a campaign's search strategy and objectives. Keyword data insights can inspire creative ideas, described as 'keyword creativity'.  

  • Creative review stage -- reviewing an idea or execution with search in mind can maximise its effectiveness. The important creative review questions are:
    - What sort of search might this prompt?
    - What words or phrases would our consumers use?
    - Is this on strategy, in terms of the search behaviour we want, the search words and phrases we already own or want to own?
    - Is the right digital strategy in place to support the content? This will mean owning that term in search results and developing tailored landing pages and digital content to meet the expectations raised by the communication.

  • Creative development for all integrated channels -- search behaviour is changes in response to communications in channels that are closer to the sale, e.g., conventional direct marketing and e-mails, as consumers use terms relating to buying. In terms of effectiveness, the overall keyword strategy and developing keywords relevant to different channels is as important as fit with the creative idea. 
The future for integration revolves around search
If you work on integrated campaigns already you'll know how tough they are to pull off. At its worst, integration can mean forcing an advertising idea to work in channels where other ideas might serve better. A digital and digital search focused approach to integration puts today's consumer's needs and behaviours at the heart of integration again. It's also an opportunity to find a new common ground for everyone involved, based around new consumer insights. This new common ground should make the process easier. Not only can it increase the strength of your brand and improve sales, it could take away a lot of the pain of integration. What more do you want?
Neil Davidson is an independent consultant, Wordtracker.


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