Today’s fragmented and complex media landscape presents an ever-changing set of challenges to marketing and communications professionals.
Confronted by demanding yet distracted consumers on the one hand, and a fast-paced and volatile business environment on the other, marketing and communications professionals are hard pressed to steer consumer behaviour and effectively measure responses to campaign performance.
As any experienced business leader knows, developing outstanding products and assembling a highly talented management team only gets you to the starting block. Ultimately, the race for business success hinges on persuading significant numbers of customers to select your company’s products or services over those of other businesses.
The question then is: does the task of convincing clients and the wider market about the value of the products and services your organisation offers fall under the purview of marketing or communications? Or does the responsibility in fact lie somewhere in between these two disciplines? And assuming the chosen approach actually works, who takes the credit or claims that seat at the executive table?
In the past, marketing departments within organisations were most closely aligned to their colleagues in product development. As businesses discover new ways, both formal and informal, traditional and novel, to interact with customers; and as new communication platforms emerge, calls for marketing and communications to come together as a power-packed team are becoming louder and more urgent.
From a business point of view, the core competencies of marketing and communications make for a symbiotic union that significantly raises the capability of organisations. This broader range of skills and heightened depth of expertise will go a long way towards empowering organisations in creating awareness, in brand building and in that ultimate test of business success: sales of products and services. Likewise, in the case of government campaigns, this same skills set is likely to bring about the campaign’s objectives of desired perception and behavioural change and acceptance.
"From a business point of view, the core competencies of marketing and communications make for a symbiotic union that significantly raises the capability of organisations."
For such successful outcomes to come about, marketing and communications teams will need to speak with one voice on the unique selling points of what their organisation has to offer – so much so that they are able to launch a compelling, holistic campaign to clearly promote and brand-build. However, the day-to-day reality for marketing and communications professionals is quite a far cry from this much sought-after ideal of combining the winning features of marketing and communications.
This is partly due to a legacy of a silo and in some cases, territorial mentality that is prevalent within many organisations. Traditional organisation structures invariably lead to turf battles that may impede the development of common marketing communication goals. Often, organisations spend much focus and time on the process, delivery channels and internal territorial issues and not on the story or content that will work best to showcase their products or services.
The fact is that marketers that are not storytellers often find it hard to sell and story tellers that are not marketers will not know how to craft their message to win over customers. These hamper the achievement of those sales targets that are the ultimate goal of the campaign. This state of affairs is hardly surprising if in the course of a work week there is no daily engagement and free information flow and shared accountability between marketing and communication teams.
It may be worthwhile to map out how responsibilities and deliverables all tie together for your organisation to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of your marketing and communications.
Breaking down the artificial divide
Some companies look to the emergence of integrated marketing communications to bring about the best of both worlds from the marketing and communication fields. However, that should not be confused as a subset of marketing. The modern marketing and communications department — particularly within small and mid‐sized businesses — has distinct tasks with a common goal. One is to provide business and market intelligence to support decision making. The other is to communicate clear company and product values to engage and retain customers.
For this to happen, innovative strategies, a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of consumer behaviour and aggressive communication of the company’s message must come together to bring about sales success. As consumers are increasingly inundated on multi‐channels and multi devices, if one does not have leadership that brings them all together, the ability to influence outcomes recedes.
However, some stumbling blocks may stand in the way of such a unified approach by traditional management. Marketing and communications division leaders also may not want to be seen to be reporting to the “other side” and don’t see the value of integration beyond personal loss or gain.
In addition, an obsession over budgets can cause the biggest artificial barriers to ensure “performance” of their own division. These concerns create divides that stand in the way of an integration of common goals; making the collective objective ever more elusive.
In order to effectively break down the barriers, there is a need for senior management’s understanding and support to promote a shared division and for both professions to see this adaption and evolution as professional and personal growth that will benefit the organisation and themselves for now and in future. This is not to say that one should be a jack of all trades, but the ability to develop and switch skill sets is important and increasingly necessary.
Current complex business environments, where information flow needs to be faster, sharper and cut through the clutter, has brought forth a realisation that there is no time for divides. To change internal organisation behaviour will also require a hard look at budget reviews and allocations and performance reviews so that the results of outcomes are shared and are no longer disjointed and isolated.
Measuring marketing in isolation is pointless
Nowadays, it is almost pointless to try to point to a specific piece of the marketing programme as the one making the pivotal contribution in capturing a lead. The true proof of the effectiveness of an integrated marketing communications campaign – the matrix that really matters – is the bottom line. And for this to happen, the campaign needs to effectively communicate across the appropriate channels to the right audience.
"The true proof of the effectiveness of an integrated marketing communications campaign – the matrix that really matters – is the bottom line."
To that end, once organisational goals have been set and a sales strategy of identified markets and prospects has been developed, it is time to map out a marketing and communications strategy with shared goals and common objectives. It is meaningless to measure marketing in isolation as there cannot be a remedial route to bring about uplift in “campaign performance”, without a corresponding effort to adapt communication tactics as part of these manoeuvres.
This being the case, then why shouldn’t communications be part of the performance matrix? Effectively, the dual‐purpose department is part of a virtuous cycle that utilizes improved data and continued customer feedback to make better business decisions and products.
Modern key performance indicators
Should sales be a new key performance indicator for communications and communications the new key performance indicator for marketing?
If there is any resistance to embracing new performance indicators, the most significant one of them has to be sales. Sales is often never a barometer for communications success. Yet, there are a number of key areas in which communications professionals can provide skills and deliver activities which will make a significant difference to sales.
The first step is to appreciate that consumer decisions are based on multiple touch‐points. Communications professionals can meaningfully and effectively take charge in guiding decisions about what is communicated, when it is communicated, how it is communicated and what should be accomplished across these multiple touch‐points. This includes the ability to agree on shared objectives, form an editorial board with strong narratives that have a marketing angle and which raises visibility.
Communications teams can also use their relationship‐building and event‐management skills to organise focus groups and to facilitate discussion with opinion leaders, influencers, government and policy makers to increase the impact of marketing objectives and to build business and market intelligence.
In the process of communicating product value in accordance with business goals and strategy, marketing will also collect customer information, based on interaction with communications professionals in a variety of media. Communicators will also have an important role in evidencing and explaining market impact, using their skills in presenting consumer feedback in a relevant way. This new customer information becomes a data source for the group’s ever improving business and marketing intelligence task.
Evolving skill sets matter
As the world gets more fragmented and diverse, the more united organisations must be. With the rise of social media and content‐led marketing, the time has never been better for communications professionals to adapt their approach and play a critical and vital role in content creation and management.
"As the world gets more fragmented and diverse, the more united organisations must be."
If communications professionals can step up their role in marketing functions and likewise, if marketers can see the value in honing their communications skills beyond the superficial, then both teams of professionals can be assured of being continually relevant for the future. Why not start with the case for integrated marketing communications and spark the emergence of a new breed of skills sets that will strengthen both professions for a better organisation?
• The respective skills of marketers and communicators can complement each other in showcasing an organisation’s products or services.
• Traditional organisational structures produce siloed marketing and communication departments.
• A successful shared division requires the support and understanding of senior management.
• In a dual-purpose department sales can be used to build a new set of communications key performance indicators.