Brands need to integrate audiences, not channels

Drew Usher, Strategy Director, Hotwire
By Drew Usher, Strategy Director, Hotwire | 5 November 2019

Integrated communications has become an excessively complex and subjective term across the industry when it should be a simple concept. There’s a broad understanding that integrated communications ensures all forms of communications and messages are carefully linked together. This has led today’s marketers to align social media messaging with PR messaging, digital content themes with campaign content themes, and website copy with sales brochure copy.

Too often, this results in one audience message integrated through many different channels. While this is an effective way to ensure one clear message is being externalised, it is rarely the most effective way to ensure all audiences are engaging with the brand. This is because the communications are frequently produced by different teams and departments – for example, sales and marketing messages are generally unrelated, as are HR and corporate.

Instead of taking a channel-based approach to integrating communications efforts, marketers need to shift towards taking an audience-based approach and cannot risk being fooled by thinking of audiences merely as different customer personas.

1. Define a brand strategy that integrates audiences

Regardless of audience, communications needs to reinforce a consistent brand strategy. However, this doesn’t mean one message applies to all audiences indiscriminately. It’s this delicate balancing act which makes great marketers stand out from good ones.

A neater way to think of it is: all audience messages should cascade down from the pre-determined brand promise, and align with at least one of the brand pillars. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how often this step.

In order to shift our thinking from ‘integrated communications’ to ‘integrated audiences,’ we need to build (or re-build) brands with key stakeholders in mind. Thanks to a greater emphasis on consumer values dictating their brand loyalty, the time is ripe for marketers to redefine their brands in this light. The key audiences don’t stop at consumers though: employees, communities, and corporate networks all must be considered.

Irrespective of these very different audiences, the brand promise and values pillars should stay the same. Rather, you should integrate principles under each value pillar, designed specifically for each audience, enabling them to see how the brand lives each value in the often divergent contexts of a customer, investor, employee, or partner.

It should be a no-brainer for business leaders to be integrating their communications across both internal and external audiences, but it’s commonly overlooked. By doing this, brands can create a shared fundamental commitment to all stakeholders so that they get a shared view of the brand – just seen through different lenses.

2. Link audiences through values

Values are the renowned foundations of driving employee engagement, while 77% of Australian consumers align their spending habits to their personal values. And yet, corporate values are still commonly pigeon-holed into feel-good PR or CSR programs.

Rather than linking channels through corporate messages, brands need to be linking audiences through corporate values to drive genuine and long-lasting engagement. Values will be the common thread across communications, from which the corporate messages stem and demonstrate the impact of bringing those values to life in the corporate sphere.

3. Nurture an advocacy cycle

Instead of giving partners a story to push and customers a message to receive, an audience-centric approach gives everyone a story they can be part of and resonate with. Employees are empowered to live and breathe their corporate values in their own way, while partners and customers are buying into the business because of the values, which are irrelevant to how the business, market landscape or competitors are performing.

With all audiences on the same page as to why they are your brand advocates, it’s never a ‘hard sell’ – they either believe in the values or they don’t. As individuals, they then advocate the brand through their own networks and channels, ensuring the messaging around values is ongoing and consistent.

For too long, brands have been focused on aligning the look and feel of content on all their external channels and ticking the ‘integrated’ box when all of the channels replicate each other’s messaging. As consumers become more demanding of brands to deliver meaning and purpose, while competition heightens across all industries due to digital disruption, it’s time marketers re-define integrated to be the link between internal and external messages, communications, content and investment.

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