The internet and in particular the advent of social media means that the number of contact points a consumer has with a brand has proliferated. If these touchpoints fail to convey a consistent message, consumers can respond instantly through a tweet or a Facebook post with potentially damaging consequences for the brand’s reputation.
Tim Ambler, senior fellow at London Business School, recalls his early days in marketing when the different disciplines were all handled in the same place. “Moët & Chandon became a brand leader in the UK though PR alone; it didn’t spend a penny on advertising,” he says. “Bringing the disciplines back together again allows the chief marketing officer [CMO] to make better choices about how to build the brand.”
Convergence allows CMOs to find media-neutral solutions to developing their brand and satisfying their customers. This is desirable for a number of reasons – not least cost effectiveness for the company and relevance for the customer – but it is also essential for creating consistent brand messages.
But Tim Pile, chief executive of agency Cogent Elliott, points out: “Integrated communication isn’t just about external communications; it’s about internal communications too. Your employees are your brand representatives and, even if they don’t work in customer-facing roles, they communicate with customers and potential customers, whether on Facebook and Twitter or down the pub. You build brands from the inside out.”
We have, in one place, all the levers we need to pull to make sure we live the brand inside and outside the organisation, and to manage our reputation
While employees need to be “on message”, so do other key stakeholders, such as City financiers, opinion formers and suppliers. This means that the marketing director has to work closely with the sales director, the human resources (HR) director, the finance director and so on.
However, a successful integrated stakeholder engagement strategy depends on a strong core idea. At insurance giant Aviva, this idea is encapsulated in the brand promise “No one recognises you like Aviva” and in the group’s ambition to be “the most recommended brand”.
Amanda Mackenzie, Aviva’s chief marketing and communications officer, explains: “A brand is as a brand does. I am fortunate in that all the relevant disciplines – PR, public policy, financial media, internal communications, brand and marketing – fall into my patch, which we call ‘the customer executive’. It means that we have, in one place, all the levers we need to pull to make sure we live the brand inside and outside the organisation, and to manage our reputation.”
Increasingly, agencies are organising themselves to provide a more integrated service to clients. Some agencies combine different services under one roof, while others offer a sort of one-stop-shop within an agency group.
There are pros and cons to each: for example, integrated agencies, in theory, offer neutrality, short communication lines and value for money, while the group model allows clients to retain a certain degree of cherry picking. And some clients prefer to do the integration themselves, selecting agencies, as they always have, according to chemistry, expertise and business need.
“I’m still not convinced by agencies who say they can do everything,” says Charlotte Borger, communications director at Divine Chocolate. Others suggest that the competition between different agencies under a group umbrella compromises a neutral marketing and communications solution.
Social media encourages a more coherent approach. Ms Mackenzie describes it as “a great big megaphone for everything you do”. She says: “You have to be really open and honest and thoughtful – and be prepared to act on what you hear. The internet acts like a gigantic echo chamber, which is great because you often don’t see problems when you are surrounded by like-minded people.”