The Integrated Communications Plan

The Integrated Communications Plan

An integrated communications plan is more than just utilising a common strapline across your adverts, using a single colour palette or force-fitting messages from one medium to another.  Real integration means communicating a consistent brand identity from one message to another and medium to medium and, more importantly, delivering consistently on that identity.

As the number and different types of media continues to develop, our audiences receive multiple and fragmented messages across a wide number of channels.  It is for this reason that integration is now so important.  Integrating a brand takes time and can benefit from longer lasting campaigns.  It also avoids an over-reliance in any one area, such as SEO.

Integration requires not only a powerful brand strategy, but also the discipline (and perseverance) to weave it into every aspect of your business, from advertising to sales, customer service to customer relationship management and beyond. Read on to find out how to develop an integrated communications plan for your business.      

Communications Strategy

The message must be appropriate to your target market, credible, single-minded in its approach, inviting and benefit-led (both functional and emotional) – far too often we major on the features rather than the benefits.  It must be relevant and appeal to both existing customers and potential new customers, partners (if relevant) and staff.

In terms of activities, we can break these down as follows:

  • Direct Marketing
    • Direct marketing remains a very effective way of communicating with your customers at a personal level, with a view to creating a personal dialogue.  Its popularity declined when email marketing was introduced, but its value shouldn’t be underestimated.
    • Poor response is generally the result of poor targeting, ie, always aim for the right message to the right people at the right time.
    • ROI (return on investment) can be high with increased profit and opportunities to provide established customers with other related products, without the high costs associated with finding new customers.
    • It is most effective when used for customer loyalty/retention, lapsed customers, and to gain additional information from prospects.
  • Sales Promotion – Offers and Incentives
    • Understanding your customers and what motivates their buying decision, will influence any promotional offers and incentives. However, adding value to their purchase decision could offer real benefits.  Added value can be real or perceived but should support the brand positioning.
    • Opportunities include:
      • Charitable Sponsorship – which can generate a positive feeling in knowing that a purchase is helping a charity
      • Competitions – the fun of trying to win a prize in a competition, instant win or prize draw
      • Merchandise
      • Loyalty and referral schemes
      • Partner Marketing – there are a number of things to consider before defining and agreeing any contract:
        • Their natural ‘fit’ to your company
        • Their market and brand
        • Their commitment and the added value they can offer
        • Their brand integrity and mutual respect for your company
        • Their vision
      • Potential trade partners relevant to your industry
  • Digital
    • Activities include PPC, SEO, email, video, blogs, forums, mobile and social media (the digital version of word of mouth).
    • There is a tendency as new social networks arise and existing ones evolve, to jump on every bandwagon without first considering where your target audience ‘hangs out’ and what your objectives might be for using a given channel.  A customer survey could help with this.  Many organisations now use Twitter for customer service with Facebook (retail) and LinkedIn (corporate) for developing online communities.  Google+ could aid your social footprint – more on this next month.
    • Digital objectives can be broken down as follows and its really important to set these objectives and identify your target audience in advance:
      • Increase sales – via customer acquisition and customer retention
      • Add value – to your products and services via emails such as newsletters, video, white papers and social media
      • Customer interaction – develop customer relationships, including customer service.  Consider, for instance, the way Amazon do this in a non-intrusive manner
      • Reduce costs – ie, time, money and effort via FAQ’s and e-brochures
      • Boost the brand – by building and developing brand awareness and enhancing brand value
    • Your strategy can then be developed to include the positioning, offer, proposition, call to action and finally the creative, integrating with your offline activity as appropriate.
  • PR/Publicity
    • We use public relations mainly to shape attitudes and opinions and we can do this in a number of practical ways:
      • Media relations, ie, press releases and interviews
      • Stakeholder marketing, again via the use of press releases but also intranet and lobbying
      • Events, exhibitions, roadshows, including those within the community to help define you as a good employer and/or to encourage goodwill and awareness for franchisees and partners (if relevant)
      • Sponsorship
      • Blogs
      • Forums
      • Content marketing
      • Advertorial
      • Corporate advertising
      • Award schemes
      • Crisis management ranging from a customer complaint via social media to, for instance, full systems breakdown
      • Social Media
      • Surveys
      • TV and radio
      • Word of mouth
    • Choice of the above will be subject to your objectives, who you are trying to target (either to convert or to inform) and your KPI’s (key performance indicators)
    • To define your strategy, we would suggest there are a number of things to first consider including, where you are now, where do you want to be and by when, your target audience and what you want them to feel, think and do, and why.  And finally budget and how you can measure against your objectives.
  • Field Marketing
    • Field Marketing is known mainly as product demonstration and sampling, but also merchandising, leafleting, mystery calling, personal selling (door to door) and exhibitions apply.
    • Field marketing is useful to provide support to the sales teams internally, for say, new product launches, or via a franchise network to raise their awareness.  It also assists with brand recognition developed through advertising and other marketing activities.
    • At its most basic, field marketing aims to deliver a free sample of a given product into the hands of potential customers, with a view to creating a personal and memorable experience for them.
    • Your key objectives should dictate the activity.
  • Advertising
    • Advertising focusses on mass communication, whether nationally or to a specialist segment.  It is your strategy that will differentiate you from your competitors, enabling you to engage effectively, amongst the mass of other messages.
    • Cost is high but given the large numbers that can be reached, the cost of contact can be quite low in comparison to other methods.
    • The primary channels include TV and iTV, cinema, radio, press (including inserts and supplements), mobile, outdoor and digital, such as banner advertising.
    • In one respect, your budget will dictate your activity but that decision should be made alongside customer insight and your target audience.
  • Face to Face
    • Including verbal and written communications, tone of voice and presentation – in an age of technology, don’t forget the importance of this.
    • Internal sales forces and/or a telemarketing agency activities should be reviewed and their objectives measured regularly.

If you need assistance in compiling your integrated communications plan and identifying what activities are appropriate for your organisation and objectives, then please do get in touch by emailing: hello@alisonpagemarketing.co.uk.

Alison Page

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