Integrated Marketing Means Starting With Content
- March 1, 2023
- Posted by: Robert Rose
- Categories: Business Transformation, Content Strategy, Digital Marketing
Are your content and marketing integrated?
No one can argue content marketing is an increasingly important part of marketing. Content teams routinely take more and more responsibility. You take on thought leadership and the many assets necessary to support marketing and communications. But what doesn’t come along as quickly is the integration to make a more strategic approach.
In our consulting work, I see increasing confusion across marketing teams (well, to be honest, it may have been there all the time, but awareness is on the rise now). They wonder what should come first, the content or the campaign.
In other words, when defining a campaign, do you build the promotion around the content assets to be created? Or do you design the promotion and then assemble a bill of content assets to support it?
Wait a minute. Does it matter which comes first?
It does, actually, but I’ll come back to that. The more pressing challenge arises from a fundamental lack of process or definition about campaigns and content – how they are used and whether content leads or follows the strategy. Put simply: No integrated marketing communication exists.
Product marketing campaign or thought leadership content?
We work with an enterprise consulting firm where the content team struggles to keep up with the work, and measurement is almost impossible to gauge. The product managers for the various services design multichannel promotional marketing campaigns that need content assets. The challenge comes when product managers change the campaign plans – submitted at the beginning of the fiscal year – four or five times in the months before the launch. Even if the content team knew (and they don’t) on Jan. 1 all the content assets required for the year, they can’t create them until they are needed because they know the requirements will change, and much of any early efforts would be wasted.
Likewise, outside of those product promotional campaign contributions, the content team builds strategic thought leadership, such as e-books, white papers, and webinars. They work (or attempt to) with other teams to design thought leadership campaigns that give these assets proper distribution and promotion. While these campaigns change less because they only focus on one asset, they are often siloed or launched in a way that conflicts with another major promotion. Therefore, these thought leadership pieces don’t get nearly the traction or share of attention that the content team wants.
The result: The organization sees high-quality (and expensive) e-books and white papers as distractions from product marketing campaigns. It just doesn’t see the return. And the content team often rushes through the assets to support the product team’s marketing campaigns based on thinking, “what can we do in time to meet the deadline” vs. “what should be done.” As a result, product marketing campaigns often are of lower quality but get a lot of promotion.
Nobody is happy.
What the heck is a campaign anyway
When businesses experience this challenge, two immediate reactions happen. First, they say the product marketing teams shouldn’t change their campaigns, which would give the content team more time.
Or they want to make the content team responsible only for creating content assets that support the product marketing teams’ campaigns. Then, the separate thought leadership content campaigns wouldn’t distract them, and those great thought leadership assets could support the product campaign.
Funny how neither of those reactions ever seems to work out.
The better – and more effective – reaction redefines what campaigns are and how they are planned and prioritized.
First, you must agree on the definitions of a “campaign.” They can be unique to your organization and cover different types or classes of campaigns, but you must all use common definitions.
Is a campaign a series of messages distributed over time that share a single idea and theme which make up your integrated marketing? In other words, is a campaign like when you have a new product launch, construct multiple ads, events, content assets, and a media plan, and distribute them on multiple channels over two quarters? Or is a campaign when you have a white paper and do a series of email blasts and promotion on social media for a month? Or is it something in between? You can see how one definition can differ significantly from another.
Most likely, you will account for different classes of campaigns. This is good. Do that. Do you have a tiered system of campaigns (gold, silver, bronze)? Or is it just more descriptive (fully integrated campaign vs. thought leadership campaign vs. brand campaign)? The key is to determine the clear – and company-wide understood – definitions of these things.
Integrated communications starts with content
More importantly, if you have this challenge, you need to change how the content and campaign planning process starts. It should begin at one shared point rather than in service to one team or the other.
In other words, as product marketers or demand generation teams plot the themes and campaigns for the next quarter or fiscal year, the content team should participate in the discussion and planning process – and vice versa.
Put simply: You need to relearn the lessons of integrated marketing communications.
We lost a great thinker in 2020. Don E. Schultz, professor emeritus of service at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, was considered the father of the practice of integrated marketing communications (IMC). I was proud to get to know him a little when he spoke at Content Marketing World in 2013.
He spoke about IMC in a way you won’t find today. If you search for integrated marketing communications, you’re likely to find most definitions speak to the process of getting a unified message across multiple channels – “unifying brand messages.”
Those results aren’t wrong, but they miss the most critical components of how Professor Schultz defined it:
Integrated marketing communication is a strategic business process used to plan, develop, execute, and evaluate coordinated, measurable, persuasive brand communication programs over time.
In other words, it’s easy enough to align your messages so that everybody says the same thing. Simply dig through that shared folder on the server for the “brand messaging” presentation. It’s quite another to create a process where you can develop, execute, and coordinate your messaging in the same way.
Planning starts with content.
The story. The message. To realize an integrated communications strategy, pull everyone forward to plan and align on the content to create. Then, you can coordinate that content into well-coordinated packages. You may call them campaigns, content efforts, or initiatives, but as long as you agree, you can align them.
If you do that well, campaigns can change at the 11th hour. It’s not that there won’t be implications to that change. But they will be for all of you, not just the teams downstream of the change. The alignment allows for agreement and designates the relative importance of a simple effort to distribute a white paper well (It might be the keystone to the entire integrated campaign) and the expensive, integrated product marketing campaign that follows it.
In IMC, The Next Generation: Five Steps for Delivering Value and Measuring Returns Using Marketing Communications, Professor Shultz begins the last chapter by talking about the future of IMC and the barriers to advancing it. In order, they include resistance to change, organizational structures, capabilities and control, and marketing planning systems.
He knew for integration to happen, the planning needed to come from one common place – a place where content and marketing integrate into one communications strategy.
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