Brand Execs Say Integrated Communications Leads to Data Sharing and Digital Transformation

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Integrating communications and marketing is a great subject to talk about. Ask just about anyone in communications and marketing and they’ll tell you integration makes eminent sense. Then query the same people whether or not communications and marketing are integrated at their shop, and you may find a lot of no’s. The reasons for not integrating often have little to do with business objectives: turf wars, egos, culture and inertia frequently are culprits (PRN, Oct. 26, 2015). Still, integration remains a hot topic.

It’s so hot at The Conference Board that this week the group will be sending its members a 60-page study, Unlocking Value from Integrated Corporate Communications and Marketing, which adds a contemporary spin to the argument in favor of integration: integration allows companies to better adapt to realities of the digital age.

Based on interviews with 25 brand executives and including several case studies, the report says integrating communications and marketing can help boost the importance of data collection, sharing and analysis. The result, the study says, can be “transformational” for a company’s strategy and operations.

The Conference Board provided a copy of the report exclusively to PR News Pro.

As companies struggle with digital priorities, the integrated unit is well positioned to make a case to the C-suite “for a digital, data-driven approach to business strategy, drawing on the technologies and tools that have typically fallen under their remit.” On a practical level, the lines between communications and marketing have blurred such that both are collaborating more, regardless of structure, and are reaching throughout the company [please see table at the end of this article].

For companies that already have embraced a digital approach, an integrated marketing and communications department can access data faster and more efficiently, the study says. Integration should remove many roadblocks to information flow. It also can improve agility because the integrated unit will help companies find and solve problems faster as barriers to information and decision making are removed. “Showcasing this potential then puts the company on a path to digital transformation, where this speed and efficiency can be magnified,” the study says.

Goals, Metrics and Budgets

Having communications and marketing under one senior leader also helps align goals, metrics and budgets, it says. The single leader imparts a consistent strategy, fosters goal sharing between communications and marketing and better understands how to deploy resources to reach them, as well as to establish the right metrics to measure progress.

When metrics are closer aligned to strategic business priorities, “the integrated function can make a stronger case for a larger budget because it can show more accurately the value it provides to the company,” the study says.

As Southwest Airlines CMO Linda Rutherford says in the study, “Working in an integrated fashion, we’re able to better leverage resources, get bigger bang for our buck, and garner more audience than if we were working independently.”

Employee- and Customer-Centric Culture

Of particular importance to communicators is the report’s take on how integration can influence culture creation. It argues an integrated communications and marketing function can better create a customer-driven business. Both communications, which often handles social media, and marketing want to engage customers and discover their preferences. The study says that having marketing and communications work together with the customer can result in “better insights from long-term engagement on social media…[that intelligence can then be fed to]… other parts of the company…[which can]…respond with meaningful content that sparks interest and continues engagement.”

In an interview included in the report, HP CMO/CCO Antonio Lucio says integration has helped his company “develop end-to-end communication across the total customer decision journey. The experience we create for our customers—from search across to purchase—is no longer just about products.” End-to-end communication has helped HP “bring our vision, mission and brand to life, make our company ethos…mean something significant and amplify the volume of product marketing/sales priorities.”

The report also argues integration can better lead to an employee-centric culture, where employees become brand advocates. The integrated function can better provide “all employees [with] the values, narratives, messages, and platforms to represent the company accurately and meaningfully,” the study says.

Alex Parkinson, Senior Researcher, The Conference Board
Alex Parkinson, Senior
Researcher, The Conference Board

There’s also a CSR angle to integration, Alex Parkinson, senior researcher at The Conference Board and the study’s author, says in an interview with PR News Pro. While communications often is responsible for CSR activities, the effort sometimes “gets lost.” Now that more consumers, particularly millennials, are making purcheases based on a brand’s positive relationship with causes, marketing has been brought into the equation, Parkinson says. This has encouraged companies to acknowledge the importance of aligning business strategies with causes. As this trend has accelerated, corporate communications and marketing have begun to collaborate to ensure business practices, strategies and messages are ethically sound. With the rise of integration “CSR can rise from being an add-on in your annual report, sometimes, to underpinning a business strategy, determining how a brand comes to market,” Parkinson says.

The integration of communications and marketing can help increase brand consistency across business units. The study quotes a Weber Shandwick report, Convergence Ahead, that says “the best-run brands…behave in a consistent way; they stand for one thing or a few things and consistently communicate that globally.” A corporate narrative is tightly adhered to in such companies. In the study HP’s Lucio says only companies with a well-integrated marketing and communications function can maintain the narrative.

The study also makes the point, however, that headquarters at large companies need to recognize regional differences and “allow enough freedom [for regions] to pursue their own communications and marketing endeavors.”

4 Recommendations for Integration

The report acknowledges that integration, as we noted above, often is easier said than done. It notes collaboration between communications and marketing can be an intermediate step toward integration. In addition, for companies attempting to integrate their communications and marketing units it has four recommendations:

  • Go Slow: Large companies won’t be able to change overnight, it says. “There is a need to “fold in gently” between the two functions.”
  • Top Down: Leaders must head the integration charge to “establish cultural readiness throughout the company.”
  • Look Both Ways: Leaders and employees must understand how communications and marketing, separately and together, boost company value. Having the head of marketing simply subsume a communications unit into his department, or vice versa, will not work, the study says. Adds Parkinson, “the person at the helm of it all, the CEO, needs to understand both functions.” In addition, leaders in particular must understand exactly how structural integration benefits the company.
  • HR’s Key: As companies move toward integration and siginficant change occurs to traditional business modes, HR must be supportive and serve as a sounding board for strategy and decisions.

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Note: This content appeared originally in PR News Pro, September, 26, 2016. For subscription information, please visit: http://www.prnewsonline.com/about/info