Monday, August 23, 2010

Always Focus on the Customer

A little after I joined my family's advertising agency, I came upon a diagram that illustrated integrated marketing. There were two charts, actually, one more simplistic than the other. The simple chart showed how online advertising, email campaigns, direct mail, print advertising, and literature (along with a few other things) should all work together to create a brand. The other chart added more to the soup, including employee training sessions. In neither chart was there much mention of the customer. Oh how times have changed. In fact, Beth Harte, Integrated Marketing expert, details this change in her blog post titled Failed Icon.

To put it simply, the charts that I learned from way back when (five years ago) are no longer relevant. Brand is not at the center of the chart. Your customer is.

Problem Number One: We don't have step one down yet

Have you ever heard the story about the plumber whose sink is always leaking? The electrician who barely has workable light in her house? The teacher whose children do poorly in school? This kind of problem is a perpetual plague to business of all types. We get bogged down in our day-to-day routines, whatever those may be. We prioritize problems, and our customers' problems must come first. That's how we stay in business. This is not the same thing, by the way, as focusing your marketing campaign on the customer, but I'll get to that in a moment. In all of this rushing around, we tend to overlook ideas, strategies, or helpful tips for ourselves. Marketing firms seldom do a good job of promoting themselves. A manufacturer may promote the sales force, forgetting that the company itself needs to be promoted.

Because of this pattern of behavior in the business world, a lot of companies are still struggling to get the basic definition of integrated marketing, as defined in those charts of mine. I am seeing a preponderance of questions like these:

- Which is more important, Social Media or print advertising?
- Who should be the dominant force in Social Media, sales, PR, marketing, or customer service?
- Is going to a trade show more or less important than creating a new brochure?

This tells me that companies are still approaching marketing the way people build tacos. You put some onions on, then maybe some tomato, olives, 5 pounds of cheese, 3 pounds of lettuce. You don't really keep track of what you're doing. You're just grabbing stuff that looks good and you are trying to make it work as a meal. But what do we know about overstuffed tacos? They fall apart. They create a big mess.

Now, approaching marketing piece-meal might work some of the time. The temptation will be to not do anything to the max so as not to to tip the delicate balance between "full" and "mess." But it can work. However, do you want your marketing campaign to be something that "could work" or do you want it to be delicious?

Problem Number Two: Step two is a revolution

One of the results that occurs when companies (or people) approach marketing in a truly integrated way is that divisions, departments, barriers to cooperation, and lots of other annoyances fall by the wayside. This is why we really need to master step one before we can move on to what the new integrated marketing is all about.

Why is that so? Consider the question that people are bantering about quite a bit these days: "Who owns Social Media?" Now, if a company is engaged in a fully integrated marketing campaign, this question would not even register as sensible. "We all own Social Media just like we all own all facets of our marketing campaign and corporate identity." But if a company is not strung together that way, debates erupt. "Well, I think PR owns Social Media." "Oh no no no, customer service does."

Now extrapolate those kinds of arguments to customer care. If your company is not used to approaching things as a single cooperative force, who is going to answer the call when a customer needs support or when a prospect needs to be nurtured into a lead? You run the risk of bickering over exactly what kind of call it is, whose fault it is that the customer needs support, or who should get the credit for bringing that lead in. It's entirely possible, in fact, that your multiple identity syndrome may chase your lead or customer away entirely. It is not possible to create a customer-centric integrated marketing campaign when everything is a struggle.

What a customer-centric integrated marketing campaign might look like

So what kind of revolution are we talking about here? Well, it would be kind of like the French Revolution in that the entire society of the company would have to change from the top down (hopefully no beheadings, however). It would be kind of like the American Revolution in that the company would need to collaborate, declare independence from departments and silos, and create new ways of doing things that had not been tried before. It would be like the revolution that resulted in the Berlin Wall crumbling to pieces because barriers would be torn down in a like fashion.

A customer-centric integrated marketing campaign would begin with PR, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, the C-suite, creative, and other relevant parties sitting down together and asking one question in unison: "What do our customers need?" Sales would learn how marketing and PR would be delivering leads to the company. Customer Service would learn the branding and messaging that customers would be receiving. The C-Suite would learn how the entire company was going to present itself to the industry and to customers and would sign off on the plan from the foundation up. The campaign would incorporate behind the scenes communication that would be ongoing between all of the facets of the company and between the company and its customers. Did that lead turn into a sale? Where did the lead come from? Tell marketing to hit that place harder. Did one of your CSRs receive a raving review or a raving mad string of obscene complaints? Sales, marketing, PR, and the c-suite should know.

Keep the car but drive it in a different direction

The one thing that remains the same in this new era of customer-focused integrated marketing is that all of your marketing tactics and indeed, all of your corporate functions, must work together to achieve the same goals and to present the same message. This extends beyond but also includes the aesthetic. You should have a company-wide tagline, but it should be a message that the customer would value and appreciate. You should have a common look to your marketing materials, but perhaps it is a look you decided on after receiving reader study results or feedback from a customer think tank. Everything you send out should make it easy for customers to understand why and when they might need your products or services. They should not have to struggle to find you. You should be at the trade shows your customers go to. You should be in the print publications they read (and yes, people do still read print publications tied to their profession). When they want to refer you, you should line their path with rose petals. When they have a concern, you should be available 24/7.

Where are you?

Are you working on step one, which is to approach marketing with an integrated mindset? Are you viewing Social Media and trade shows as 2 peas in a pod or as two entirely different plants? Are you mindful of your customers? Do you know where your customers are coming from, why they are staying, or (hopefully not) why they are leaving?

Regardless of your answer, which may take some to think about, your customers are on the move, and make no mistake, they have their drivers' licenses and they have power steering. If you do not begin to market in the way that your customers demand and need, you will not be applauded for standing your ground or staying true to the old ways. You'll just find yourself short on the customer end of your business, which means you could end up with no business at all.

1st Image by Gabriella Fabbri.
2nd Image by Svilen Milev.
3rd image by Lize Rixt.
4th Image by SsJ Toma.

1 comment:

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