Integrated communications has become an excessively complex and subjective term across the industry, when it should be a simple concept. There’s a broad understanding that integrated comms ensures all forms of communications and messages are carefully linked together. This has led today’s marketers to align social media messaging with PR messaging, digital content themes with campaign content themes, and website copy with sales brochure copy.

While this is an effective way to ensure one clear message is being externalised, it is rarely the most effective way to ensure all audiences are engaging with the brand. Instead of taking a channel-based approach to integrating communications efforts, marketers need to shift towards taking an audience-based approach and cannot risk being fooled by thinking of audiences merely as different customer personas.

When looking at audiences, business leaders should start with assessing the level of engagement with the brand, rather than the level of spend on the brand’s products. Once this lens is in place, it’s clear that the most engaged audience – i.e. the audience engaging with the brand dozens of times a day – is in fact employees. This is then followed by partners, customers, prospects, the broader industry, and potential employees (though not necessarily in that order).

Making the shift from channels to audiences doesn’t happen overnight, but if it doesn’t happen soon a savvier competitor will almost definitely beat you to the punch. Break down the process into chunks, and start with the basics.

  1. Agree to switch

External communications programs, from media buying programs to PR campaigns, are increasing in sophistication – there are set budgets, plans, priorities, internal resources, agency resources, C-suite buy-in into the approach, and more.

Are your internal communications programs matching this level of investment and depth of thought?

If yes, move onto step 2. But if not, it’s a sign that conversations need to start across the marketing, HR, C-suite and broader leadership teams to ensure the people within the business are becoming as much a priority as the people outside the business. Consider the dollars spent on turning external parties into advocates, and then consider the impact (and likely lower cost) of putting a comparable emphasis on your own staff.

It should be a no-brainer for business leaders to be integrating their communications across both internal and external audiences, but it’s commonly overlooked. The switch to an audience-centric approach won’t succeed without everyone’s recognition of the problem, and drive to fix it.

  1. Link audiences through values

Values are the renowned foundations of driving employee engagement, while 77% of Australian consumers align their spending habits to their personal values. And yet, corporate values are still commonly pigeon-holed into feel-good PR or CSR programs.

Rather than linking channels through corporate messages, brands need to be linking audiences through corporate values to drive genuine and long-lasting engagement. Values will be the common thread across communications, from which the corporate messages stem and demonstrate the impact of bringing those values to life in the corporate sphere.

  1. Nurture an advocacy cycle

Instead of giving partners a story to push and customers a message to receive, an audience-centric approach gives everyone a story they can be part of and resonate with. Employees are empowered to live and breathe their corporate values in their own way, while partners and customers are buying into the business because of the values, which are irrelevant to how the business, market landscape or competitors are performing.

With all audiences on the same page as to why they are your brand advocates, it’s never a ‘hard sell’ – they either believe in the values or they don’t. As individuals, they then advocate the brand through their own networks and channels, ensuring the messaging around values is ongoing and consistent.

For too long, brands have been focused on aligning the look and feel of content on all their external channels and ticking the ‘integrated’ box when all of the channels replicate each other’s messaging. As consumers become more demanding of brands to deliver meaning and purpose, while competition heightens across all industries due to digital disruption, it’s time marketers re-define integrated to be the link between internal and external messages, comms, content and investment.

About the Author:

Drew Usher is Strategy Director for Hotwire Australia. He has more years of experience than he cares to mention working in design, advertising and media agencies for brands including UNSW Sydney, Downer, Mirvac, Moet Hennessy Australia, ANZ Bank, Westpac Bank, GlaxoSmithKline, Danone Nutricia and ALDI Supermarket.

His passion lies in starting, steering and shaping ideas with insights.

This post first appeared in Ad World Australia – https://www.adnews.com.au/opinion/brands-need-to-integrate-audiences-not-channels

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