“Integrated marketing” (IM) is one of those hot topics in business circles. As is often the case with a buzz phrase, IM means different things to different people. When termed “integrated marketing communications,” it means a seamless combination of advertising, public relations and publicity efforts. Today, many use IM to refer to the even bigger task of melding customer acquisition and retention, product development, database management — basically, all things marketing.
What, if anything, does IM mean for your business? For insight, I went to the examples of my own (former) small business, some fabulously successful big companies and a Little Rock-based integrated marketing consultant.
Back in my days as a small business owner, I would often share experiences with my peers. At Chamber of Commerce functions or community events, we’d often chuckle over the amount of work we put into our businesses and the inadequacy of formal titles in describing our jobs. “Yeah, I’m a CEO — Chief Everything Officer,” one business owner told me. “I’m the strategic planner, check-writer, and official vacuum cleaner operator,” laughed another. If you’re a small-business pro, you certainly understand the need to do at least a little bit of many interrelated things.
Many small-business managers practice integrated marketing (even though they might not call it IM) because there’s so little division of labor in their companies. As businesses grow, the job of integrating operations often gets harder. Management becomes a team affair, with different people running affairs within their more narrowly defined specialties. In effect, many growing businesses become dis-integrated, turning inward and losing their focus on the marketplace.
Some large businesses still manage to get it right. In a January/February 1997 article in Harvard Business Review, professors Erich Joachimsthaler and David Aaker looked for clues to successful IM in the examples of successful European businesses like The Body Shop, Häagen-Dazs, Hugo Boss and Swatch. In these companies, the CEO maintains a clear sense of the organization’s identity. That CEO, or a trusted person or team, keeps responsibility for the brand and makes sure that implementation groups (such as the marketing department or an ad agency) completely understand that identity. There is, in short, a clear customer-centered vision coming from the top.
In contrast, according to the authors, “many U.S. companies delegate the development of brand strategy to someone who lacks the clout and incentives to think strategically.”
Can managers of growing businesses learn from these European big boys, yet still keep that Arkansas small-business spirit?
I recently spoke with one Arkansas consultant who works on reintegrating a marketing focus with his clients. Tom Ricciardone, president and CEO of Thinc Marketing Group in Little Rock, bases his consulting practice on longer-term marketing strategy. In his work, he’s found a few companies (and CEOs) who have drifted away from the very things that made them successful in the first place.
“Really,” he says, “all the definitions of IM boil down to being so customer-focused that all decisions are rooted in the experiences and needs of your customers. Everything else just flows from there.”
I agree. One of the principal values of IM today may be as a reminder. Yes, integration is tougher in a world of greater complexity and faster change — but the very complexity and pace of business make IM even more necessary.
As Ricciardone said, “It sounds simple, and it is, but first it’s about mindset. It’s a leadership question. Putting an integrated marketing orientation in place requires that senior management understands the power it can unleash in a company — and the changes that may be necessary to make it happen.”
If you’re a Chief Everything Officer today (or even if it just feels that way), make sure that framing and enforcing a clear, marketplace-centered strategy is at the top of your Everything List.
(Jim Karrh, Ph.D., is assistant professor of marketing and advertising in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s College of Business Administration, as well as a consultant to corporations and nonprofit organizations. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)