Integrated communications is the way to go – agreed; But hang on, the similarity just ends there

Category: Communication Published: Wednesday, 28 June 2017 Written by Xavier Prabhu

As an industry insider and like most professionals am happy with the prominence accorded to integrated communications as a concept and it being touted as the next big thing. However, of late that happiness is giving way to wariness of the lopsided manner in which many in the industry are projecting or communicating it to be. Before I try to focus on what truly is 360’ etc. let me get one thing straight:

As an industry insider and like most professionals am happy with the prominence accorded to integrated communications as a concept and it being touted as the next big thing. However, of late that happiness is giving way to wariness of the lopsided manner in which many in the industry are projecting or communicating it to be. Before I try to focus on what truly is 360’ etc. let me get one thing straight:

Integrated communications is not merely about going beyond advertising
Integrated communications is NOT the refuge of firms who have realized that advertising is no more the king that sits on the branding and communications throne and no longer is the consumer, an ad-ministered individual?  In my view, integrated communications is the natural evolution of the communication industry from being medium/message driven to being consumer and market driven. To putting the clients and their end consumers centerstage and choices being determined by that rather than your bouquet of offering. The danger with treating it as going beyond advertising is that advertising gets implied as one of the tools. So, you do an event or something with one 30 second spot or a print ad. thrown in. That is unacceptable to believers in the concept like us to whom integrated communications is a new, open and (tool) unbiased way of looking at communication. We go in with an open mind and not a fixed offering portfolio and try to evolve a solution that sometimes will not even have an ounce of advertising. Or even events. Or even promotions. Or even media relations. It is about looking at for the first time at end consumers and our clients in a new manner and engaging them like true partners and consultants. We are solution providers and we come with a truly open mind and no hidden agendas. We have no revenue pressure to sell a 30 second spot or a promotion. We just have the pressure to build a solution that delivers. For example we might end up recommending a blog as the best and only solution. It is about true mixing and matching from the view point of an effective end result and not one where one or two components are fixed and the rest is mixed and matched. And for godsake it is not a debate about the effectiveness of advertising. The market has moved beyond it and every client today needs to take a call on any medium/tools’ effectiveness with or without data and whether the agency concurs or not.

Having driven that point, let me outline some fundamental characteristics that need to underly any campaign or solution that claims to be truly integrated.

Neutrality to any medium/message/tool
You are no longer an ad agency or a PR firm or an event firm or a direct marketing firm. And you are also not necessarily all of these rolled into one. You are a consultant and a solution provider whose core competency/experience allows you to identify the best tool(s) for the said client or business need and also evolve the most effective mix of the selected tools. At no point do you have the constraint or pressure to include a tool.

Treating end consumers as more intelligent than us
True is it captivating to watch AB in his baritone voice or some stunning Bollywood heroine prancing around. True it holds attention and helps me remember the brand name. But is that the end or can it be the only objective of any communication? It is NOT.

Such approaches which presume and assume the consumer to be part of a herd and driven merely by glam is an approach that has no place in an era where often the end consumer knows more about the brand than even the client, leave alone the agency. Let us accept it – the consumer of today is a rational, intelligent being who has access to loads of third party information on the company, the brand and the works. So while they might laugh at and like the ad. with King Khan, if you take the trouble to walk with them to a retail outlet, you will find the disconcerting sight of them buying another brand. Am for once not saying celebrity endorsements are not effective but the point I would like to get across is that consumers are intelligent and see through such efforts. If not backed by rational evidence.

Like I said in a panel discussion that was part of in Pune recently, many of us in the industry cutting across firms are beginning to believe we have the magic potion that can sell any brand across categories. That we as the creators of the communication are superior to those communicated to. That our sophistication, technique and packaging is sure to mesmerize any consumer who then has no choice but to fall in line.

Infact, I was asking this question candidly to myself and studying my behaviour as a consumer. Even factoring some skepticism considering am in the industry, found that a large part of my brand choices were made more by a holistic opinion/impression gathered from multiple sources than a delightful communication.

What this effectively means is that instead of plying our tools of the trade, let us start plying our ability to respect and understand the intelligent consumer and being able to identify the best tool for getting that across in a neutral and unbiased manner.

It has to be a two way street
This just build on the earlier two characteristics. If you are open and respect the consumer’s intelligence, then you will listen. Listen raptly and humbly. Listen as often as possible and make it a point to listen to as many as possible.

In a way, you become a facilitator who deploys that absorbed knowledge or insight to evolve into a communication. The message is thus truly participative. Since it evolved from the consumer and not us within the four walls of our agency or studio. And this listening needs to continue and cannot stop at any point of time. Infact, if needed, let it evolve into a dialogue.

You will see the drastic change now. The communication becomes a two way street and the end consumer is often more engaged than he or she would have been had it been that one brilliant commercial. Not to mention as many case-studies across the globe attest to, such listening or dialogue makes you change or infuse new elements into let us say a commercial which then goes beyond being a commercial. Of all characteristics, this is the toughest. Since it means getting out there, accepting the answers are not within us and being open to learning on a continuous basis.

To summarize, integrated communications, if rightly understood and deployed as a concept allows building of optimistic rapport with consumers/stakeholders, better understanding of their needs, motivation, outlook and actions and finally evolution of meaningful and sticky solutions that work.

The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts to your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it’.

Hope each communication professional does that on an ongoing basis. It is important since an army of such people is critical to integrated communications as a concept succeeding in the marketplace.

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