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All about integration Featured

9:38am EDT July 22, 2002

In the last few years, many organizations have made an effort to move their communications function in the direction of integrated marketing communications.

The term has become old, and the concept is even older. Agencies with both advertising and public relations capabilities have been selling integrated marketing communications programs to their clients for decades.

Regardless of what you call it, the strategy is a good one. An integrated marketing communications plan provides the opportunity to pull together many communications resources, including a deliberate mix of advertising, publicity, collateral, direct mail, giveaway programs, use of the Web and so forth, to effectively communicate your messages. It's the most effective means of reaching your target audiences.

As an example, one of our clients is planning for an exciting new product introduction. This is an obvious event that lends itself to a multiplicity of communications activities. We are utilizing advertising, direct mail, public relations and collateral. But you don't need to wait for a new product or service to make use of integrated marketing communications.

When planning your communications strategy, consider what you want to say about your products or services, how you want your audience(s) to respond to your messages and the best means of reaching them.

Once you've established how to reach your audiences, begin with a theme -- something memorable, but also something that obviously describes what you do or who you are, something that reminds your audiences of your value as someone they do business with.

The theme can focus on quality, speed or comprehensive service. Keep in mind that whatever you come up with will have to work with ads as readily as it will with your literature, gift items and other components that should all fit together in the minds of your customers.

The advantage of beginning with a theme is that it establishes the direction for everything else in an integrated marketing communications effort.

Years ago, a company called WABCO introduced a "See Red" theme for marketing its railroad and mass transit brake shoes (which were painted red). Everything associated with that campaign referred to that theme. The ads emphasized it, playing off the message that " ... you should be seeing red ... if your brake shoes don't ... " and then listing all of the benefits of WABCO brake shoes.

A direct-mail campaign with gift items used a similar approach. Each of the gifts was red. The messages, the color (in this case, color was an absolutely essential part of the theme), the gift items, literature and everything associated with this integrated marketing communications campaign reminded recipients that if they were using, or thinking about using, a competitive product, they would soon "See Red."

That subtle message implied that customers would be angry about their choice of a competitive brake shoe that would not perform as well as the red shoe. Secondly, they could lose money because they would have to replace the competitive brake shoes more often, and their bottom line would show red ink.

That campaign was relatively short -- the whole thing lasted less than a year. But, it made a tremendous impact on the market.

You can make that kind of impact in your markets. If you have a good product, you don't have to paint it red, or change its color. If your service is great, keep it that way. Just begin to think in terms of using a variety of marketing communications tools and, more important, think about how you can pull them all together around a theme that clearly communicates to customers. Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or by e-mail at jkrakoff@krakoff.com