Marketing communications strategy often is driven by business or organizational activities, such as product launches or upgrades, new service offerings, mergers or acquisitions, executive hires and other events controlled internally. But it’s a brave and confusing new communications world out there, and now is the time for marketing communications experts to drive strategy, rather than having strategy dictated to them.
The proliferation of online and offline media channels, the challenges of omnichannel communication experiences, the rise of social media, the blurring between B-to-B and B-to-C experiences, and other factors should put marcom squarely in the driver’s seat. Marcom professionals need to increase—and then share—their understanding of how to handle forces beyond the company’s control, to step back from the daily internal activity and get a handle on the trends that will impact the success of their communications plans. Here are some of the trends shaping marcom today:
1. The convergence of paid, owned and earned media: This trend has been happening for a while and is the result of clever marketers, media companies starved for revenue channels, and sophisticated audiences weary of sales pitches (not necessarily in that order). Before the dawn of social media, paid media was pretty straightforward: digital, print, TV, out of home, events or sponsorships, etc. Then social media took a piece of the paid pie with tools such as promoted posts on Facebook and Twitter. Owned media—content that’s branded by a company or organization—now includes white papers, newsletters, blogs, websites, microsites, social media channels and any other format or channel owned by the company. And earned media includes media relations and tactics such as news articles, features, op-eds and social media posts. User-generated distribution through social media, blogs, reviews, comments, survey responses and other tactics could be considered a part of earned media, although some marketers call this shared media.
The lines between all three clearly are blurring when you consider tactics such as native advertising, advertorials and sponsored news items. The main consideration for convergence is how removing one media channel negatively impacts the performance of the others. For example, the failure to advertise after positive coverage in earned media could result in lost sales.
2. The rise of purpose-driven content: Organizations have been generating content for decades, but the advent of content marketing is driven by the need for research behind a marketing plan. Defining your target market, learning how they consume content and in what formats (video, infographics, white papers, etc.), and when to serve information throughout the conversion funnel are as important as the content, itself. Content fills the media channels, but, more importantly, content gets people from attention to interest, desire and action within the funnel.
3. Analytics for mROI: If you’re a marketer with an unlimited protected budget, you can skip this section. Also, where do you work?
The rest of us constantly are justifying our budgets, fighting to get more and generally trying to prove our value to our companies through marketing ROI. Marketers need a formal, documented measurement framework that ties general business objectives, such as increasing revenue, to specific metrics, such as media placements, website activity, inbound calls, etc.
Analytics should help marketers get past budget justification and facilitate learning through testing. Measuring can help you fail fast and optimize victories, and should cover content, media and timing. Analyze what you say, and when and where you say it.
We tend to associate analytics with online tactics, but it’s important to measure both online and offline tactics within a campaign. An example of measuring the impact of offline and online tactics could include targeting certain metro areas with events and media relations while executing advertising and direct-response tactics nationwide.
Understanding these major trends will help define the discipline of marketing communications and add value to your role within your organization.
Shane Johnston is executive vice president and director of client development at Raleigh, N.C.-based strategic communications firm Capstrat.