The case for implementing an integrated communication strategy has never been stronger. The digital content ecosystem is growing rapidly amid changing demographics, rising expectations and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is increasingly difficult for organizations to engage customers, employees and other audiences with a cohesive message and brand experience as the number of communication channels and volume of information shared increases, while face-to-face communication decreases.
Integrated communication addresses this challenge by weaving a strategic thread through all digital and traditional interactions to keep them consistently aligned to business objectives and the brand. This consistency builds trust, establishes deeper connections and nurtures a positive customer and employee experience.
A changing marketplace warrants an integrated approach
Changing demographics have led to a shift in how people expect to engage with organizations. The majority of millennials and all of Generation Z are digital natives and often prefer digital communication methods (e.g., social media, text message, video). Generation X and Baby Boomers now have similar digital communication expectations but still value traditional methods, including phone calls, face-to-face meetings or in-store shopping.
When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, it only accelerated the need for businesses to show up effectively through digital channels. Organizations had only a matter of days to determine how to stay connected to and support their key audiences without engaging them in person. The virtual workplace, in particular, presented new communication and technology challenges never before faced by employers.
The proliferation of digital channels has also created an environment where people expect organizations to respond in real time whenever they want to engage a brand. People are always connected to their digital devices and expect the same from businesses. This “always-on” mentality creates an urgency that requires communicators to think differently and faster. Integrated communication provides clear guidance that supports quick strategic decision-making.
Foundational elements for implementing integrated communication
Integrated communication aligns cross-functional marketing and communication initiatives to mitigate audience confusion caused by disjointed messages. Businesses aiming to weave an integrated communication strategy throughout their internal and external messages should first address these four foundational elements.
1. Develop a deep understanding of key audiences
The first step to develop an integrated communication strategy is to define key audiences, uncover what each audience cares about most and document the business case for targeting each one. When identifying audiences, organizations should consider stakeholders both inside and outside the organization like customers, employees, business partners and shareholders. Secondary audiences, which could include influencers (e.g., referral and advocacy networks) and regulators, are also important because they can impact the primary audiences’ brand perspective, buying decisions or loyalty. Targeting these influencers can amplify and elevate an integrated communication strategy.
Organizations that regularly listen to their audiences can uncover insights to understand them better. Social listening, digital analytics (social, search, advertising) and feedback surveys are effective methods for discovering these insights and determining what messages will inspire audience engagement and action.
2. Gain clarity on how to use communication strategically
Implementing an effective integrated communication strategy requires organizations to understand how to use communication to bridge the gap between the business strategy and desired outcomes. Organizations achieve business objectives when they build meaningful connections with their prioritized audiences. They establish these connections by using integrated communication to provide a consistent and relevant experience, regardless of the channel in which it takes place (e.g., website, social media, in-store, customer service phone call). Customers, employees and partners then know what to expect each time they interact with the organization, which builds brand confidence and trust that ultimately supports a strong relationship.
3. Ensure accountability through assigned responsibility
Equally important to understanding the strategic connection between communication and business outcomes is keeping the organization accountable for integrated communication. Organizations can best achieve accountability by identifying someone whose responsibility it is to keep an eye on all brand messages and interactions — both internal and external — and ensure all parts and pieces work together cohesively and effectively. The tactical application of messages across channels will have some flexibility and variability, but ultimately, everything must tie together through the integrated communication strategy. Cross-functional teams have a shared responsibility to align messaging to this strategy to keep communication consistent regardless of channel and tactic.
4. Align to purpose, mission and values and fulfill the brand promise
Align to purpose, mission and values and fulfill the brand promise
Purpose, mission and values are guideposts for how and why a brand communicates. Integrated communication brings these strategic business elements to life consistently and in support of the business across the digital content ecosystem and through traditional interactions. Brands that share, activate and demonstrate their purpose, mission and values through integrated communication can establish stronger connections with their audiences. People increasingly want to work for and do business with companies whose values and beliefs reflect their own. Integrated communication enables these deep, authentic connections with employees, customers and other audiences. It ensures a consistent story and experience across channels, aligned with the organization’s purpose, mission and values.
Activating purpose, mission and values through integrated communication also helps a brand fulfill its promise. It brings the brand to life authentically and consistently with audience needs at the center of all engagements.
The growing digital content ecosystem, virtual workplace and changing demographics are creating new communication challenges — and opportunities — for organizations. Providing a consistent and authentic experience across the variety of channels available to customers, employees and other audiences has never been more important to build and sustain brand trust and loyalty. Integrated communication strategically aligns all initiatives and messages to help organizations establish authentic and lasting connections with their audiences.