5 straightforward ways to integrate your communications activities

Using digital channels in tight association with others helps get the highest value from campaigns. All too often though integration is at best an afterthought and at worst ignored.

This is the triangle I draw when I’m trying to explain how to integrate digital comms into a client’s other activities. It provides one way of thinking about the challenges and opportunities that face us, and can stimulate better ideas.

The integration triangle

In the interests of keeping it short, this post is going to be pretty theoretical. In future posts I’ll cover some practical case studies and refer back to this post. Think of this as laying the groundwork.

Here — in brief review — is some of what we know about the three corners.

Digital media

  • Web, mobile web, SMS, email, instant messaging
  • Always on/on demand
  • Customer managed relationships/interactive/self-service
  • Messages can spread far and wide
  • Permanent, searchable multi-media records
  • Not mediagenic
  • Less message control: everyone can have an opinion and a voice!
  • Cluttered, fragmented environment
  • Permanent, searchable multi-media records

The single most important thing to think about in terms of integration? Except in very rare circumstances a website isn’t a story. Websites aren’t mediagenic. It’s principally because they make such bad television stories that Second Life captured such media attention a few years ago. Here at last was an internet story that looked good on TV.

Traditional media

  • Traditional media relations, advertising, media sponsorship
  • Broadest audience reach (still!)
  • High impact & highly-valued by audience
  • Established channels and best practice
  • Relatively high degree of message control
  • High requirements for story
  • Long lead times

What do we know about the traditional media channels? That, as they fragment, mass audiences are getting harder to track down. That audiences are paying less attention, or ad-avoiding. That newspaper readerships are down across the board.

And yet we also know that coverage in a traditional media news brand still generates huge traffic for digital channels. That our influence mapping projects still show sites like the New York Times, the BBC and the Guardian at the centre of most conversations. That stories that break on blogs still need to reach the mainstream media to become really big time.

The real world

  • Events, installations, kiosks, experiential, street teams
  • Highest impact
  • Established channels and best practice
  • Smallest reach
  • High cost of involvement

Taking an action online (whether finding information, doing shopping, or finding a date) takes little or no effort. This convenience is its strength but also a weakness: that people tend to undervalue things that cost them little in commitment or investment is hardly surprising.

On the other hand, taking even a small symbolic action in the phsyical world can create such strong commitment that many marketing approaches (including sampling, try-before-you-buy, and face-to-face selling techniques) rely on such small actions for their effectiveness.

The problem? Doing stuff in the physical world is a logistical nightmare by comparison with doing stuff online. To reach those few people you’re going to reach requires a serious investment in planning and time.

5 ways to integrate your comms activities

If any idea exists in only one corner, then it should always be extended or challenged. Here are five simple ways to do this.

Use traditional media to drive traffic online

Traditional media provide a point of difference and drive traffic to digital initiatives

In the nineties, it was a hard job to persuade clients to add a URL to their advertising campaigns. Now that’s the most some of them will do.

There’s nothing wrong with just publishing a URL. But just as the days of putting a URL on a sticker, flyposting it in the washroom of hip night spots, and relying on nothing more than curiosity to drive traffic are now over, so perhaps it’s no longer enough simply to print your corporate URL on your press ad. It’s better than nothing, I suppose. If you’ve already got a lot of brand recognition, it may even work.

Anything we can do to make the call to action more relevant — give them a reason to visit the site. If that’s not the whole point of the ad, or the story — if the URL is pinned on as an afterthought — then the audience will read it that way, and act accordingly.

The same is true of earned press coverage, although here it’s an even simpler equation. However often you put your URL on the press release, it won’t be printed by even the most time-poor journalist unless the site has some intrinsic relevance.

Use the real world and digital to create content for traditional media

The real world creates mediagenic content which can be pushed through multiple channels. In their own small way, so do the digital channels.

Numbers on the web are strangely inflated and meaningless, so getting a thousand people to your campaign site won’t make anyone happy. On the other hand, getting a few dozen people into a room can be a photo opportunity. Neither press nor TV journalists will publish images of a website, but anything with real people in it could be a story.

If you do it right, though, you can collect enough of a story online to make it a story for the traditional media to pick up. It’s sort of sad-but-true that you can sometimes get a story in as because it mentions Twitter or Facebook (some particularly poor examples: “Man killed wife in Facebook row”, and Second Life affair leads to real-life divorce for David Pollard, aka Dave Barmy.) Try to do more than that. Get hundreds of people to make a huge smiley in time for the Google Earth satellite to take a snapshot, for example. That should make the news.

Use digital media to archive your campaigns

Digital channels provide an easily searchable public archive for real world events and traditional media channels

A conference speech reaches only those people in a room until you record it and put it online. An ad is only shown to the people you pay for until you put it online. Yesterday’s newspaper story is old news everywhere except the web. Digital channels help you reach wider audiences; everyone from that person who really wants to show a friend the great ad you made to the person who’s Google search turns up your story. Put your photos on Flickr, your slide presentations on SlideShare, your documents on Scribd, your videos on YouTube (and Vimeo.) Turn your press office into a social media newsroom. Create podcasts and vodcasts.

Storage is cheap and bandwidth costs little these days, but don’t take that to mean that you have to become your own broadcaster. Instead, consider placing your stuff where people look for such stuff, and make sure it’s titled and labeled and tagged and (where appropriate) transcribed so that people who are looking for stuff find your stuff. You know the way that Apple computers turn up in any ad that needs a photo of a computer but that isn’t actually a computer ad? It’s the default designer’s image. My dream is that our clients’ products become the default image in everything from boardroom presentations to blog posts.

Use the real world to create the perception of value for digital channels

Nothing that happens in the digital channels has value until it is activated by the traditional media or the real world

Everything in the digital world is free. It’s a world of abundance — I give you something (a photo, a song, some software or information) and yet I still have it. Anyone working in marketing knows the truth: that people value stuff that’s free as though it were valueless. Online marketeers occasionally create false scarcity to give a free service the perception of value; you may recall for instance the buzz when hard-to-get Gmail beta invites sold on eBay, or when Pownce invites did the same three years later.

The best way, though, to create value is to do something in the real world. In the physical world, scarcity comes into play. I give you something and I no longer have it. This makes me more careful about what I give to whom in return for what. These transactions mean that we start valuing things differently. If there’s only room for a hundred people at the Prince after show party and person A gets to go but person B doesn’t then they’ve got something to talk about.

People also value traditional media more highly than digital media. The millennials’ desire to be famous is still expressed in terms of traditional media. Get them onto a blog? Not so interesting. Get them on a reality show or into a TV ad? Now you’re talking.

Use digital channels to simplify the administration for real world events

Digital channels provide a self-service administration channel for real world events that reduces overheads and increase reach

If there’s one thing that digital channels have done that has revolutionized our lives, it’s been to turn us into a world of self-service customers. I haven’t been to a travel agent in years. With the aid of the web, I select and pay for my insurance policies, my entertainment, my software and business tools. Using online tools reduces time and cost overheads.

If you’re organizing a real world event, use the tools that people already feel comfortable with. Use a full-featured service like Eventbrite which will handle everything from eCRM to inventory control and ticketing, or cobble something together from widely (and freely available) modules. Depending on the audience and the event, consider using things like Meetup, Yahoo! Upcoming, Facebook Groups, Pages and Events, Google Groups and Google Maps. Allow people to register for SMS reminders.

If you’re running a conference or seminar, look at ways you can use digital channels to link delegates together before and after the event.

Case Studies

As I say, I’ll be following up on this post with a few examples. But in the meantime, here’s a short list I’ve drawn up (see if you can work out how these use cover off the corners of the triangle):

Microsoft/CNN’s The Moment

Cadbury’s For the Love of Wispa

The WWF’s Get On Board campaign

T-Mobile’s Life’s for Sharing campaign (note the clever use of 5-second music clips to avoid copyright issues.)

Sony Bravia’s Bouncing Balls campaign