Introduction and Background
The field of corporate management is dynamic and reflects the changing nature of the business. The evolution of PR, advertising, and corporate messaging with the shift towards consumer-focused marketing necessitates the development and study of new theories of business communication. The growth of business processes and management styles prompts the development of new, more efficient models of corporate communication, one of which is integrated communication. This communication model is the evolution of integrated marketing communication and emphasizes the role of the consolidated outcome of corporate messages.
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The focus of this paper is on the theoretical basis of communication integration processes and management. The researcher provides an overview of ten specific drivers of marketing integration and addresses the issue of integrated communication measurement. A comprehensive literature review informs the research. A separate section focuses on self-reflection and describes learning outcomes and shortcomings to be addressed in the future.
Communication Integration Processes and Management
Traditional approaches to organizational communication were production-centered and lacked strategic allegiance with other business management functions. However, a variety of new marketing approaches, which emphasized the need for marketing to be market-driven and consumer-focused, necessitated the reassessment of traditional approaches to communication. Because in today’s business settings, effective business management requires cumulative efforts of marketing and communication management, a new model emerged to represent the integrated approach. This model is integrated communication.
The concept of integrated communication can be defined as “the alignment of the messages at strategic, managerial, and functional levels across the organizational spectrum by professional and non-professional communicators” . Such alignment of messages is required to create and maintain the corporate brand. The ability of a company to achieve high levels of communication integration defines its success in sustaining the corporate brand. This assessment is the result of the fact that the corporate brand is the result of consumers’ perception of the company’s message delivered through its products and marketing.
A framework for developing integrated communication in an organizational setting was created by Duncan and Moriarty. This framework incorporates ten strategic drivers, which can be viewed as processes that assist a company in creating and sustaining integrated communication on different operational levels. Ten drivers are divided into three broad categories: corporate focus, corporate processes, and infrastructure.
Niemann argues that in the context of integrated communication, the greater influence is attributed to the drivers in the corporate focus and processes groups, rather than infrastructure, due to the fact that integrated communication is about stakeholders’ perception of the company’s message.
Under the corporate focus category, the following drivers are included:
- They are creating and sustaining relationships with stakeholders. This process emphasizes the need to consider the customer-focused approach in marketing and production, rather than to focus on sales only. For example, companies such as Apple focus on building customer loyalty to drive sales. In addition to selling technology products, Apple provides great customer experience at its stores and builds customer loyalty by providing training programs.
- I am focusing on stakeholders in addition to customers. This process implies investing in relationships with all stakeholders groups, including customers. For example, another group of stakeholders is employees who are directly responsible for the company’s performance.
Under the corporate process category, the following drivers are included:
- It is maintaining strategic consistency in messaging. As was already mentioned, a company’s ability to create and sustain a brand depends on the consistency in a company’s messaging. As such, all of the advertising and marketing should communicate the same message to achieve integrated organizational communication. Doing otherwise may damage the brand. For example, Nestle is notorious for doing the opposite of what its official PR position is. While Nestle is officially determined to eliminate child labor use on its farms, the company’s lawyers take a different position and stress that it is out of the company’s legal responsibility.
- Keeping communication two-sided rather than delivering a monologue. Customers’ feedback is a well-known driver of business. For example, listening to what customers need and what they do not like in a product will allow a company to tailor future products to their needs. An example of this process is Samsung’s move to bring back memory card slot into its flagship phones after the negative reaction to its removal last year.
- It is creating and marketing a corporate mission. Again, Nestle is a company that failed to integrate the mission into all of their work. Mission has a positive effect on a company’s performance only when it is coherent and integrated into every aspect of a company’s work.
- I was planning from scratch rather than adapting to previous plans. In order to meet the updated communication objectives, it is necessary to create a new strategy, rather than adjust an existing one. As Niemann put it, “the process of planning an integrated communication campaign […] takes into consideration all the brand-relevant internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats” .
The drivers in the sub-section of corporate infrastructure include:
- Cross-functional planning and monitoring. This driver necessitates connecting different departments to achieve integration. In many companies, there are people working in different departments and doing their own specific responsibilities. However, as Niemann notes, isolated departments’ work makes it impossible to achieve integrated communication. As such, different departments, such as sales and marketing, can have an assigned specialization, but information flow should be established to achieve consistent messaging in all of the company’s aspects of the operation. For example, if a company’s PR department’s message is limiting environmental damage through sustainable production, cross-functional planning can be used to implement lean thinking strategies to achieve this goal. The lean thinking business model requires companies to achieve operational excellence by adopting a business-wide culture of value-focused improvements. PR department should transfer the message to the manufacturing and quality control departments. The department responsible for manufacturing should implement lean thinking strategies to minimize waste, and the quality control department should perform regular checks to ensure compliance with the company’s guidelines.
- They are implementing core competencies rather than focusing on specialization. As Niemann puts it, “all marketing communication professionals should have a basic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of major marketing communication functions” . In other words, while experts with specific knowledge are needed to perform specific functions, an integrated approach requires all of the employees’ involvement in the process of communication to have an understanding of the potential each communication function has. This fact is the result of the integrated communication required to be followed by departments’ in spite of their specialization.
- They are abandoning traditional agency for an integrated one. Agency is a company that is hired to coordinate an organization’s communication program and has connections with other agencies that can provide specific expertise if necessary. An integrated agency makes sure that the other agencies are working according to the company’s integrated communication strategy.
- Develop and maintain customer database to make use of existing customers and improve their experience. This fact necessitates building and maintaining databases with customers’ information such as purchases, contact data, personal data, etc.
Integrated Communication Measurement
In spite of the fact that integrated communication models are well-developed, efficient measurement tools for its evaluation are still in development. As Barker and Angelopulo put it, “no single, ready-made evaluation instrument for measuring integration exists as yet.”
A further complication is a fact that integrated communication can be measured in different dimensions: the process of integration, its output, and the outcome can be measured separately.
Measuring Integrated Communication Process
Integrated organizational communication emphasizes the need for establishing and maintaining information flow. Cross-functional cooperation is essential for the company to establish a consistent communications strategy. As such, the process of integrated communication can be measured by evaluating:
- cross-functional planning;
- competencies of those responsible for integrated communication;
- the effectiveness of information flow between departments;
- the amount of communication between departments, etc.
Another factor to be taken into account is the development of brand messages. As Barker and Angelopulo note, “a major theme in integrated communication is message consistency.” In other words, the process of integrated communication can be measured through the success of the development of consistent brand messages.
The last aspect is the perception of the company’s messaging by customers and other groups of stakeholders. The integrated communication process can be measured by gathering and evaluating such data as customers’ and employees’ feedback. Such measurement requires the development of feedback tools and database creation and management.
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Measuring Integrated Communication Output
The output of integration is the product of cumulative efforts – the brand message. Measuring integrated communication output requires evaluating the quality of all planned and unplanned messages and assessing whether they correspond to the company’s communication goals.
Measuring Integrated Communication Outcome
The outcome of integrated communication is the effective integrated communication has on relationships with stakeholders. The outcome can be measured by evaluating the quality and nature of these relationships.
Ehlers’ Model for Structuring Integrated Communication
Ehlers proposes the following framework for structuring integrated communication.
The starting point in the Ehlers’ model is the employees, whom she regards as a separate stakeholder group, responsible for managing different organizational processes. Employees form relationships with other stakeholders and are able to facilitate change. For example, employees are integral to the process of organisational change since their scepticism and resistance may slow down the process of change.
An integrator or a team of integrators is another component, a person or a group of people responsible for organising communication within the company. The researcher emphasises the role of communication between various stakeholders within the organisation, and highlights the need of integrators to be competent enough to facilitate the process of communication. The researcher claims that integrators have to use the combination of traditional marketing and PR tools in the process of stakeholder management.
Another component of the model is databases, which make it possible for the effective information storage and flow. “When centrally kept, information collected from research and other sources can be stored and used by all concerned for the effective planning and integration of communication in an organisation” . For instance, it is harder to find new customers than retain existing ones. Databases are necessary for research purposes since data from databases can be analysed in order to measure some aspects of integrated communication, for example, customer’s satisfaction or retention rate. As such, it is important to constantly gather customer feedback and implement retention strategies where necessary.
Elhers identifies integrated communication as an important part of the strategic planning stage. In order for integration to be achieved, it is important to carefully plan the process of its implementation. Improvement of the level of integrated communication development depends on the company’s ability to establish goals and allocate responsibilities on the planning stage.
Self-assessment and Self-reflection
The research in the field of integrated communication provided valuable insight into the role of cross-functional communication in establishing and maintaining the corporate brand.
While preparing for the assignment, I gained extensive knowledge of the theoretical framework of integrated communication. I learned what components make up integrated communication, and what processes contribute to its development. I also recognized the problem of measuring integrated communication and various approaches to evaluating the process, output and outcome of this approach. The research has highlighted the need to consider customer perception in creating and sustaining the corporate brand.
I have developed such analytical skills, as data analysis, critical thinking, reporting and synthesising information. In my future live, I will use these skills to conduct research, and, as a knowledgeable consumer of research, to analyse the validity of data in other people’s research. In my professional life, these skills will be invaluable for analysing problems in order to fully understand it and find a solution in a timely manner. The knowledge of the importance of a unified delivery of a company’s message will also help me become a better manager. I will ensure high levels of cooperation and coordination between different departments to help accomplish business goals.
In the future, I believe I will need to address my ability to theorise and make decisions based on the interpretation of the data available.
The competitiveness of today’s business environments means that managers have to closely integrate business management functions in order to stay ahead of the competition. It is now generally accepted that in the organisational context, isolated work of different departments and specialists leads to fractured messaging, and the alignment of company’s messages on different levels ensures a unified perception of the brand by various groups of stakeholders, including customers and employees.
Such alignment can be achieved through integrated communication. This approach emphasizes the need for cross-functional communication, and establishing a unified strategy to be implemented at different departments. This strategy should be based on a single, shared and well-communicated message to create and sustain the corporate brand, which is the stakeholders’ perception of the company’s message.
Ten drivers or processes were described by researchers to assist businesses in implementing integrated communication and evaluating its implementation. These processes are grouped under three sections: corporate focus, corporate process, and corporate infrastructure. Measuring integrated communication can be done in different dimensions: though process, outcome and output evaluation. While all of these approaches are valid, the exact tools for measuring integrated communication are not yet well-developed.
List of Sources Consulted
Barker, R. & G. Angelopulo, Integrated Organisational Communication, Juta and Company Ltd, Claremont, 2005, p. 367.
Bovey, W. & A. Hede, ‘Resistance to organizational change: the role of cognitive and affective processes’, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, vol. 22, no. 8, 2016, p. 372.
‘Cocoa and Child Labor‘, ILRF, n.d., p. 2. Web.
Ehlers, L., The development of a framework for structuring integrated communication in South African organisations, Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Pretoria, 2002, p. 339.
Fullerton, R., F. Kennedy & S. Widener, ‘Lean manufacturing and firm performance: The incremental contribution of lean management accounting practices’, Journal of Operations Management, vol. 32, no. 7-8, 2014. Web.
Gayeski, D. & B. Woodward, ‘Integrated Communication: From Theory to Performance‘, Gayeski Analytics, 1996, para. 1. Web.
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Phelps, S., ‘Five Customer-Centric Marketing Lessons from Apple to Zappos‘, Forbes, 2014, para. 2. Web.
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