Unified Marketing – Going Beyond Integrated Marketing

Integrated marketing has been a widely used and much abused term recently. It has been used to loosely describe actions such as adding a website URL to a TV ad or sticking a QR code on a print ad. But real integration is still scarce, even among the savviest marketers. Many factors still stand in the way of true, unified marketing – for example, apples-to-oranges metrics, different departments within advertisers’ organizations and different agencies serving each, and diverse and siloed disciplines of marketing. With a greater focus on ROI and need for better effectiveness and efficiency in advertising and marketing, let us define and discuss “unified marketing” and how to actually put it into practice.

From Simplistic Integration to Ecosystem View

We start first with the concept of “Digital is a Philosophy,” which I discussed several columns back. Instead of thinking about “digital” as the online channel and associated tactics, marketers should think of “digital” as the collection of habits and expectations of modern users. Their habit of searching for everything online and their expectation of being able to find information instantly should guide the selection of channels and tactics by the marketer. Furthermore, insights derived from the users’ actions in digital channels (like search patterns and conversations on social networks) should inform not only the marketing message but also what content is created to address these users’ need for information.

If we focus our attention on the user first and what their informational needs are, as opposed to our own product and what message, channel, or tactic we should use to market it, we will be “forced” to think about all the different touch points that the user would likely use to reach us. These touch points can then be plotted on a single unified graph that I call the “Ecosystem of Touchpoints.” Notice the users’ purchase funnel is now wrapped around the user in the middle and the tactics can be plotted in the correct “quindrant” (1/5th of a circle). And notice the three concentric circles: 1) on-site – on the main site that the marketer owns and controls, 2) off-site – on other venues like Facebook, Twitter, etc. that the marketer owns and controls, and 3) third-party – on venues like Google, YouTube, or Amazon that the marketer does not own or control. By plotting all the marketing tactics on one chart, it becomes easy to visualize where there are redundancies (i.e., overspending) or gaps (i.e., not enough is being done).

Correlating Metrics Across Channels and Tactics By Using User Actions

With the “Ecosystem of Touchpoints” framework above, marketers can indeed optimize media mix and select the best channels and tactics to serve their potential customers. The next key benefit to a unified approach is that we can start to correlate the relative effectiveness of channels and tactics too, whereas before, the metrics from each channel were different – apples-to-oranges – and were not easily compared. In our unified framework, the actions of the customer become the central metric. For example, a TV ad may inspire someone to go look for further information online – which can be seen via search volume, the exact search keywords they use, and visits to or pages viewed on the website. Similarly, print ads, radio ads, outdoor billboards, etc. will inspire people who are in the market and in the mindset to go further research their purchase. Digital tactics can also play here – for example, users will click on ads when they see something timely and relevant to what they are looking for. If they are actually in the mindset and also in the market, they will go on to further research the purchase and spend time on the advertisers’ websites, etc. Note, this is less applicable to impulse-type products like candy, soda, or even iTunes songs.

Once the metrics to measure success are also focused around the actions that users take, then marketers will be able to correlate the relative effectiveness of marketing activities across channels. In other words, did a dollar spent on TV drive more or less user action than the same dollar spent on a digital tactic such as search? Did a dollar spent in print drive more or less user actions than social media? Previously, metrics from Nielsen (TV), Arbitron (radio), or PIB (magazines) could not easily be correlated because the media were different, measurement techniques were different, and assumptions/approximations were different. Furthermore, the number of people the advertiser potentially “exposed itself to” is far less relevant and actionable than the number of customers who actually responded.

So it would serve marketers and advertisers well if they abandoned the old metrics of reach and frequency and adopted the unified marketing approach and the associated metrics that are based on actual user actions.

Take Action on Unified Marketing

If the unified marketing framework can help determine marketing mix and media spend allocations and can provide a way to correlate measurement of relative ROI across all channels, it should also impact the way advertisers’ organizations are currently set up and the associated processes. More specifically, current organizational structures typically have advertising departments separate from marketing, digital, promotions, market research, R&D, etc. Each department has their favorite vendors and metrics too. But these artificial functional and departmental lines are no longer necessary under the unified marketing approach.

In fact, unifying all departments and functions around a common understanding of customer, their informational needs, and where and how they look for information will help break down departmental silos, which have historically hindered true integration – i.e., unification. What if R&D and product development departments were informed by real-time insights about customers’ needs? What if marketers could listen for the exact words that customers used to tell peers about why they liked (or hated) a product? What if market research had the benefit of tens of thousands of customers providing continuous feedback? And finally, what if the CFO had a way to compare marketing spend across all channels and tactics and determine relative ROI such that marketing spend could be quickly and continuously optimized, rather than just once a year during budget season?


So, unified marketing is a framework that allows all marketing tactics – traditional and digital – to be plotted together and compared. It will help reduce redundant efforts and identify gaps that should be filled with marketing activities. By unifying the metrics around the actions of the user, we also avoid the untenable situation of attribution – no single tactic is enough nor solely responsible for users taking actions; they all play a role. The unified marketing framework says exactly this and allows for the calculation of relative effectiveness and ROI (i.e., which tactic drove more user actions) of all marketing tactics no matter what channel or discipline they belong to. This enables the optimal allocation of marketing dollars.

To take the first step in making the unified marketing framework part of your daily process, start by plotting all your marketing activities on the “Ecosystem of Touchpoints” chart. From there, you will be able to see where there are redundancies or opportunities and then adjust your marketing mix. Then correlate relative effectiveness and ROI across tactics and channels by focusing on which marketing activities drive the most user actions. Finally, adjust your organizational structure and processes to match the new unified approach instead of the legacy departmental or functional silos.

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