Using the Entire Marketing Toolbox

In college I always liked math, especially differential and integral calculus. Integration was elegant in its overall simplicity and just plain useful given the breadth of problems it could be applied to.

So why is integration so difficult in advertising? What is it about advertising that makes us cling to one or two favorite tools we love, understand, and just know will work, when we have whole box full of tools? If you knew in advance you had 100 different problems to solve, would you reach for your trusty hammer and say, “I’m ready!”

I doubt it. Seems more likely you’d grab the hammer and a screwdriver, plus a couple of wrenches, some duct tape, and a can of WD-40. Then you’d be ready.

Do you suppose it could be (and I’m just throwing this out there) the business model? Make no mistake, I mean the whole big business model that’s pretty well dominated the past 30 years of conventional advertising and marketing. The same model many mass marketers follow today.

Here’s a simple test. As you propose or request different types of campaigns, keep track of each “yes” and “no” associated with the proposal from key decision makers and influencers. Also track the economic value of the campaign from the perspective of those same decision makers and influencers. Plot the results on graph paper. My guess is you’ll discover the more the proposed solution is worth to the person making the decision, the more likely the answer’s yes. Big, concentrated cash flow media tend to get the nod, and one or two media will essentially crowd everything else out.

In a world full of nails, all you really need is a hammer. Add screws, nuts, and bolts (not to mention Velcro) and pretty soon that hammer isn’t enough.

Consider creative, innovative firms like Fanscape, Guerilla PR, Powered, and BzzAgent. Are they part of your media mix? They should be. Music, street-level PR, educational marketing, and word of mouth are essential contemporary tools. How about Wild Tangent and using video games in your marketing media mix? Or Interpet-Her and the “niche” concept of marketing to women? Women make up 51 percent of the general population and 81 percent of buyers for a lot of things we’re all trying to sell. These and dozens of other high-quality partners with real case studies and real results should be in your Rolodex. Are they? You can’t integrate if there’s only one element in the campaign. The same holds true if the people you trust with your marketing plan only use hammers.

A handful of leading marketers are taking notice. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s both pulled the majority of planning work in-house, spreading the resultant work over a wide range of specialty partners. Some really big news came last week, when Wal-Mart announced it will start stocking stores based on what sells to specific local customer segments. That may seem obvious, but it takes a heck of a lot of intestinal fortitude to declare a strategy like that in public. After all, if you look back in the direction of relative safety and comfort, the way to deliver low prices, and thereby win customers, was to standardize everything then get really, really good at the supporting logistics. No other organization can match Wal-Mart’s pure logistical mastery, with the possible exception of Formula 1. Of course, F1 isn’t exactly the low-cost leader.

If you look forward, what we might call the vision thing, the story changes. It’s all about the individual. For Wal-Mart to say in this context, “We’re going to figure out how to keep the cost low and send the special stuff to you that you want, while sending different stuff to other people,” is pretty incredible. It means asking tough questions and challenging past practices. It means being OK with change.

What’s that got to do with integration? Everything.

You can bet this focus on consumers as individuals will inform Wal-Mart’s advertising process, too. How can Wal-Mart expect its customers to purchase as individuals if it markets to them as a lump? Wal-Mart is just the kind of firm that could really affect how marketing is done and on practices like integration. Not because of its media spend (it’s big but not the biggest) and not because of its influence on Madison Avenue (it has some influence but not the most). Rather, it’s because a dizzyingly large number of people will walk into Wal-Mart tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Each of them regarded as an individual.

For marketers on both the brand and the vendor side of aisle, the implication is clear. If Wal-Mart teaches its customers to expect to be treated and marketed to as individuals, we’ll all be in the market for a bigger toolbox. No time like the present to start broadening those media plans and the proposals that drive them.

Elana Anderson is off this week. Dave Evans’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

Join us for a new Webcast, High-Touch Personalization, The Successful Marketer’s Secret Ingredient, September 29 at 2 p.m. EDT.

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