We are not witnessing an evolutionary change in marketing communications. Rather, there is now an inflection point which requires new communication models, different people, a revised set of capabilities, new organizational structures and different ways of partnering with agencies. Firms are recognizing this new reality and are struggling to cope with it, as evidenced in a recent BCG report on this topic, based on nearly 100 interviews with practitioners and others close to the issue.
The maturation of social media is defining the inflection point. Social media provides the power of word-of-mouth communication, involvement, credible information sources and personal recommendations that is next to impossible to duplicate elsewhere. Pivotal to the inflection point, it has now achieved scale which means that it is an option to some and an indispensable resource to others.
But social media strategies are complex, require specialized expertise, and are much more labor intensive than traditional media communication. Further, the challenge of generating integrated marketing communications is made much more difficult by this new media form. In the research for my book Spanning Silos, I observed that the communication silos both inside and outside the firm, such as advertising, PR, event marketing and promotions represent silos that often not only fail to communicate and cooperate but actually compete.
The problem only gets worse when social media is added because it is even more separated in terms of background, language and metrics. The silo crisis just got worse. The solution is to replace isolation and competition with communication and cooperation using teams. So a team is in charge of a communication campaign rather than a set of silos doing their own thing and only being loosely connected. The team should have a central goal with metrics, incentives to work together and a set of people that are capable of functioning within a team structure.
Who should be the leader of the team? Jim Stengel, the former CMO of P&G, developed the idea that the communication vehicle and the team that generated the home-run idea would become the leader and the others would support. So it might be the NASCAR sponsorship for Valvoline, being the go-to website for baby care for Pampers, a “real beauty” advertising campaign for Dove, or a series of video clips for BMW. But there would be one leader and one focus. The team structure and its leaders could evolve and change over time but the central organizational structure would always be a team. In any case, it is not business as usual. It is an inflection point representing real change as an imperative.