The growing complexity of business in a global era of digitization and speed and the constantly shifting and accelerating demands of stakeholder relationships are forcing a rethink when it comes to the corporate communications and marketing functions.
The two, which have historically been considered peripheral functions that provide intangible benefits, such as brand recognition or reputation protection, have in recent years emerged as business-critical departments that contribute deeply to company value, albeit in ways that are hard to measure. Plus, the rise of social media continues to drive change at companies more broadly, as well as in the communications and marketing functions. Today, organizations are seeing greater efficiency and benefit to operating marketing and corporate communications as a single function.
A new report from the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board (SNCR) analyzes the trend toward integration, providing a qualitative analysis of what can be achieved through integration.
Key findings from Unlocking Value from Integrated Corporate Communications and Marketing:
- Integrated corporate communications and marketing can create a customer-centric culture. In many ways, integrated corporate communications and marketing is about asking customers their preferences: when and how to communicate with them. By having the two functions work together, companies can glean better insights from long-term engagement on social media, feed that information back into other parts of the company, such as product and service innovation, and respond with meaningful content that sparks interest and continues the engagement.
- Integrated corporate communications and marketing can create an employee-centric culture. Turning employees from “informed” or “engaged” to “advocate” is the “holy grail” for companies, according to one executive interviewed for the study. The potential for employee advocacy to contribute to company growth is huge because stakeholders trust messages that come from employees more than messages that come from companies.
- As defenders of corporate reputation, integrated corporate communicators and marketers have an important role in building trust by helping infuse the business with purpose. Companies exhibit transparency and authenticity by, among other things, striving to foster a positive relationship with the environment, their communities and their stakeholders. As companies increasingly see the benefits of underpinning business strategy with purpose, corporate communications and marketing have begun to work together to ensure that company brands, strategies, operations and messages are synonymous with ethical business. This in turn can accelerate growth in an era in which customers and employees reward responsible companies.
- Integrated corporate communications and marketing improves agility and efficiency. Integration can lay a foundation for greater agility because it helps companies find and solve problems faster by removing barriers to information flows and decision-making. Showcasing this potential then puts the company on a path to digital transformation, where this speed and efficiency can be magnified.
- Integrated corporate communications and marketing creates a consistent message. According to a report by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, “the best run brands in the world behave in a consistent way; they stand for one thing or a few things and consistently communicate that globally.” Different departments and businesses can coalesce around a shared narrative and brand, thereby minimizing ambiguity in the way companies are perceived internally and externally.
- Creating and unleashing better stories can be a powerful benefit of integration. Today, companies are not only selling a product or service, but a brand that is underpinned by its values—values that are more effectively disseminated by stories. Storytelling can engage customers, employees and other stakeholders with content that sends a uniform message tailored to specific audiences.
- Integrated corporate communications and marketing helps companies align goals, metrics and budgets. If one consistent strategy for corporate communications and marketing is coming from one leader at the top, the two functions share goals and understand how to deploy resources to reach their audience, as well as to establish the right metrics to measure progress.
Thoughts from Experts
Unlocking Value from Integrated Corporate Communications and Marketing features in-depth Q&As with Antonio Lucio, chief communications and marketing officer, HP Inc., and Linda Rutherford, chief communications officer, Southwest Airlines. These profiles explore how communications and marketing leaders are implementing strategies capitalizing on functions that are increasingly collaborating.
Antonio Lucio, HP Inc.
Antonio Lucio’s responsibilities include leading the global marketing and communications organization, which has responsibility for branding, demand generation, and strategic events. In the Q&A below, Lucio expands on how integrating corporate communications and marketing helps build a brand and ultimately grow the company.
How do you support value creation at your company?
The value created by marketing and communications is in developing a brand that will stand the test of time. The brand needs to be built with purpose: To have a meaningful impact on people’s lives; to build strong emotional connections based on tangible proof points; and to behave with integrity of words and actions. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves in search of that purpose. When purpose is the pinnacle of the company’s existence, it drives strategic growth, provides meaningful differentiation from others, and attracts employees and consumers. The role of corporate communications is to develop a compelling narrative infused with the brand purpose which will guide employee and consumer engagement strategy.
Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines
Linda Rutherford’s responsibilities are the type of all-encompassing responsibilities that an integrated corporate communications leadership role is beginning to look like. Two years ago, Southwest launched a new brand that put “heart” front and center of the campaign. On its website, the company says it is “introducing a vibrant look inspired by our love of people.” This quote provides one clue as to why Rutherford’s communications responsibilities are so important: they help Southwest Airlines understand its customers and other stakeholders, bringing crucial insight to help the company operate more efficiently and market more effectively.
What has integrating corporate communications and marketing helped you do, which you could not have were the functions operated separately?
Separately, we could achieve great things, such as with content on social media. Working in an integrated fashion, we’re able to better leverage our resources, get bigger bangs for our buck, and garner more audience than if we were working independently. A great current example is our enterprise music strategy. Working separately, we might have relationships that allow us to activate on social around a band that flies on Southwest or perhaps sponsor a concert. Working in an integrated fashion, we’re more strategic, can leverage all the assets and come up with a much broader platform or plan.
Alexander Parkinson is the Senior Researcher and Associate Director for The Conference Board. Follow him on Twitter @AlexParkinsonNY