In 2020, integration is key to brand communication

Pull together: Brands must integrate their marketing message across "four pillar categories," according to communications ace David Chauvin.

It’s believed humans have been making annual resolutions for over four millennia, all the way back to the ancient Babylonians making yearly promises to the gods to pay off debts or settle old grudges.

I’m fortunate enough to owe no outstanding debts to Marduk or Nergal, currently, though I certainly like to set few new goals each January. Any custom that’s been around that long must have something going for it.

So, here’s my New Year’s Resolution for 2020: emphasize integration.

The dawn of a new decade is the perfect time to take an honest look at the direction of the communications industry, and to adjust accordingly. If the past few years are any indication, that direction is toward a much more streamlined, much less bifurcated communications strategy.

The venerable wall that separated paid and earned media (and eventually also social media and original content) crumbled to the ground in the 2010s. This is a great development for the communications industry.

In 2020, it’s essential for brands to integrate and enhance their marketing efforts in four pillar categories: paid (advertising spots front-and-center before your target audience, including commercials, print ads, sponsored posts, etc.), earned (promotional news coverage reported by credible third parties, especially those popular with target audiences), shared (social media strategies, including influencer engagement, community partnerships and other opportunities for the target audience to circulate to content in their networks) and owned (events, publications and any other platform where the brand owns the content).

David Chauvin: Inside the box.

A good, fun example of communication teams integrating their marketing campaigns in this manner can be found in the recent trend of “pop-up” events and promotions. Last summer, for example, a real-life Central Perk café, modeled after the famous fictional one from “Friends,” opened in New York City, allowing super-fans to visit for $30 a pop.

This promotion, a harmless lark on the surface, ticked off every box of the “paid, earned, shared and owned” communications credo. There was paid, because Central Perk was, at its core, one big advertisement for Warner Brothers; earned, because it was cool enough to attract real news coverage; shared, because the café offered vital, quirky social media content to nostalgia-crazed Gen Xers and Millennials; and owned, because it was all original content – devised, designed and built by a marketing team.

Taco Bell, which for years has encouraged customers to “think outside the bun,” took its own advice last fall, when it opened its very own hotel. Yes, that’s right – a real-life, honest-to-goodness Palm Springs resort.

The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort sold out in under two minutes. Laden with tacos and only open for one weekend, The Bell became a social media hit for the brand, and you can apply all the same components – owned, paid, social, earned – to this campaign.

It’s important, however, to know your customer base before undertaking campaigns like these. Taco Bell and Warner Brothers understood that their primary audiences for these campaigns were young and digitally connected, and they acted accordingly.

If you don’t understand the audience – or the specific user benefits – then projects like this can very easily backfire. Citibank, for example, opened up a line of cafés within their banking locations; the response has been more muted, less buzzy. People are in the mood for quirky fun when it comes to fast food and sitcoms, but not so much when it comes to banking.

Jacques value: Torres, outside his Roosevelt Field pop-up.

You see major companies doing things like things like this all the time, but you don’t need to be the communications director for a billion-dollar global brand to make it work. You just need to make sure your project, big or small, hits all the benchmarks of an integrated marketing campaign.

On Long Island, Roosevelt Field Mall recently held an event with celebrity baker Jacques Torres, opening a pop-up chocolate shop for the holidays. The relatively modest promotion, while not quite hitting on all facets of integration, still generated buzz among shoppers and influencers, proving that a campaign doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to leave its mark.

Your campaigns don’t have to be overly ambitious, but they should follow the same principles. Before starting a new communications program in 2020, ask yourself if it checks those four boxes – and if not, resolve to figure out how it can.

David Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.