How to make marketing integration a whole lot easier

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Want to really frighten someone? Invite the poor soul to a meeting titled "Marketing Integration Planning." Many marketers would probably rather manually cleanse a million database records than suffer through a project to sync up data, goals and technologies from multiple teams within the marketing department - or potentially further afield.

That's because when most marketers hear the word integration, they picture some unattainable land of perfect marketing harmony. They assume the goal to be total, perfect integration and lose heart, not realizing that can achieve smaller victories along the way with big payoffs.

Integration is a real need, and a worthy cause. It just needs to be demystified. Marketers need to know what is really achievable and what is practical depending on the needs and capabilities of their organizations and suppliers.

Here are some thoughts on where marketing integration makes the most sense and how it can be readily achieved.

òStart with marketing analysis. Improving relevance is the key to improving marketing success and to avoiding expensive mistakes like getting blocked from your customers' inboxes.

This means not just getting the segmentation, offer and timing right but also the channel and sequencing of communications - and taking into account across all channels the preferences your customers have told you about.

To accomplish this, databases need to be joined. But this does not require the painful integration of dozens of separate databases into a single repository optimized for all uses.

Using the latest marketing analysis tools, marketers can easily integrate the data they need for discrete analytical tasks - for example, viewing cross-channel response to a specific campaign to derive insights for future campaigns.

These tools are built to handle many types of data and can process large volumes of data quickly so it doesn't take weeks each time a change is made.

Online data is mostly transactional, much more granular and is updated more frequently than its offline counterpart, so it does take work to get the long-term structure right. But a quick cut is still valuable in the short term to drive understanding and hence relevance.

Marketers should also work out a schedule for sharing critical data.

For example, preference information changes or a response to an e-mail campaign may trigger immediate changes. These alerts need to happen in near real time and marketers must be prepared on act on them immediately. Other updates can be less time critical. Making all marketing data seamlessly available for operational purposes in near real time is a bigger task altogether, and while worthy, should not get in the way of getting your analytics up to speed in short order.

ò Connecting apps. Another short-term goal is to connect the various applications that drive marketing. Today's complex campaigns require a high degree of coordination and monitoring across various inbound and outbound channels, which is only possible through integrated applications.

Most companies solve this by acquiring an application suite from a single supplier or linking separate applications via an Application Programming Interface.

This solution, for example, enables offline and online marketers to share the same tools and derive their own insights, using the chunks of others data relevant to them, without constantly asking for reports or help from other marketing departments.

If a marketing platform is not on the cards, you should make it a major priority to select applications that are operable when needed across multiple marketing teams.

For example, an e-mail platform can be accessible to direct mail marketers. The latter may not have control of campaign implementation tools, but could be offered controlled access to the tools so they are aware of the email marketing activities that impact their direct mail campaigns.

The key to sharing applications is making sure they are easy. This will encourage adoption. If a direct mail specialist is forced to learn and master complicated email tools, it may never happen.

ò Make workflow course like a river. One integration hot spot marketers can address right away is workflow. Marketers could benefit significantly by developing a single hub for all marketing processes, content, budgeting and workflow.

Plenty of marketing resource management technology platforms exist today that can help marketers improve how they manage campaigns and suppliers and share resources. And many companies have made strides regarding digital asset management, budgeting and financial analysis.

An emerging challenge today is approval. As campaigns stretch across channels, marketers can create unnecessary work and delays when so many company and agency executives need to review materials, remember who else to rout them to, and if changes are required re-review them, re-remember who gets the re-route and so forth.

It's much worse on the back end of a campaign when there's scattered accountability for measurement.

Get the numbers. And this leads us to the real motivation for marketing integration: it's fundamentally a financial one. For all the talk of multichannel marketing, few companies have a grip on how different channels are performing individually and together and if they are making wise investments.

Is e-mail before direct mail really performing better than the other way round for this segment and offer? How can I create campaigns that share resources across channels thereby driving down marketing costs?

Make no mistake. Marketing integration is vitally important. It's a financial decision as well as human resource one. Technology can help, and hard benefits can be realized in short order.

But integration is not a dreamland of endless possibilities with revolutionary marketing results at the end of a rainbow. It's an ongoing process made up of many discrete but valuable steps, each contributing to the greater cause.

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