The Rise Of Communications Marketing
In ‘The Big Short’, filmmaker Adam McKay addresses, among others, an audience that lived through the Great Recession of 2007. However while doing that, he faced a problem. How do you explain a phenomenon like Synthetic Collateral Debt Obligations (CDOs) to them without making it sound like hollow financial jargon? Because this is not just a definition you can pull out of Investopedia. It’s something that took away their jobs and seized their homes.
It should move them. It should shock them.
McKay found a way. He put Selena Gomez, pop sensation, and Richard Thaler, the Father of Behavioural Economics, at a blackjack table to break the Fourth Wall and do the honours through disruptive storytelling. Through a simple and familiar premise they narrate how this obscure financial phenomenon played a part in pulling the rug from under the world economy.
The storytelling cuts through the clutter like a warm knife, and stays.
As products, services, and markets are getting progressively complicated, wouldn’t you want your whole gamut of Marketing efforts to do just that?
In a landmark speech delivered at his induction into the Arthur W. Page Society Hall of Fame in 2014, Richard Edelman talked about the rise of Communications Marketing- a new wave that could redefine your Marketing Communications,
“Communications must operate with the rigour and analytics of marketing while marketing must operate with the storytelling mindset and marketplace reality of communications. We need to start by shifting our language from talking about ‘marketing communications’ to using a new paradigm: Communications Marketing.”
In other words, Communications should no longer be just a vehicle for Marketing to reach out to your customers. They should be equal partners in dictating your strategy and execution.
Two roads diverged
For many years, marketing made it a point to keep aside promotional activities as a separate function. And, promotions were mostly limited to mass media advertising. Packaging design, direct marketing, and even PR were treated as subplots. This also marked the age of memorable slogans that redefined consumer behaviour and even, popular culture. Clairol’s “Does she… or doesn’t she” heralded an era of showing without telling in advertising. But soon enough, there were too many iconic taglines.
In the 1980s marketers started paying attention to the subplots. Soon, these secondary functions started challenging advertising as the primary promotional tool. The idea of IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) started being whispered in the hallways. It was crucial that all your friends stuck to the same story while sharing the hot seat, to make your communication more effective. When Coca Cola asks you to ‘Taste the Feeling’, they make sure that they do it across television screens, billboards, the chilled can in your hand, and that cooler they’ve placed in the store across your street.
The ‘90s Kids
As the IMC culture flourished, marketers themselves started noticing a more coherent picture emerging. This coherence soon spilled into their perception of themselves and how they wanted the world to see them. It was the early 90s and marketers collectively bought into concept of Branding. While IMC brought all the promotional tools under one umbrella, Branding united the Magnificent Seven of Marketing Mix.
While this was brewing, the year 1994 also saw AT&T giving the world its first clickable web banner ad,
Surprising as it is, Branding and Digital Marketing are contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, Digital Marketing, then, inherited the mindset of Push Marketing from its predecessors. The AT&T banner ad was well-received because of its novelty. However, it released a plague of spam and clickbaits.
While Branding was making efforts to understand communication in the context of cultural insights as well as realities of the market, Digital was going through its raging green years. It tried everything from pop-ups to keyword stuffing. And was ready to even buy its way into being ‘liked’ in social circles. It was adding buzzwords to its lingo even faster than the Urban Dictionary was getting updated. But to the relief of everyone online, Digital Marketing grew up fast. It picked up more productive means of expressing itself using Big Data, unbranded content, and then both together.
The Narrative Paradigm
This brings us to where we are now and what Richard Edelman proposed- the rise of Communications Marketing and how we can get there. Just like marketing is evolving, businesses have also transformed- from selling products and services to building experiences, from dot com and tech to SaaS. But no matter what business you’re in, the last mile your Marketing has to walk remains the same- communicating with your customer.
Let’s take a trip back to the ‘80s in order to understand the fundamental nature of human communication. This was the time when philosopher and Communications professor, Dr. Walter Fisher told the world that all meaningful communication is in the form of storytelling. He called this concept, ‘The Narrative Paradigm’.
So how do you make your Marketing meaningfully communicate with your customers? How do you make Communications and Marketing work as equal partners?
Tell a story.
But wait. Dr. Fisher points out that stories work as a means of communication only when they possess two qualities – coherence and fidelity.
So firstly, for your story to communicate with your listeners, it has to make sense to them. The narrative cannot be a standalone message in a bottle. It has to add up with your other stories or your lived experiences. And it needs a host of credible characters. When Selena Gomez and Richard Thaler tell you the story of CDOs, they’re bringing familiarity and credibility to the table. They are at a casino. They explain the concept by drawing a parallel with gambling and betting. What they’re doing is telling you a coherent story, and a good one.
Secondly, your story has to be credible. There should be no distortion of facts. Your reasoning patterns have to be sound. This makes it much easier to influence the decision making of your listener.
So, what’s your story?
So there you go. Before you decide what is it that you want to offer to the market, ask yourself what your story is. Contemplate on whether it is one your customers want to listen to. And if they do, will it move them? Think of who you’re acknowledging and what you’re solving- the pain point, the problem. Let it influence everything from new product development, updates, and new features to your blog and social media interactions. After you’ve laid this groundwork, go ahead and write your story. And let your Marketing tell it.