Integrity is not just an image

Companies must live up to their brand identities, says Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
ADVERTISING has always relied on either reflecting consumers' tastes and concerns or articulating their aspirations to sell products and services. Even those "zany" commercials that do not obviously push an inner-city loft lifestyle or seek to play on the yearning for rural bliss make a sort of subliminal appeal to consumers who like to see themselves as out of the norm.

But the problem for advertisers and their clients is that everybody knows they are being manipulated. And in a world where consumers are much more sophisticated than they were, faced with having to make choices from a range of suppliers who are really not all that different from each other, there is an acute need for something else.

That "something else", it seems from recent trends, is "reputation" or "integrity". Advertising and marketing people talk about getting across the message that even the most frivolous of products can evoke such values. After all, shoppers vote with their wallets for companies such as the Body Shop or Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream that, although selling non-essentials such as cosmetics and ice cream, seem to stand for something.

But if you are to take this tack - and not make the public totally cynical - you have to ensure that the image being portrayed is matched by what really happens in the company. Which is why allegations of child labour levelled at Marks & Spencer (which has just won a libel award in just such circumstances) are much more serious than if they had been made at an organisation that did not try to present a caring, socially-responsible image.

Accordingly, it is not a good idea if the advertising agency is presenting a company in a certain way, while its employees are getting a different message from any internal communications there might be. From this realisation it is but a small jump to the idea of integrated marketing.

Commentators have talked of such activity for some time, but only relatively recently is it becoming substantial. Large media groups, such as WPP, have bought agencies specialising in everything from identity, through traditional advertising and promotion to marketing strategy in an attempt to offer the full range. Agencies have appeared - most recently one called Circus - that set out to offer the full range of communications activities under one roof.

As a new book on this growing field points out: "IM (integrated marketing) is based on the fact that everything a company does, and sometimes what it doesn't do, sends a message."

The book - Driving Brand Value by Tom Duncan and Sandra Moriarty (McGraw- Hill, $24.95) - says this approach recognises and responds to the increasingly acknowledged view that everyone in an organisation has the potential to "touch" the customer. The authors, specialists in marketing at Colorado University, set out three key differences between integrated marketing and traditional marketing concepts: first, shifting the emphasis from acquiring customers to retaining and developing them; second, communicating with rather than just to customers and stakeholders; and third, expanding the marketing remit in organisations so that it becomes more a business philosophy than a function.

They claim that true IM goes far beyond the "one voice, one look" style so far relied upon. This approach has generally failed, they say, because it focuses on tactics and talks to rather than with customers.

Creating and nourishing brand relationships - a key part of IM - is much more strategic. And, as it is closely involved with how an organisation is actually structured, it cannot be left simply to those in marketing. Indeed, four of 10 basic drivers of brand value identified by the writers relate to integration within the organisation. Two concern the corporate focus on relationships and stakeholders. Only four are actual process strategies.

By talking about stakeholders and brand equity, the book shows the extent to which the concerns of the Centre for Tomorrow's Company (see below) - marketers, institutional investors and consumers - are becoming intertwined. In this situation, no one group can insist it is taking the lead: they must all learn from and listen to each other. Accordingly, perhaps the most powerful message in the book is the reminder that "brands exist in stakeholders' heads and hearts, not on the sides of packages - those are simply brand names and logos".

By remembering this a company sees the need to become more integrated. "Its interactions become more consistent, its reputation more distinct and its stakeholders more trustful,"- in short, integrity.