Cats vs. dogs. Pepperoni vs. sausage. Tell the truth. You have a favorite. A favorite soda, favorite pet, favorite pizza topping. It's OK. Everyone does. We can't help it. We live in a comparison nation that loves to take sides. But when it comes to the marketing vs. communications debate, which side are you on?
Some big brands have tried to merge the marketing and communications team, only to end up separating them again. Were they shortsighted, or did the company lack the right culture to sustain a merged entity? The panelists, including Andrew Bowins, SVP, Corporate and Digital Communications, MasterCard; and Jay Bartlett, VP Digital Marketing and e-Commerce, Pitney Bowes, explored this issue and others in a spirited debate about the future of marketing and communications at The Social Shake-Up 2014. Diane Schwartz, SVP and Group Publisher, PR News, moderated the lively, enlightening discussion.
Both marketing and communications departments help enhance demand, but their focus and composition are quite different. Does this matter for you, the social business professional? Before you answer, read on for the surprising differences from our panel-and why they do matter. First, let's define each.
Defining Marketing and Communications
Many confuse marketing with communications. It's like not being able to tell the difference between expensive wine and affordable wine. Neither one is better than the other. The subtle differences-labels and names, flavors (fruity to dry), and body (light to full)-set them apart. Omnipresent consumers in our multi-screen world blur the line between marketing and communications.
If you look at the basic definitions of each, leaving out today's many devices and purposes and places for using each, it's easier to set them apart. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. According to the National Communication Association, the discipline of communication focuses on how people use messages to generate meanings within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, and media. The discipline promotes the effective and ethical practice of human communication.
While both marketing and communications enhance demand, marketing shapes who you are as a brand, differentiates your products and services from the competition, and uses this compass to guide not only what you say but what you do to deliver your unique value to customers in a compelling way. The four Ps (product, price, place promotion) help us package these things plainly. Then communications uses this information to guide it in creating relevant messages.
"Communications people are ultimately the storytellers of an organization," said Bowins. "Collaboration between marketing and communications begins with a dialog that is complimentary not confrontational. Marketing and communications can come together in storytelling."
Comprehending Both Roles Benefits Customers
That is if we don't mess it up. Perhaps the problem is that while "marketing was tactical 10 years ago, now they're communicators," suggested Bartlett. On the other hand, "Communications must understand insights and translate so the organization can make business decisions," Bowins said. However, he expressed concern that not having true insights and measures will create silos across an organization, thus mitigating the impact of social.
"If [marketing professionals] don't evolve our functions, we're at risk of being regulated to a marketing-support function," Bowins said. "Big data and insights will allow communications to get a seat at the table in the boardroom. You need a new skill set in communications and marketing to understand how to segment audience and data."
Of course, Bartlett reminded us that just because both marketing and communications report to the CMO, it doesn't mean they work together. The organization has to be mature enough for marketing and communications to collaborate, Bowins chimed in.
"We have to be multi-functional with the customer at the center," Bartlett said. "No more account managers on one floor, media people on another floor. The goal is five, six, seven people with multi-functional roles, centered around the customer. I don't think most CEOs of very large brands are aligned with this concept of 'togetherness.' Understanding and demo-ing the social customer journey and how it provides value is when the CEO perks up."
Marrying Marketing and Communications
Demonstrating how marketing and communications truly go together, Bowins asked, "What if the CEO came down and said, 'What's the deal with digital?' What is your three-minute answer?" Bartlett answered, "It's to be along the entire customer journey, from Google search box to conversion." But both agree it's easier for younger companies to collaborate than those with a long, traditional legacy. Coca-Cola, MasterCard, and Pitney Bowes, for example, are established brands catching up with this hybrid paradigm shift.
"I was in an arms race to beat marketing into our social presence to prove to the CEO," Bowins said, "but I learned I had to listen two times as hard, talk to marketing, and focus it on what the customer wants."
Plus, you can and should merge more than marketing and communications. Bowins shared how one of communications biggest partners is the legal department because they proved through data that it mitigates risk. When departments are siloed, the customer gets lost. If marketing and communications are not working together, the customer isn't at the center of the project. Besides, with budgets becoming fragmented, Bartlett said, marketing and communications need to work together.
"If you have many departments, such as marketing and legal, aligned with PR, you're in good shape during a crisis-it's a branding moment," said Bowins.
This panel proves the big brands who merged marketing and communications unsuccessfully were not only shortsighted and lacking the right culture. They also needed marketing and communications to understand one another's roles to sustain a merged entity.
One of the main threads throughout the Social Shake-Up was about the collaborative economy, the sharing economy. Might this be possible within organizations, and not only B2C? If marketers teach communications how to read and extract data insights, perhaps communications can show marketers different writing techniques to enhance demand. Neither department is more or less important, and clearly they both need one another to help the customer, which is ultimately the most important goal.