Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Are Customer Communities Integrated Marketing?

"Integrated Marketing" seems like a rather tired term to me. It's been over-used and is ill-defined. It seems to lack real meaning anymore. But the ideal of Integrated Marketing is one that marketers should be championing. John Ellett's company nFusion did a study and reported six characteristics that define Integrated Marketing. I wondered if the concept of the customer community fit into their definition.

"Systematic planning to unify efforts"

Building a customer community requires a commitment of months to develop. You've got to have your ducks in a row. However, the community really takes the "systematic" out of "systematic planning." This is why I call it customer chaos. The efforts of the company, however, must be unified. Everyone from development to finance should have a role in fostering and supporting the community.

"Common focus on business priorities and market segments"

This is absolutely required to start a community. You've got to be clear when communicating what you're about. Everything the company produces should in some way support the community, and thus the target segments.

"Feedback and measurable results for all programs"

Needless to say, when you have a community of people expressing opinion and providing support around your product or industry, you will not be hurting for feedback. I think that this definition needs to say "The discipline to create and process feedback and measurable results." Lots of marketers generate measurable results. The system breaks down when the organization doesn't look at them and change their behavior around results.

"Brand-building and consistency through all activities"

With a customer community your organization becomes the brand. Opening a community is opening a big window into your organization. What you stand for is communicated to the group and spread around. If you try to hide, the community will develop its own opinions--and they may not be accurate. They may not be what you want. You must communicate--expose--the values of the company. You will attract a community with those values as well.

"Resource allocation based on ROI data"

Now this is interesting. What is the ROI model for a customer community? I actually don't know the answer to this. I know it isn't "build it and they will buy." The costs of a community are high. Employees from all over the organization must be involved in the community. The payback will be measured in sales, profiled prospects, improved products (market share?) and impressions. How does measure the ROI of reader reviews? How does Tickle measure the ROI of personality profiles to its dating business? The cost is more clear. If you're not having conversations with your market you're not engaged. You're not a player. The community will teach you their language. In the coming years, you won't have time to use "guess and test" methods. Things are moving too fast.

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