We are spotlighting some of the best essays from our MIPA qualifying courses and qualifications. Here, McCann WorldGroup's Laura Buckley looks at whether an understanding of consumer journeys is the most important element of developing a successful communication strategy as part of the IPA Advanced Certificate.
This essay considers communication strategy to be a holistic approach in planning how a brand engages consumers. This discussion examines the importance of understanding the consumer journey, objectives, budget, targeting and emotion to the development of a successful communication strategy. Before concluding that whilst an understanding of the consumer journey is important to the development of a successful communication strategy, it is not more important than any other single element and therefore the extent is relatively limited.
Ovans (2015) argues that there is not a widely accepted definition of strategy. The term strategy has been used to convey a purpose, a response, a choice, a plan and a pattern of behaviour (Jones 2008). Nonetheless the aim of strategy is often to increase the odds of success (Lafley et al. 2014), to create power (Freedman 2013) and drive superior performance (Porter 1996).
Historically, brands communicated to consumers using separate strategies for separate channels (IPA et. al 2008). However due to rapidly changing technology, new and digitalised media, budget pressures and evolving organisational models (Parente and Strausbaugh-Hutchinson 2015), communication strategy today can be considered as a holistic approach in planning how a brand engages consumers (IPA et.al 2008).
Court et al. (2009) argues that if marketing has one goal, it is to reach consumers along their journey at the moments that most influence their decision. By analysing the consumer journey brands can gain valuable insights. These insights can influence the communication strategy, aiding competitive advantage. As an example, Premier Inn found that by communicating further upstream in the decision-making process, at the point where perceptions of hotel brands were being formed, they were able to actively influence consumers to reframe their expectations of budget hotels to their advantage (Poole and Grant 2014).
The number of touchpoints, where consumers come into contact with brands, has increased (Fletcher and Davies 2014). Lemon and Verhoef (2016) argue that an understanding of the evolved consumer journey across these new touchpoints is critical. Brands should evaluate the role new touchpoints have in the consumer decision-making process. Using the evaluation to inform their communication strategy. Otherwise their efforts could result in inferior performance. By example, The Pepsi Refresh Project, stopped advertising on TV in favour of social media; despite accomplishing millions of Facebook likes, Pepsi saw a 5% decline in market share during the campaign (Leslie 2016). Suggesting Pepsi mistakenly directed all their resources into a channel that did not yield maximum influence on the consumer decision journey.
Edelman and Singer (October 2015) contend that the new consumer journey is becoming the defining source of competitive advantage; as brands not only react to decision-making but can actively shape decision journeys. Especially when combining Big Data with new online technologies to give an instant view of consumer behaviour which streamlines the decision-making journey (Marks 2013). As an example, Sungevity has customized and automated the consumer journey, making it so compelling that it has streamlined the consideration and evaluation phase; thus resulting in the doubling of sales to more than $65 million in one year (Edelman and Singer November 2015).
Whilst understanding the consumer journey can be considered very important to the development of a successful communication strategy, it is not the only important element.
IPA et al. (2008) maintain the objective is the most important component of a communication strategy. Mefalopulous (2008) agrees suggesting without a feasible, clearly stated and specific objective, the strategy will fail. Through Binet and Field’s (2007) assessment of successful campaign case studies, those with multiple specified, prioritised and appropriate objectives, such as profit as the primary goal, were found to be both more effective and more accountable than those campaigns without a specified objective.
Budget is an important element when developing a successful communication strategy because it is often pre-fixed, which will determine what the communication strategy can realistically achieve (IPA et al. 2008). Binet and Field (2007) suggest budgets need to be set sensibly in line with size of objectives, a competitor analysis of share of voice (SOV) and desired share of market (SOM); Volkswagen successfully doubled their value share over a seven-year period in a pattern mirroring growth of SOV. IPA (July 2009) states that no agency or client can guarantee maintained brand performance, if excess share of voice is falling as a result of underinvestment in communications; due to a correlation between SOV and SOM.
An analysis of whether mass or tailored communications is more appropriate for the development of a successful communication strategy is important. Smith and Taylor (2004) suggest there is less requirement for mass communications due to technology and the fragmentation of mass markets. By example, Eurotunnel changed its strategy from mass to a tailored approach and went from a €57m loss in 2010 to £258.7m incremental profit (Oldham 2017). Whereas Sharp (2010) found mass communication to be more cost effective. Binet and Field (2013) agree, finding that the most effective campaigns are those that target both existing and new customers, i.e. mass market.
Behavioural economics has challenged the notion that people behave rationally (IPA October 2009). The power of emotion is evident in Binet and Field’s (2009) analysis; those communications using emotional appeal were found to be more effective than rational communications. Binet and Field (2013) suggest emotions are the primary drivers of behaviour however communication strategy should consider how to best balance emotional and rational response for optimisation.
An understanding of the consumer journey is important to the development of a successful communications strategy because it can actively shape the journey, yield valuable insights and contribute to superior performance. However the extent to which it is more important than any other single element is relatively limited. As research validates the importance of considering objectives, budgets, mass vs. tailored targeting and emotions in the development of a successful communication strategy; all additional elements proven to impact on the effectiveness of communications.
Laura Buckley is an Account Director at McCann WorldGroup. This essay earned her a Distinction for the IPA Advanced Certificate.
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