Marketing Integration
Marketing Content Strategy

The Best Brand Stories Are Born from Integrated Marketing

Think about the most important people in your life. What gives them staying power?

More likely than not, many different things contribute to why these people integrate so well into your day-to-day. They listen, make you laugh, keep your secrets, give good advice, and remind you—even at your darkest moments—of your worth. We don’t have to dig deeply to find the qualities and feature sets of our best friends—everything is just there, waiting for us, ready to provide the energy and support we need to move forward.

In the digital, social, and Snapchat world, we are starting to expect these qualities from brands, too. Spotify gives me the playlist I need to “chill out’—full of artists who I’ve never heard of before. Anthropologie assumed the role of my trendy younger sisters and introduced me to the new subset of “athleisure” apparel as I waited for the T, scanning its email newsletter on my phone. But as brands move from selling products to forming relationships, from boasting about their solutions to telling moving stories, there is a lot that has to happen under the hood—in the marketing department and beyond—to make these experiences convincing, authentic, and cohesive.

In this post, I’ll explore how different companies work behind the scenes as an integrated marketing unit, synchronizing priorities, events, and audience segments to ensure that they provide a unique and memorable customer experience.

REI helps their audience feed their desire to find home in the outdoors. Find Your Core Character and Help Them Live Out Their Story

Telling a brand story is like putting on a Broadway show that never ends. Underneath the set, the costumes, and the bright lights is the one aching desire that the core character is striving for that continues to push the story forward.

For REI’s core character, the story is driven by the need to get outside, take a deep breath, and experience nature. That’s why when the company announced it would shut all 143 of its doors on Black Friday and pay employees to #OptOutside, I wasn’t shocked. Its crowd isn’t one to rise at dawn after Thanksgiving Day to stand in line in a dark parking lot hoping for door-buster savings, so why would it participate in the Black Friday madness?

Behind this single decision is an organization that constantly researches and observes its customer base and disseminates that information to the entire organization. “We do a lot of customer journey mapping at REI,” said Brad Brown, the brand’s SVP of Digital Retail at the National Retail Federation Summit in 2014. “We have a very long sheet of paper with customer research, moments of truth, the buying journey, pain points, and opportunities. We put that up on our walls and push it forward to our teams.”

Through customer journey mapping, REI can surface the nuances of its audience and understand that opportunities the brand has to introduce them to new recreational activities, inspiring them to go deeper into the activities they already love.

The lesson here? Know what your audience is reaching for and set up a process that allows everyone in the company to help meet those needs.

The Power Integration Across Teams

Amazing things happen in groups—award winning symphonies, heart-shaped murmurations, the production of the L.L. Bean boot.

It also only takes one bad note, one bird headed in a different direction, and one shaky hand to set the whole movement off course. The same goes for brand storytelling. Without strong relationships between the marketing team and the rest of the organization, the brand story will never reach the customer or make an impact.

Philip Kotler, Neil Rackman, and Suj Krishnaswamy, researchers at the Harvard Business Review, recognized the importance of strengthening departmental relationships a decade ago. Their findings remain pertinent and challenging to organizations today and reflect the importance of other teams in the organization, from services and support, to band together and around the customer needs.

The relationship-assessment model that they proposed aims to reduce friction between sales and marketing; it can be translated to other departmental relationships as well. At a core level, they noticed that relationships usually remained in four main stages:

  1. Undefined: Two departments that have formed and grown independently, reach for their own goals, and structure their agendas accordingly. When the two do interact it’s to resolve conflict.
  2. Defined: The teams have put frameworks in place in hopes of keeping conflict from happening and working together on larger projects and events. However, during the day-to-day, these two groups will still stick their own tasks, goals, and KPIs.
  3. Aligned: “Clear and flexible” boundaries have been put in place between the departments, and each team has a general understanding of each others’ goals and terminology yet continue to define themselves as separate entities.
  4. Integrated: In this ideal world, boundaries are blurred—teams reach toward the same goals, seek council during major decisions, and understand that success depends on forming one cohesive unit.

By taking stock of where departmental relationships stand, identifying any clashing motivating factors, and unifying our goals, we can ensure that the instruments across the organization play a tune that the audience wants to hear.

Real Life: Practicing Openness and Thoughtful Decision-Making

Staying integrated and aligned as a company is an ongoing, iterative process, subjected to shifts and waves.

For Ginny Soskey, a section editor of the Marketing Blog at HubSpot, keeping an open door to the rest of the company while carefully deciding when and where to spend time is key.

Soskey is part of a content marketing engine that serves three distinct audiences, offering entertaining and informative stories, in-depth research, and podcasts featuring leaders from Google, NastyGal, and BuzzFeed. While her team executes on its own strategy and aims to meet its own set of goals, their work ultimately reaches to support HubSpot’s values of in making a better world for buyers, sellers, and marketers.

“There are a lot of ways to make everyone happy,” she said. “It’s about thinking through all of the resources you have and figuring out how to solve for your metrics.”

For example, during HubSpot’s annual INBOUND conference (which draws thousands of people each year), Soskey’s team developed stories to serve its wider audience while generating excitement among readers coming to town for the event (like hacks for business traveling).



Her content team leverages Trello, a collaboration tool, to collect ideas from other divisions of the organization.

“The main challenges are just deciding what’s worth testing right now and what’s worth testing in the future,” she said.

Integration Starts from the Inside

No matter how we move forward as brands and teams, one reality is becoming clear: We can not accomplish our goals behind our own walls. Gartner Analyst Jake Sorofman warns brands to not reveal the seams that hold it together. “The highest performing companies recognize the unintended consequences of artificial boundaries,” he said in a blog post. “Your company will always have artificial boundaries that put pressure on the delivery of a seamless experience. It’s your responsibility to recognize them—and ensure that your customers never do.”

Hiding these seams starts with strengthening the bones of the organization and creating an integrated marketing program that gives team members’ visibility into the priorities across the organization that they can leverage for further success. The more we invest in developing a mentality and framework that brings the organization together, the more natural the customer experience will become.

Looking for tools to help your marketing team become more integrated with the rest of the organization? Learn more about the Skyword Marketing Calendar.

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