In order to understand why marketing and branding, search engine optimization and sales, internal communication and market positioning are now part of the same equation we need to examine why at some point in the past they were, notionally at least, separate.
To do so we must remember that everything we do has intent and it has context. The two are inextricably linked in every domain we care to look. From search (and SEO) to real life meetings (and business) they shape the moment by adding direction and meaning to each event.
Context arises out of the environment.
Whether that environment is physical or digital or even a mix of the two is immaterial. All formats of context exert pressure upon the individual performing a role and doing a job. That pressure then begins to guide decisions, choices and actions.
Intent is motivation.
It is the direction every action guides us towards and it is defined by both our needs and aspirations. Whether we are active in marketing (promoting a brand), or sales (looking for our next prospect) or branding (developing core values) it is our intent that guides our message, shapes our interactions and informs our responses.
Intent is shaped by perception.
We tend to want to do, or to have the things which we think we can do, or have. Perception is created out of an awareness of facts, feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas and situations – both our own and those of others. The 21st century has become challenging because it has broken down every traditionally segmented barrier and ushered a cognitive and cultural revolution.
We suddenly know, understand, and can get access to not just our own store of experiences, thoughts, ideas and suggestions but also the experiences, thoughts, ideas and suggestions of all those individuals we are digitally connected to. When that happens information flows laterally (i.e. across social networks and messaging channels) as well as vertically (websites, advertising and canned messages).
When information channels are no longer controlled the only real control a company can exercise over its brand, sales or marketing message is to shape perception. But for that to happen it has to understand the context and intent of the individuals it is targeting and now, rise to truly meet it.
Consider, for instance, that today every contact between a business and its customer is informed by a vast range of collected data points that help a business understand the consumer is (demographics), what they care about (behavioral data including web browsing, app usage, video plays), where they go (location-based data), what they buy (online/offline purchase data) and where they are in the customer journey (prospect, existing customer, lapsed customer). There are literally thousands of dimensions to each consumer and each of these becomes a defining step in understanding the “why” (intent) and the “where” (context) of their situation at the touchpoint with a business.
Business Find Controlling Perception Challenging
When businesses can collect so much data we could argue that controlling perception should be easy. After all, as semantic search has shown, they can divine intent and context fairly accurately. The problem lies in the lateral flow of information. When communication channels between a business and its customers can no longer be rigidly controlled any inconsistency raises red flags that undermine trust and change how perception is created.
Businesses that have separate branding, marketing and sales channels also have a legacy internal set up that fails to create a unified internal environment. That means that the professed business values are just another sales document instead of an internal culture. The brand premises are convenient enticements rather than a solid promise made to customers. And the sales patter is just so much noise instead of a true attempt to communicate and establish common ground.
The solution to this, of course, is simple. Businesses that become internally open and agile, run on a culture of deep, mutual trust are also best positioned to take advantage of the new contact opportunities offered by the unified market place, where consumers see every message and share information about every aspect of a brand.
All of this is a fancy way of saying a business needs to be real. We need to understand the fancy stuff in order to make the kind of strategic decisions that make our businesses be real.