This text is not about men’s fashion. It’s about a new model for integrated communication. The model just happens to look like a bow tie. However, there are similarities. The white bow tie symbolizes the very finest of occasions, just as integrated communication has come to be looked upon as “the tailcoat” of communication disciplines – both by juries in industry awards and by heads of marketing departments across the globe. Nodding a bow tie is also quite difficult. And solving multiple problems – a key requirement for the next generation of integration – will always be harder than going after just one.
For years, experts in the field of communication have talked about a great paradigm shift, but it is actually now it is happening. Many can tell what’s about to happen, still very few can provide an answer to how this change can be addressed. Therefore, this text focuses upon:
- What’s driving this development
- How to address it (and why the next generation of integration will be the most powerful approach to provide effective yet cost efficient communication)
What’s Driving the Development?
First, let’s go back to where it started and then look at some important shifts in logic that have lead up to where we are today.
How to Address it? (or Dress to it)
The combination of changes in the communication context described above engenders a new model for integrated communication (the bow tie!). And although this model generates new demands on both organization and creativity in order to succeed, it constitutes an approach for the future, searched for by most companies.
Today’s palettes of problems are more complex than in the 90’s and the need for finding new ways of increasing revenue through innovative market approaches is huge. The essence of the second generation of integrated communications is to have a set up where the organization can solve multiple problems, and at the same create a stronger impact and a higher ROI on communication efforts.
Let’s have a look at the model and then apply it to some practical examples.
The “bow tie” includes three different dimensions; two that provide opportunities and one that defines problems. It describes a process going from left to right. Here’s how to tie it.
1. Begin With the Left End
The left wing of the model is all about the question: What’s the problem…s? It’s about mapping out a compilation of an organization’s challenges, where communication in different ways can provide solutions.
What are our brand issues? What key relations do we need to establish? How do we want the market to evolve? What developments within society and politics do we wish to influence? What kind of efforts do we need to focus upon within product development?
The tool and starting point to identify problems is provided by yet another question: What business strategy do we need to accelerate? The answer provides a direction that makes it easier to identify and evaluate what problems are relevant to focus upon, regardless of in what disciplines the problems have their origins.
For those operating within communications – e.g. a unit within the organization, or an external agency – the integration of problems calls for an ambition and a capacity to take a bigger responsibility, and show a greater interest in the mechanisms within and around the business. This ultimately leads to an enhanced partnership between communications and the bottom line. In other words: Integration is emphasized if disciplines such as marketing communications, corporate communications and public affairs get fused and allowed to address multiple problems together.
2. The Knot is Always the Trickiest Part
The knot is about the insights and creative solution required to solve multiple problems, and what input is needed in addition to mapping out problems and objectives. It’s about tying insights together in a way that leads the creative work forward. What are the consequences of each problem? Are the problems intertwined with each other? Do they have common bearings? Can they be put into a fruit-ful synthesis?
The additional input often lies latent within the organization’s experience and expertise, and it often requires some maieutic skills to retrieve the insights and put the pieces together. A combination of two trivial insights from two separate operation units might very well form a paradox, a conflict or some other form of intersection that would nourish the creative process.
And looking outside the operation is just as important as looking inside. A creative solution requires a carrier, often provided by an additional context that can charge one’s messages with relevance, and be used as shortcut into people’s thoughts and discussions. It’s about pinpointing trends and cognitive flows that you can tap into in order to add news value and content for your storytelling. An example: global appliance manufacturer Electrolux realized that the context of plastic debris, continuously polluting the world’s oceans, constituted a paradox as Electrolux was dependent on recycled plastics to produce their green range of vacuum cleaners (this also resulted in a project called Vac from the Sea, which will be referred to further on in this text as an example of how to apply the bow tie model).
3. Grab the Right End and Pull the Loops Together to Straighten the Bow Tie
The right wing is about “casting” the available channels in order to harness the opportunities the creative solution provides.
It is often (so far) a common (mis)perception that one can always “add a little publicity” to activities, regardless of their nature. This perception is becoming absurd. It’s no coincidence that “earned channels” are placed in the middle of the model as they really are a key qualifier to stress test and secure that a solution is up to scratch. If you earn editorial space for your messages, you hit the buttons that earn cognitive space within your target groups as well.
Traditionally, communication often focuses on condensing messages to a simple line and a strong visual expression. To solve multiple problems and address a complex palette of target audiences, you need to create solutions that are dynamic enough to be adapted to match the opportunities provided. An idea that is “for real” and with a context rich enough to tell a story over time (and generate not just one but several articles in the same newspaper) can rather easily be condensed to a selling line as well. To develop such an idea from the other end, if there’s nothing more to begin with than just the ornament of words and a good looking image, is difficult. It all comes down to having a solution with substance that can provide relevance and enable frequency.
Bat Wing or Thistle?
There’s a great variety of bow ties, from a “thistle” model where the ends are wide and rich in fabric to a “bat wing” where the ends are straight and slimmed.
Of course, the same thing goes for integrated communication – the wingspan in the bow tie model will vary between thistle and bat wing when applied to different challenges. And a project doesn’t have to affect all objectives within an entire organization, or all available channels in order to be considered a solution as described above. Though the three dimensions of the model are always included in what constitutes the solution.
Here are two current examples of progressive companies that have created three-dimensional solutions to multiple problems – global appliance company, Electrolux, and Sweden’s biggest evening newspaper, Aftonbladet.
Electrolux: Vac from the Sea
The short version of this project is that Electrolux increased sales distribution by 300% and reached 175 million people worldwide with its green message by collecting plastic debris from the world’s oceans and turning it into a number of unique vacuum cleaners. It’s impossible to define Vac from the Sea as only a marketing communication campaign, or a corporate communication project. It’s both, and much more. Here’s a short film presenting the project.
1. Defining problems and objectives (the left end)
The Vac from the Sea project is derived from the strategic ambition to be the market leader within sustainable vacuum cleaners.
Making green vacs engaging is not without challenges; vacuum cleaning is off the media radar and not considered our favorite chore, and few topics are as over communicated as sustainability. Vacuum cleaners are simply not considered a natural component of a green lifestyle, such as the hybrid car is today.
Other challenges to be addressed:
- Mobilizing and getting implementation impact internally for the strategic direction.
- Reinforcing the Electrolux brand as a strong sustainability case and encourage sales.
- Balancing and attracting a complex palette of target groups (from hard core greens to design communities).
- Boosting the benefit of key USP – the vacs were made out of recycled plastics, which was unique for Electrolux within the category. However, this was not considered very relevant to many consumers, which meant a pedagogical challenge in educating consumers and stakeholders about the relevance and environmental benefits of recycled plastics.
2. Insights and creation (the knot)
The key insight behind the solution is based on a combination of internal and external findings:
- There is a shortage on high grade recycled plastics in order to make more sustainable vacuum cleaners.
- Meanwhile, gigantic patches of plastic trash (some the size of continents) are floating around the world’s oceans causing great environmental damage.
Combined, these two insights formed a massive paradox that put the limelight on the need for the world to improve its “plastic karma”.It also contained a natural stake for Electrolux and a natural right to speak. The motive was egoistic in a sound way just as well as there was an environmental concern.
The issue of plastic marine debris constituted a strong context. It is a globally relevant issue with a strong media potential, which had not yet reached its story peak (compared to the CO2 emissions story that had been told over and over). It also provided an emotional impact to support the dramatization of Electrolux’ messages.
The solution was a long term project rather than a campaign, a story (named almost like a children’s tale) in which Electrolux could take action and interact with a variety of target groups, and combine many perspective together, making the plastic problem relevant to consumers and the industry.
3. Channels and execution (the right end)
The very idea was derived from media logic, and the project got massive and repeated international coverage.Each step in the project – from gathering plastic and producing the vacs, to exhibiting them and donating sales revenue to research – catered to a number of stakeholder groups, from hardcore environmental activists and Electrolux employees to design aficionados and your average consumer. Their channels also aided in spreading the word.
The project featured in-store promotions and sales materials, a digital hub gathering content as the project progressed, seminars within industry forums and exhibitions of the vacs (e.g. at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Milano). The project was also utilized in internal channels such as Electrolux’ annual report and AGM meeting. In fact, even the actual product itself became a key channel to tell the story.
Once again, it’s hard to define this project (a healthy symptom). It’s a new kind of media. It’s a new business model. It’s product development. It’s strategy demonstration and acceleration. It’s a social media campaign. And more.
Here’s a short film presenting the project.
1. Defining problems and objectives (the left end)
The newspaper industry is struggling to find its place in the shift from analog to digital. Aftonbladet’s articulated business strategy is to meet the challenge head on and “lead the Swedish newspaper industry’s transition from print to digital.”
For some time the Swedish newspaper industry had taken a tactical approach, offering, for instance, promotional products (e.g., “buy this paper and get a free DVD”). However, the added value began to supplant the actual product, which also eroded brand value. Also, the transition to a digital format is itself problematic, and requires different business models. There was a need to develop new platforms and ways to capitalize on a digital presence.
An existing, analog platform was the Rockbjörnen music award, which Aftonbladet created in 1979. Although 95 percent of the population knew about the award, younger audiences considered it passé and irrelevant. The mission was to digitalize Rockbjörnen and to create a new platform. It had to work – immediately– or Rockbjörnen would be relegated to the scrapheap of history.
The challenge was, in essence, a synthesis of disparate problems and objectives – reposition Rockbjörnen, reinforce Aftonbladet’s digital presence, create a new platform that could be capitalized on, and provide value to a younger audience in order to make them consider Aftonbladet relevant.
2. Insights and creation (the knot)
The solution was to revolve around a music award, so the analysis focused on the context of how people consume and discuss music.
Two contextual insights shined a light toward the solution:
- Clearly, when discussing or looking for new music, traditional channels and thought-leaders have been replaced by one’s own personal network and circle of friends. Social media are where people congregate and interact, so it’s a natural arena for sharing music. Aftonbladet had ceded its place as a primary source when looking for music; at best it was a channel for second-hand information.
- The value and status of live music performances had boomed. Providing value to the younger crowd had to meet market demand.
The solution was to create a completely new digital platform for Rockbjörnen, called “YouLive.” It forged an exciting unity between social media behavior and live performances by some of Sweden’s biggest artists.
Acts like Robyn, Mando Diao and Salem al Fakir were recruited to the project, staging live streaming performances. Streaming live concerts were not new, of course; but YouLive added live interaction.
The artists in front of the camera could constantly interact, in real time, with the audience, making the concert intimate and dynamic. And at the same time, people in the audience could interact among themselves meanwhile the music played, using a chat function and added “concert activities” such as making out, applauding or holding aloft a cigarette lighter. The artist, in turn, could interpret these activities as indicators of the audience’s mood.
In this sense, a three-way flow of live streamed communication was opened, creating an interactive triangle between the artist and various people in the crowd. Someone in Toronto could interact and discuss music with someone in Stockholm, while experiencing an exclusive concert with Robyn.
3. Channels and execution (the right end)
Basically, YouLive created a new channel, a new type of media. Rockbjörnen had previously, like most music awards, existed in an orbit around a gala accessible only to the select few. This new solution created more of an “open festival,” bringing online socialization and content access to the live music experience. The solution tapped into the flow as it existed, where it existed (e.g. between friends on Facebook, on Robyn’s Twitter handle, or Salem al Fakir’s blog etc.) instead of asking the audience to disconnect from their normal behavior.
YouLive became a common platform shared by Aftonbladet and the artists. Aftonbladet became a legitimate platform and the artist provided value and helped to spread the word by promoting their concerts in their channels. Of course the project generated plenty of proprietary editorial content, and it made a great story for international media and music communities.
Aftonbladet has since applied the YouLive format to other areas, such as political debates. And internally, it’s driving development of the digital/interactive service offering. Aftonbladet clearly has an opportunity to develop further applications and to build on its already strong digital presence.
Oscar Wilde once said:“After all, learning how to tie a bow tie really well is the first important step in life”. Hope you fancy the bow tie as well.
+46 733 550 623
Mattias is a planner and consultant at Prime and has over the past couple of years been involved in some of Prime’s most awarded projects.