Ah, integration — the buzzword of the 21st century. E-mail, websites, social media identities, TV, print, radio, billboard, banners, mobile, third-screen, iTV, games and packaging all blending together, all at once. And you better not screw up, or you will most certainly lose your job.

Let’s face it. Most organizations don’t do integration well. For reasons well outside of most marketing organizations’ control, true cross-media customer touchpoint integration is nearly impossible. I’m not saying we should give up, but for many organizations, we need to be more realistic.

First, many IT and marketing teams have difficulties working together and are rarely as nimble as they need to be to stay on top of a media nomadic customer. Second, marketing schools don’t teach integration — they barely teach digital. Finally, when considering social environments, most customers don’t want to hear from marketers. They want customer service reps, operations experts and product managers. Is it really feasible that marketing’s job is to completely retool organizational org charts? Hardly.

Where do we go with this? Let’s figure out how we get the most bang for the buck when tying offline media spends to social. I’ve got two words: earned audience. Every time you make a media investment, you are investing in the audience of another publisher. You are banking on the fact that their people are the people you want. So, to get in front of them, you put creative energies into messaging, content and entertainment value to attract them. And what if you’re lucky? Hopefully, you’re asking for a social connection: a follow, a “like,” an opt-in.

Why do we do this? Is the answer “Because my boss told me we needed to get to (some arbitrary number)?” No. The answer is because, over time, you peel away the most interested and engaged people from your targeted list of publishers. Once you’ve got that follower/like/opt-in, you don’t need to go back to that publisher, in the form of cold hard cash, to get that customer. You have them. Over time, you’ve become a publisher. It’s a math and economic game. You continue to market to targeted offline audiences in order to earn your own audience from them.

When I started Ciceron 18 years ago, we simply didn’t have these audience-building opportunities. There weren’t enough people on the Internet to build critical mass. Today, game over. There are brands that have built audiences larger than some cable channels. And that, dear friends, is where the real challenge is — if you are successful in using online and offline spends to build an audience, then you’re a publisher. You have an audience to entertain, inform, engage and convert. If you’re simply looking at top-line “follower” counts, be careful for what you wish for. What is your plan for them? Do you know what they want? Do you have the resources, people and content to keep them? If not, you’re right back to where you started — paying for them each and every time you want to reach them. And that’s a way to break the bank.

Andrew Eklund is the founder and CEO of Ciceron.

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