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 / Third Quarter 2002 / Issue 28(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Internet as Integrator — Fast Brand Building in Slow-Growth Markets

To link and augment marketing communications programs, spin the Web around them.

Illustration by Steve Wacksman
Today, as most industries confront overcapacity and weakening demand in the face of an uncertain economic environment, the need for cost-effective brand building has never been greater. There are two ways to improve the ROI of brand marketing: Create more brand-building programs that are so differentiated and efficient that they boost awareness, purchase intent, and ultimately sales and market share; or increase the synergies and impact among the firm’s individual brand-building programs so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Each path is strewn with obstacles, however. Achieving home runs in brand building has always been difficult; the increasingly cluttered and complex media environment makes it even more so. The era of mass media, when the challenge was merely to have memorable advertising, is itself a memory. The modern explosion of television channels and magazine titles, combined with many new brand-building options, means that it is much harder for on-brand executions to break out of the clutter and gain notice. Equally problematic, with so many channels and vehicles involved, brand-building efforts are increasingly diffuse, inconsistent, and ad hoc — not the coherent, consistent, and integrated programs they should be.

Similar forces conspire to inhibit the effectiveness of individual and integrated brand-building programs, taxing even the best marketing organizations. Brand implementation in a fragmented media environment needs to involve sets of disparate communications companies or autonomous parts of companies; victory for a particular brand-building effort is just as hard to attain as are powerful, integrative, synergistic programs. Creating alliances or virtual firms to deliver integrated brand building has had, at best, limited and ephemeral success.

Brand building is an area in which the Internet could change everything. Indeed, the real transforming power of the Internet derives from its ability to serve as the central organizing platform for integrated marketing communications programs — the glue that holds disparate channels and executions together, making them a cohesive force. Turning the Internet into the medium that rationalizes a firm’s multiplicity of brand-building programs has the potential to change both perception and (the resulting) reality for the brand marketer.

But the Internet can address today’s communications challenges only if its role in the brand-building process and its place in the organization are reimagined and reshaped. Too often, companies perceive the Internet simply as another channel. That view positions the Net as a minor player in the media mix — a direct-marketing vehicle for some, an ancillary brand-communications venue for others, analogous to the painted VW Beetles some companies deploy as traveling billboards.

If a business wants the Internet to add leverage to a brand and its communications program, the business must start with a holistic view of brand building. An organizational structure and culture that encourages and supports synergies between brand-building programs in general, and between the Internet and other programs in particular, must exist. The all-too-typical treatment of the interactive channel as a specialized silo, separated from other communications support, makes it very hard to generate the synergies that are usually possible.

Companies must mesh Internet capabilities into the entire brand-building effort, with the whole driven by a common brand vision. They need to think creatively and more broadly about brand-building programs, recognizing the Internet as one of the components. Can employing the Internet leverage existing or conventional brand-building programs? Are there new programs that simply would not work without the Internet? Can the product offering itself be enhanced by adding an Internet component? Just considering these questions will create opportunities.

The Power of Involvement
Three concepts, already in use by a few advanced marketers, illustrate how the Internet can be turned into a mechanism to integrate multichannel marketing programs effectively.

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  1. David A. Aaker, “Tactical Blunders in Internet Advertising,” s+b, Second Quarter 2000; Click here.
  2. Horacio D. Rozanski, Gerry Bollman, and Martin Lipman, “Seize the Occasion! The Seven-Segment System for Online Marketing,” s+b, Third Quarter 2001; Click here.
  3. David A. Aaker, Building Strong Brands (Simon & Schuster Inc., Free Press, 1995)
  4. David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler, Brand Leadership: Building Assets in an Information Economy (Simon & Schuster Inc., Free Press, 2000)
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