A couple months ago I talked about the reasons interactive marketing is ready to lead your brand — namely, that it offers scale that can compete with any other channel, it provides more depth than any other channel, it’s more trusted by consumers than any other marketing channel, and it provides marketers a richer storytelling palette than any other channel.

The logical next question is: If interactive is ready to take the lead, how do we make that happen? A lot of people think budget is the answer; they say if we simply push more spending online we’ll have a better chance to leverage interactive tools. But I’m not fixated just on budget, for two reasons. First, more than 70% of marketers are already taking budget out of traditional channels to fund new interactive spending — so this budget shift is already under way. But second, and much more importantly, is the fact that simply pouring more money into interactive tools won’t fix the flaws in how companies develop their marketing programs.

For me, leading your brand with interactive marketing isn’t about choosing one channel over another; it’s about rethinking how all our marketing channels work together. The way we “coordinate” our marketing channels right now is broken: Even today, most marketers develop their TV ads first and then hand them to the interactive team and hope they can build a site or a banner campaign that matches. As we’ve all seen, this rarely works well.

It’s time to replace this old-fashioned TV-first model of campaign development with one that starts by focusing on our deepest, most trusted marketing channel: interactive. It’s time for us to start building multilayered brand ecosystems that put interactive tools at the core:

  • First, engage users on your own web site. Nearly every audience we’ve studied says it trusts a marketer’s own site more than any other marketing channel — including offline advertising and social media. Use this trust to build a site that shows users what your brand stands for. And rather than just deliver content here, pull social experiences (like blogs, communities, or Facebook Connect) into your site to make it more interesting and useful to your audience. This will be the place where your brand makes its biggest impact.
  • Second, distribute your content and engagement into social and mobile media. Just because Facebook and other social platforms aren’t at the very heart of your ecosystem doesn’t mean they’re not a crucial part of how you communicate with your audience. Choose pieces of the content and interaction from your site and push them out into the social (and, if appropriate, the mobile) channels your customers prefer. Your brand probably won’t make quite as big an impact through social tools as it does on your own site — but social platforms will make your brand accessible to users who don’t find their way to your site.
  • Third, reach a broad audience with paid media. The challenge of owned media (like your web site and your social platforms) is that it rarely generates significant scale. If you want to get your message out to millions of people rather than thousands, you’ll need to buy both online and offline paid media. This is where your brand will make its smallest impact on any given person, so focus on using the scale of paid media to talk about the brand story you’ll telling on your web site and to drive users back to that site by promoting the URL.

When you put the three pieces together, your interactive brand ecosystem might look something like this:

Forrester's Interactive Brand Ecosystem

I’m excited about this new model for building brand campaigns, and I hope more marketers start thinking about their marketing programs this way. We’ve published a report that goes into much more detail on these ecosystems, and right now we’re using this model to help clients around the world plan how their brand will reach customers and how to make all their marketing channels work together.

I’m curious: Do you build ecosystems like this to reach your customers, or have you seen marketers that do? (My favorite right now is the Porsche Everyday Magic campaign in the US, for which they’ve built a great UGC site and are using lots of social and paid media to spread the brand message and drive users back into the ecosystem.) If not, how do you plan your cross-channel marketing campaigns — how do you make sure all the different pieces work together effectively? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.