Why Marketing Must Understand The True Definition of Synergy

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Synergy is one of the most overused words in the business world. It’s been bandied about so recklessly that it is now meaningless to the average businessperson; the average layperson still has no idea what it means. Every company in the world has "leveraged synergy" in its annual reports, mission statements, and financial briefings so often that synergy has been on the annual bad business buzzword list for more than a decade.

What Synergy Means

The formal definition of synergy is:

the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

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We see above in the chart the flagrant misuse of the word in recent times.

Consider some true synergies:

  • Tomatoes, which contain glutamic acid, should always be salted; when combined, the sodium ions in the salt form a natural MSG which makes tomatoes taste amazing.
  • Red wine and beef generally pair well together to create a much more complex taste profile.
  • iTunes would have failed without the iPod and vice versa; combined, they created an incredible ecosystem. The same is true for the App Store and the iPhone.

We often hear synergy expressed in overused cliches such as 2 + 2 = 5. While overused and trite, this is not wrong. A better way to express synergy is that it’s the difference between additive and multiplicative. 3 + 3 is 6, but 3 x 3 is 9. For the same starting materials, we want greater results.

Why Synergy Matters to Marketing

The heart of synergy is the human experience, human behavior. How do we combine different marketing strategies, tactics, and execution methods to generate results greater than any individual strategy, tactic, or execution?

For example, consider the idea of running television ads and branded PPC search ads. What kind of synergy will we create? Very little. Why? These two tactics pursue different human behaviors. The couch potato’s intent to purchase our product is lower than the searcher who’s looking for our company or product. While each channel will generate results, those results combined will not be greater than the sum of their parts.

Now, consider pairing branded organic search and retargeting ads. On the front end, we have strong buying intent because the customer is looking for us by name. Even if they don’t buy, we know they’re considering and evaluating, so running retargeting ads to those people will be much more effective than running retargeting ads to just anyone on our website. Additionally, our retargeting ads may inspire additional branded searches as people remember us. Both channels work better together than they do apart.

Truly leveraging synergy – as overused as the phrase is – means learning how our customers behave, then applying marketing to blend harmoniously with their behaviors.

Consider our marketing playbook, everything we know how to do. Consider the context in which our audience interacts with what we do. Group tactics by behavior and purchase intent. For example:

  • Display ads and television ads are both awareness builders.
  • Branded organic and brand paid search are both intent captures.
  • Facebook and email are both audience nurtures.

Next, we would map the collections – the synergies – against our customer journey mapping so that we are using the best combinations of what we can do in synchronization with how our customers are behaving.

That’s how we use synergy. That’s why marketers must understand and be able to apply synergy – not to check the box on a corporate buzzword, but to generate greater results with the same investment of resources. We want our marketing efforts not to be additive, but multiplicative.

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4 responses to “Why Marketing Must Understand The True Definition of Synergy”

  1. I thought it was “paradigm”. Or is that overused word old and busted now?

  2. I wonder if the backlash to the overuse of “Synergy” was because we saw results that we knew could have been accomplished without any synergy at all.
    If having synergy was going to deliver a bunch of great stuff then surely we would have noticed…

  3. I’m still wondering if any popularly used term, in business or otherwise, has been bastardized worse than “guru”.

  4. I think Innovation is very over used now. We now have Directors of Innovation instead of Directors of Product Development.


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