Disintegrating “Integration”*

disintegrationintegrationintegrated marketing

There are lots of buzzwords and ism’s thrown around in advertising. But none are used with such ubiquity as Integration. If I had a nickel for every company that says it’s an “integrated agency”, every campaign that is “fully integrated”, every creative or strategist who “thinks integratedly”, I’d be filthy rich. To be honest, this makes sense. The digitized and mobilized marketing landscape has become so fragmented, complex and chaotic, that marketers say cross-channel integration is their top priority, according to an eMarketer 2014 study. So using the word “integrated” is like a promise of understanding all the chaos. It attempts to say, “don’t worry, we’re thinking about all that complex and inter-connected stuff.”

The thing is, people have been using this term for so long and so often that it’s been rendered virtually meaningless. It’s gotten to where it’s hard to define what integration really is. Well, I’m here to tell you what being “integrated” isn’t:

  • It’s not matching luggage: Many simply believe that as long as you make the brand and message look exactly the same everywhere it appears, then that’s integrated. In this case, it’s about executional elements – color, fonts, logo, a visual cue. While this can help connect a brand visually across platforms, it’s a pretty superficial approach. Sure, it may telegraph to people that “here’s that brand again”, but it provides no message, no context, no value. And it doesn’t even try to leverage the distinctive properties of each individual medium.
  • It’s not hand-offs or trickle-downs: There persists this faulty myth in advertising that creativity is the result of one or two geniuses developing brilliance on their own and then sharing it with the world. So agencies still think that an integrated idea starts in one camp or vertical (usually the almighty AOR), and then gets handed off to other disciplines to flow this brilliance out. But this is the old way of thinking – creativity is rarely the work of a single artist, but instead the result of many and often disparate people, thinking cross-channel from the start.

    And this scenario can result in conflict – with each different group/agency pushing in different directions according to separate agendas, goals, priorities. While each may have the best intentions for the brand, true integration isn’t achieved since the entire team isn’t working together, off the same concepts or goals.

  • It’s not just adaptation: Similar to the above, there’s a belief or expectation that an idea begins as a TV commercial. Or a website. Or a print ad. And then gets adapted into other forms of communication. Turning the TV commercial into a banner ad, per se. This is clearly sub-optimal, since people use and behave on different platforms differently – so simply applying an idea from one into another won’t be effective. An integrated idea needs to live above platforms and media – and needs to be expressed within the realities of each individual medium.
  • It’s not about a laundry list of platforms: When agencies say they’re integrated, they generally end up talking about channels and platforms. “We take ideas and express them in mobile, in social, in content marketing…” But integration isn’t about the output; it’s about the input. And just because you have capabilities in multiple platforms or channels, doesn’t mean that you should utilize them all. Sometimes integration is knowing which channels you shouldn’t be utilizing for a specific situation.
  • And calling it “Omni-channel” doesn’t make it any more integrated: One of the latest and greatest buzzwords in marketing is omni-channel. “We’re not only integrated, we’re omni-channel.” But this is just another way of saying the same exact thing.

Here are a few things that Integration is about, in my opinion:

  • It’s about collaboration, irrespective of agencies, holding companies and agendas. (I like Bill Koenigsberg’s idea of “the Agency of Collaboration model”).
  • It’s about taking a consumer perspective – and caring more about take-away than input.
  • It’s about iteration. It matters less where your idea started than where it can end up.
  • It’s about letting go of ownership. Get over yourselves. Period.
  • It’s about solving problems, not pushing executions. Be thinking about measurable objectives at all times, and pull together data across channels for an integrated view.
  • It’s about innovation (another overused word…). Be open to new approaches, even if they are from outside your domain.

Integration is a powerful tool and important concept. Let’s all make sure we’re using the term equally powerfully.

* Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily on 6/8/15

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