The Challenge of True IntegrationBy Jeff Harris, President and Chief Creative Officer at Cupani In the world of marketing, the word “integrated” is thrown around a lot today. It’s the new buzzword as “CRM” or “one-to-one marketing” was a few years ago. The idea of true integration is a good one. But, if done wrong or not thought through, the real cost of integrated marketing is much greater than any perceived savings or profits. So what is integration? It tends to vary depending who you talk to. A marketing manager may feel they have greater control over their budget if they consolidate their marketing needs and therefore they seek out an “integrated” agency. In that case, they may be saying “integrated” but what they really mean is “consolidated.” An agency may feel undue pressure to be an “integrated” agency to stay competitive. They feel the need to add services so they can call themselves an integrated shop. A general agency brings in an interactive lead or an interactive shop hires a branding expert. In this case, an agency may call itself integrated but what they really are is just a full-service agency. It takes much more than just hiring a few people to offer true integrated marketing solutions. With that said, a client can benefit from the right agency who truly understands the meaning and benefit of integration. Same as an agency can benefit from being truly integrated. But the right questions need to be asked. When a company is looking for an integrated agency they first must ask themselves why? What do you mean by that? Is it simply the benefit of having my entire advertising under one roof? (Aka consolidation) Is it a cost saving strategy? If so, what am I willing to give up to get it? Yes, give up. Often when you bring advertising to one place you may get great advertising, but it will come from one agency’s viewpoint. The reason brands traditionally used different agencies was for just that, different opinions, different ideas, different views and thoughts. Differences keep a brand fresh. Or, is it that I am looking for a unified message? Isn’t that what real integration is supposed to be? In most cases, when a brand is seeking true integration, what they really should be seeking is a single-minded idea that takes advantage of and transcends across multiple mediums. One of the pit falls for today’s integrated agencies is the assumption that if you have multiple disciplines in one environment – branding, CRM, and interactive – it’s enough to service all the clients needs. They’re missing the point; just having the disciplines doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a unified message. In fact it usually means the opposite. Unless it’s structured correctly you’ll have departments acting independently, which leads to fragmented messaging. With that said, a client can benefit from the right agency who truly understands the meaning of integration. A truly integrated agency that embraces and invests equally in every channel. One that knows every channel has a critical and unique roll in the messaging stream to the consumer. And one that encourages new thoughts and ideas to challenge the client and themselves. An integrated agency that understands nothing happens until you have a detailed marketing strategy that lays out how each channel will further the education to the consumer to make an informed decision about your product. So what are the keys to successfully creating an integrated, single-minded idea that transcends mediums?
- Identify a brand steward. Having a lead person that will oversee that the brand will ensure that no matter what the medium is, that the brand is being represented correctly.
- Improve the lines of communication. Agencies and clients must understand the importance of sharing information between themselves as well as communicating between channels. Only through this shared information can you expect seamless integration.
- Respect the differences. Each channel comes with its own benefits and place in an overall communication strategy. Understanding each one of these disciplines requires a unique expertise that has to be respected. So to really have an integrated agency each discipline must be embraced for its diversity.