Any consideration of the growing number of touchpoints that most modern campaigns cover leads to the conclusion that a coherent, overarching strategy is the only way for brands to be effective, and for marketing directors to retain sanity.
Deciding on the correct approach for a brand is tough, and there are probably as many different flavours of integration as there are clients.
This is evidenced in the words of the three marketers who have outlined their integration issues and strategies here. All are agreed on the importance of integration, but each has his own take on what makes it work for his organisation.
All three believe integration's purpose has to be allied to the commercial imperative. This may seem obvious, but the fact that all of the marketers make the point implies that it may be an axiom they feel sometimes slips the minds of agency creatives and planners. Integration should be creativity applied consistently to the task of building business.
The shape of integration varies between our clients' three different organisations. For the insurer RSA, the company behind the More Th>n brand, a lead-agency approach is favoured, with the type of campaign required dictating who drives integration.
At Royal Mail, a more prescribed approach leads to a tightly defined briefing process, with each agency knowing its place and being hired for specific expertise.
Virgin Media found that its own culture needed to be more integrated before it could get the best from its agencies. In the process, it has moved from a one-stop-shop approach to conducting a team of individual specialists.
Its journey indicates that, even within companies, the solution to integration is not fixed. As both practice and media choices evolve, brands and their agencies will continue to be on a journey of discovery.
WHY HAVE A DOG AND BARK YOURSELF?
Pete Markey chief marketing officer, RSA Group
As a marketer, I see my role as steering a campaign to ensure that the core idea is not only integrated, but also delivers for the business. Ultimately, it is my role to guide the team to deliver on time, on budget and on the numbers. All this, and keeping true to the brand, are key factors.
Integration is a connected creative thought or route running throughout a marketing campaign or activity. This could be as simple as a shared proposition or message, through to a completely connected look and feel.
Sometimes, as marketers, we are perhaps too in thrall to the idea of integration, rather than assessing what it is meant to accomplish. We must ensure that integration still makes the activity compelling for the consumer and is not just for the sake of it. When I arrived at More Th>n in 2006, we had our brand mascot Lucky the dog all over our direct marketing packs, but no-one was clear why. You can have the most integrated campaign ever, but if it doesn't grow the brand or the business, you have failed.
Our approach is to have a lead agency that directs the campaign. The lead agency depends on the type of activity that we are running. For example, a DM agency would take the lead on data-driven activity if it was a standalone campaign.
Managing the fallout if agencies get too precious can be problematic, and that is where the client needs to play a key role and ensure the agencies play nicely and do not fall out.
More Th>n works with several different agencies. For digital, we created an internal agency two years ago that has been a big success. We previously had classic aboveand below-the-line shops. However, two years ago we integrated these activities into one agency, VCCP Me.
Previously, our challenge had been to effectively carry a core proposition and creative idea through all our channels in a clear, consistent way. With one agency we are able to achieve this, and more. This has strengthened our creative.
The growth of digital has also created new challenges. You have to remember to build it in to plans at an early stage, especially for rights and usage - particularly when dealing with artists or celebrities. Ensure you buy multiple-channel usage that covers digital channels. They are becoming ever-more important.
WE LISTEN TO THE SPECIALISTS BUT RESPONSIBILITY LIES WITH US
Antony Miller marketing director, Royal Mail MarketReach
Integration is long past being about matching luggage. It is a given that a consumer will recognise a message in whatever channel they experience it. Customers need to be able to jump in at any point, but if you think it is a linear journey, you are banging your head against a wall.
We have more media than ever and the audience is in different places and on different platforms. When there were only three channels it was easy to leave a great idea with a great agency and let them get on with it.
Now, there are so many options that you need to use specialists, and it is up to the client marketing team to work out the neural networks of these multiple media - with expert advice, of course.
However, more responsibility now rests with the marketing director and the marketing department, especially with regards to planning.
Agency specialisms present a disjointed picture. For any campaign, you may be dealing with agencies for advertising, direct, digital, social, word-of-mouth or experiential. If the client doesn't take control of integration, who will? Agencies are willing to do it, but demonstrating that they can is something very different.
Our approach has been to become more prescriptive with agencies. You have to be able to say 'no' to agencies that, naturally, want to demonstrate the breadth of their abilities and take a bigger slice of the work. If you are not tough you can end up with large parts of the campaign that overlap.
We are becoming less reliant on agencies. They do not lead integration, and are becoming more important in content generation, rather than channel selection. We want great creative, but it's not necessarily about the big idea so much as the rich idea.
It doesn't have to be an idea that plays out across 12 months, but may be one that has a narrower application.
Our briefing documents used to be more open-ended. Now we tell agencies who the audience is, select some media choices and determine the outcome. With this approach, turf wars are nearly a thing of the past.
Boards only care about integration insofar as it's a business imperative to deliver results. Integration is the art of finding where your audience is. It's not an equation or an algorithm. It's about listening to the feedback loop and adjusting what you do at speed. You need to be able to see what is working and what is failing quickly.
INTERNAL INTEGRATION COMES FIRST
Jeff Dodds executive director of brand and marketing communications, Virgin Media
Integration operates on two distinct levels. There is strategic integration, where client and agency align on a common purpose, and integration at an implementation level, where everyone comes together to deliver activity in an efficient manner. You need the former before you embark on the latter.
During much of 2011, Virgin Media was operating with an integrated agency model, with a single agency responsible for brand, acquisition and customer activity across all channels. The theory was that we would benefit from a single agency having end-to-end accountability and, if that meant not having specialist agencies in each discipline, integration would deliver broader benefits, so that was fine.
What we quickly realised was that no integrated agency can compensate for an operating model that was not itself integrated, so we set about integrating ourselves. Once that was established, we decided that we could afford to go back and find the best specialist agencies in the UK to work with by discipline.
The key to ensuring integration is simple: communication. Simple, but not easy. Never rely on the agencies to talk to each other and never delegate communication to junior team members. Senior clients should communicate the objectives to senior agency staff; then everyone in the room listens.
Sometimes objectives change, and that's fine. Just get everyone together again, tell them why they have changed and what the new plan is. Simple, eh? Not a chance. If your business is anything like ours, things can change in a heartbeat, so you need to be conscious of updating everyone.
In terms of who takes the lead with integration, without doubt I think it is the responsibility of the client. I see my role very much as conducting the orchestra, rather than trying to play all the instruments.
Our extended client-agency team has some of the brightest minds in the business - they just need to all be pointed at the same problem or opportunity. They all need to be rewarded for and enjoy the successes, regardless of where a good idea came from - be it client or agency.
That is not to say you do not want everyone competing to have the best ideas - that would be crazy - but, once the idea is locked in, you want everyone to integrate to execute it brilliantly.