Of all the brands in the world, Facebook has no excuse for getting communications wrong. With more than one billion users, it should have more knowledge about the way people think and behave than the entire bibliography of psychology could provide.
But its debut communications campaign in October this year fell flat. Facebook likened itself to chairs and doorbells; basic objects that connect us as people. As the journalist Mic Wright observed: 'Imagine a chair with a tape recorder secreted in the upholstery. This chair appeared in your living room one day without you asking for it, and you can't get rid of it because all your friends have identical chairs and if you don't sit in the chair, you won't be invited to parties.'
Of all the comments I read of the campaign, none criticised it for its lack of integration. At least, not in the way we, as an industry, currently define the word. But Facebook does suffer from a different type of integration problem - the gaping disconnect between the role it portrays for itself in communications and how it actually behaves as a business. Anger over privacy laws and monopolistic behaviour mean Facebook has lost the right to place itself alongside these passive, unassuming items that are so fundamental to our society.
This illustrates the new challenge for integration in the coming years. Not only must we continue to build meaningful relationships with brands across paid, owned and earned media, we must ensure also that the public perception of businesses is integrated with the increasingly public reality of how they operate.
Transparency in the information age
One-third of the world's population is now online, which means 2.3 billion individuals have access to instant and almost limitless information. Organisations are now laid bare to the people they rely on for business.
The president of the US-based restaurant chain Chick-fil-A recently took an anti-gay marriage stance during a local radio interview. Ten years ago, the fallout for his business might have been confined to that region. But, in the information age, a national boycott campaign spread almost instantly, resulting in some cities proposing a complete ban on its operations.
A growing number of companies have faced similar repercussions as their inner workings were exposed: the customer-service representative caught misbehaving on camera; the disgruntled employee leaking sensitive information; the dissatisfied customer venting their anger across the globe rather than to the complaints department.
Even where a company fulfils all the criteria of integrated marketing, it will not be effective if the way it conducts itself fails to match the central idea underpinning the brand. In the information age, consumers will not be fooled.
A new meaning for integration
In the future, integration will be about operating within the framework of an all-embracing philosophy - a philosophy that shapes every initiative a business undertakes, and is felt and understood by every stakeholder, across every discipline. Whenever and wherever the inner workings of that business are exposed, the customer's perception of the brand will be consolidated or enhanced, and certainly never devalued.
Integration is a functional word that no longer sufficiently describes how modern businesses must act. We need a new word - integrity - because it is a word that talks not just of 'wholeness', but also of the moral codes that businesses can no longer ignore.
This notion of integrity as the guiding philosophy of a business is by no means new. There are brands that embody it and, consequently, welcome the transparency that the digital age has brought. They are the brands we turn to repeatedly for inspiration and, almost without exception, they have - or have had - visionary leaders (for example, Virgin, Honda and Apple). Over the next decade, our challenge will be to instil in every business that same notion of integrity that visionary leaders instinctively provide.
What integrity means for marketing
The responsibility for developing and maintaining the integrity of a business will fall primarily to the chief executive, but chief marketing officers and their creative agencies will also need to evolve their ideas and skills. Where, historically, businesses may have thought of marketing only as an output, they will also need to recognise it as an input, because marketing is ideally placed to take on the role of unearthing, shaping and disseminating the guiding philosophy that can underline a business's integrity.
And that guiding philosophy needs to be encapsulated in an idea that is broad and robust enough to be relevant across every business discipline - an idea that employees, stakeholders, opinion-formers and customers all want to be part of. It must define the behaviour of the organisation in any given situation. Essentially, it is a cultural idea - something that both describes the culture of an organisation and the cultural context in which it sits.
With all marketing disciplines working according to the same cultural idea, there will be a natural convergence of communications strategy and execution - the essence of integration.
As the information age increasingly demands transparency in business practice, integration can no longer be just a marketing issue, but one for the whole business. It's time to put our discussions of integration to one side and turn our attentions to the more fundamental issue of integrity. If Facebook had adopted this approach, perhaps it would have found a more appropriate comparison for itself than a chair.
- Think integration but also think integrity. It is a word that talks not just of 'wholeness', but of the moral codes that businesses can no longer ignore.
- Transparency is key - the public perception of brands must match the increasingly public reality of how business operates.
- A big cultural idea will ensure a natural convergence of communications strategy and execution - the essence of integration.
Emily James is the joint head of planning at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R