What next in Integration?
Everyone has a view on integration and how to implement it. But who should have the final word: academics or agencies?
When we published What Next In Integration in December 2010, we thought it was a cracker of a supplement. But we had no idea that it would form the basis of an academic study that would then go on to be presented to the Academy of Marketing - and win the first prize, no less.
We're delighted it did - and we are particularly pleased that the authors of that academic paper join us in the supplement this year and took part in our roundtable lunch debate too. There, Dr Kathleen Mortimer from the Northampton Business School was able to congratulate MBA on coming out particularly well in the 2010 analysis. Its approach to integration pretty well matched the academics' view of best practice.
But, as we all know, the way things work out in practice - best or otherwise - is often wide of what we'd hope for in an ideal world, or an academic world, perhaps.
Indeed, received academic wisdom, based largely on a framework developed by Kliatchko (2008) but with reference to other researchers, points to three main strands of integration.
The first is that the process must be customer-centric or audience-driven. The second is its impact on business strategy generally, not just on marcoms. Finally, integration must be considered at a corporate level, taking into account not only marketing but also business objectives.
The study by Sally Laurie and Mortimer (soon to be published in the Journal of Marketing Management, by the way) set out to discover how things have changed since 2004 when Kitchen et al concluded that ad agencies saw integration as being a more tactical than strategic tool and that the onus was therefore on brand marketers to integrate themselves first and then give specific tasks to their agencies.
Based on last year's essays in Campaign, Laurie and Mortimer found there had, in fact, been a shift within agencies - from the perception that integration refers just to messages and media to considering it as an essential tool in building a strong brand image.
However, their analysis found that only half the agencies acknowledged its role at the strategic level and, generally, few recognised the part that staff can play internally.
These views are at odds with academic literature, which places increasing emphasis on integration being a strategic tool influencing all business processes.
So? Does the discrepancy between academics and practitioners matter? Well, there's research that shows it does. Confusion and misunderstanding are barriers to integration's implementation at the higher levels of an organisation (Holm, 2006).
Hmmm. You could argue that the agencies in this supplement last year may have thought all sorts of things about integration but just chose to focus on one aspect in their piece and online film. And you might say that the views of ten agencies are not sufficient basis for a wholesale conclusion on the industry's approach to integration.
To that end, Laurie and Mortimer are now spreading the study wider and we've agreed to help. If you are a marketer or an agency exec and would like to contribute to the debate, follow this link: https://survey.northampton.ac.uk/imc. Please also forward to anyone else you think might be interested. The results will be presented at next year's Academy of Marketing conference and at the international conference on research in advertising at the European Advertising Academy in Stockholm.
Before anyone starts jumping up and down in defensive indignation at what they might perceive as criticism from the academic ivory tower, citing research as the scourge of creativity, plus client pressures and tight deadlines for the way things pan out in the real world, let's take a moment.
Over to Mortimer: "We are idealistic about how (integration) should be done. It's more complicated in the real world and we're very aware of that ...
On a day-to-day basis, agencies don't always have time to think more strategically. Our role is to step back a bit and look at things from a wider angle. We can also learn from agencies about the pressures they are facing and their relationships with their clients."
Integration is, even here, the name of the game.
Suzanne Bidlake, consultant editor, Campaign.
See what our essay writers and roundtable guests had to say about Integration below.
In light of changing consumer media diets and the rise of digital marketing, integration is more than just finding the perfect blend of communications.
CoppaFeel! seeks to raise awareness of breast cancer to young people, but it also ends up being a prime example of what effective integration is.
It is essential to define a set of integrated principles that stand the test of these changing times
Multi-platform channel campaigns provide agencies with a framework for genuine integration.
Integration is more than what you're saying or even how you're saying it - it's about asking 'why'. All brand activity should be dictated by this.
Delivering campaign integration for clients begins with ensuring that everyone is aligned, from the chief executive down to the retail staff.
The smart use of data is enabling optimised creative campaigns that will change the nature of the agency and client relationship.
Brands and agencies must learn to be humanly relevant if they want to connect to consumers.
Hubs of 'architects' and 'developers' provide the structure of the Brand Action(tm) philosophy.
For true integration, agencies and their brands need to put customers as well as employees at the centre of their business strategy.
When unforeseen events require your static campaign to go dynamic, you will need to employ smart integration practices quickly.