Integration: A Question of influence

It's time for a new approach in which influence provides a shared language for all disciplines.

How do we get the best from integration? Well, that may just be the wrong question. Perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we should be pursuing integration at all.

All too often, integration becomes a knee-jerk search for a solution that works across all media, rather than a search for the best solution. Integration lures us into superficial answers. Integration is inward-focused and process-driven. It's time for a new language and a new approach.

Every week in Campaign, someone tells us the world has changed. In today's digital world, peer-to-peer communication is all pervasive. Communities are unbounded by time or geography and information travels at the speed of light. As many commentators have noted, we live in an age of reference, not deference. As Mark Earls points out, successful brands engage entire communities, not just individuals. But, how, precisely, can we do this?

Influence, rather than engagement or integration, seems a better way of describing what we need to achieve today. If we think about people as media and influence as the desired outcome, then perhaps we can skip the tiresome debates about the relative merits of advertising planning versus digital planning versus channel planning. Influence provides a shared language for all of the disciplines. Instead of starting with the inputs (channel or brand or content), it starts with the desired outcome (influence), and works backwards. This is the ultimate form of integration, because it begins from a channel-neutral position.

When a brand has influence, it doesn't just engage the individual, it gets them talking and creates a ripple. Look at the phenomena of "information cascades", much studied by behavioural economists. They occur when groups of people follow the decisions of people before them, rather than following their own information. If you're looking for a restaurant on the first night of your holiday, how do you choose one? Simple - you pick the place that looks busiest. Most of the time, taking your cues from everyone else's behaviour is an easy and useful rule of thumb. To date, these cascades, which might more accurately be called "influence cascades", have happened organically. But, what if we could create "influence cascades" of our own?

How, in practical terms, would we go about doing this? First, we need to collaborate around shared beliefs and then turn these beliefs into shared behaviours. Brands must believe in something and let their beliefs guide everything they do. We're not recommending the superficial integration of matching luggage here, but a more fundamental coherence.

Then, in translating those beliefs into action, brands need to do something remarkable. But what exactly does remarkable mean? Remarkable means three quite specific things: extraordinary, worthy of remarking on and worthy of "re-marking", ie. adding your own mark. If you are not doing something remarkable, you may as well be invisible. It's the only way you can create the Talk Value(TM) that is so essential to creating "influence cascades".

Les Binet of DDB Matrix recently published a book, Marketing in the Era of Accountability, based on a meta-analysis of 880 cases from the IPA Effectiveness Awards. As the cases were collected, the authors were asked to classify how each campaign worked. The analysis showed that those campaigns which "got the brand talked about/made it famous" had the biggest business effects of all. This approach was the most underused and yet the most effective strategy.

So, believing in something and doing something remarkable is a good start. But it's not enough. Trees spread their seeds in profligate numbers for a reason: only one in many will grow to fruition and not just because that one bears some special unique quality, but also because it lands in the right place. Maybe we should obsess a little less about the "big idea" and spend a bit more time doing lots of remarkable things and seeing which travel. Rather than thinking about "end consumers", we should also be thinking about who are the most likely advocates. Frederick F Reichheld's The One Number You Need to Grow showed that the percentage of customers enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or a colleague correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors. The more advocates, the better.

At our best, the work we've done has intuitively understood this. Whether it's creating the "love it or hate it" campaign for Marmite or fuelling the "fan-dom" around Volkswagen Golf with "night drive", we get people talking and engage communities. Bill Bernbach always talked about word of mouth being the most powerful medium of all, and he is right all over again.

A shared language and a new approach, however, is not enough to build influence. We also need a different structure. At DDB, we employ about 450 people, and nearly one-third now work in disciplines other than "traditional" advertising. But I believe the changes must start with strategy. Great planners need to understand the potential, if not the intricacies, of all types of influence, from framing opinion with PR, to deepening relationships and creating communities with direct and online. That's why, this year, we've brought together the planning departments of Tribal DDB (digital), DDB WWAV Rapp Collins (direct), DDB London (advertising) and, of course, DDB Matrix (econometrics). Over the course of the next year, we hope to bring the PR gene in-house as well.

What's exciting is that we're swapping around planners from different disciplines on some projects and pairing up planners of different backgrounds on others. Every time we kick off a big project or a pitch, we hold an "open planning" session, so that the collective planning brain can bring its different skills, experiences, styles and perspectives to bear on an issue. With 30 different minds engaged, we tend to spot the opportunities fast.

At DDB, the question is not how to make the best of integration. It's about looking for something better. With influence, we believe we've found it.

- Lucy Jameson is the executive strategy director at DDB.