MBA: Integration Is Dead

No longer should integration stop at marketing. In a post-integration world, an entire business shapes itself around a unifying thought.

Seth Godin once mused that marketing is too important to be left to just the marketing department.

He talks of how really important things (like the product!) are, of course, part of marketing too and that everything needs to be shaped together to be properly joined up. We agree. What's more, we suggest that this type of thinking can provide a broader "post-integration" approach that will drive businesses forward further and faster than simply integrated marketing as we currently define it.

Marketing should now be post-digital. And should have been for a while. After the initial, exciting bubble of shiny-newness burst, digital nearly diminished to being "just another channel". Fortunately, it finally found its true purpose in amplifying natural human behaviour and derailing a few business models. "Digital" per se has become an irrelevance.

So the winds of change are blowing us back towards needing to understand human motivation and decision-making in much more detail (the behavioural economics angle championed by the IPA, Mark Earls' Herd and others) and leveraging the tools we have available to change behaviour.

This is not new. This is the basis of the marketer's current definition of integration. Find the way to motivate people and then use the methods you have at your disposal to engage them, seduce them and then get them to do something.

Isn't integration in this sense also now essentially an irrelevance in the same way that digital is? Surely it's just common sense that your conversation should be joined up? Surely it's self-evident that your idea should transcend the medium?

So what does post-integration look like?

Integration breaks down when the idea is limited to just the marketing department, neither growing beyond it nor taking input from the business as a whole. The recent Old Spice work was fantastic and fully deserves all the plaudits and awards that it has won and is going to win. Statistics have been released showing that sales were spiking as a result of the activity. But what happens when people try the stuff? Personally, we're too scared to buy it, just in case it transports us back to the 70s and we're forced to grow extravagant facial hair rather than it turning us into (even more) buff and dashing gentlemen. Isaiah Mustafa on a horse talking in a personalised video to Ellen DeGeneres has got lots of people talking, but will it fizzle out there?

The point is that integration works best when there is a unifying thought driving the whole business, not just the marketing. It needs to drive the whole shebang: the product, identity, NPD, attitude to customer service, way you treat shareholders, PR, CSR, HR and so on, as well as the marketing materials and the social media campaigns. This is why our idea for the AA is on its vans as well as its ads. It's why Everest has grown 5.4 per cent in a market that has declined 24.3 per cent and won an IPA Effectiveness award for its troubles. It's why @NationalTrust Twitters about life's simple pleasures.

The evidence is plain for all to see. Companies with a clear idea of what they're about - what they're for - and who live and breathe this very essence often flourish. Disney's purpose is to keep the magic of childhood alive, Steve Jobs wants to put a dent in the universe and Nasa's janitors want to put men on the moon. Amazon bought Zappos for how much exactly?! Reports suggest somewhere in the region of $1 billion. And what exactly did it pay for? A website? A distribution network? A shoe shop? Nope, it paid for a company culture that was so strong that it permeated through the walls to touch the heart of every single one of its customers.

Integration needs to do one of two things. Unifying ideas can struggle upstream with the gusto of a frantic, spawning salmon. Or they can start at the source. In fact, truly unifying ideas should be the source. Once the fountain of eternal integration is tapped, everything becomes less complicated (not necessarily less complex). It is easier to corral the business strategy and the desired behaviour of staff. There's a rich well for creative ideas and, perhaps most importantly, it can drive brand behaviours, the actions that prove you mean what you say.

And what do you need to deliver this? Well, first, you need a group of people who can think all the way along the value chain, from business strategy through identity to the communications strategy and implementation across paid, earned, owned and created media. You need an agency or agencies that have a shared culture and are structured to focus on the goal of delivering ROI for the client's business overall. In other words, you need agencies with post-integration DNA.

Good integrated marketing can achieve great things: it can get people talking, it can drive sales and it can clearly deliver returns. But for it to be at its most powerful, the buzz of the integrated campaign should deliver something more fundamental to the business. It should stem from, and support, the very heart of what that business is about, rather than a more ephemeral tactic.

We need integration to mean more than just joined-up communications. We need to move to post-integration thinking - with joined-up everything - and start to influence how businesses operate in thought, word and deed.



Integration is dead, long live post-integration

- Post-integration finds a unifying idea that works across the entirety of a client's business

- It's a link from business strategy to identity through to all communications

- Post-integration requires agencies with post-integration DNA, with shared culture and structure centred around ROI

James Devon is the planning director and Stephen Maher is the chief executive of MBA

(From Campaign's "What Next in Integration" supplement, December 3 2010)