The way we talk about integration is wrong. It’s too shallow and is leading us down self-congratulatory dead-ends. Integration is a means to an end not an end in itself.
If integration is, by definition, about coming together, the obvious question must be ‘what are we integrating around?’
Level 1 – Marketing
The first level is focused on us, the marketers. Here it’s about integrating different technologies into our marketing to make ever more creative and novel branded experiences. Briefs ask for apps because we can, not because we should. Technology is a tool, it’s there to enable us to achieve our objectives and is not an end in itself. Or as Tom Goodwin put it “no agency should ever have been labelled “digital.” Digital is like electricity; it’s not a thing — it’s everything.”
Level 2 – customers’ lives
If the focus of integration is not us, the marketers, then the question is simply ‘what are marketers focused on?’ The answer is obviously the consumers’ lives. So is this the next level? Blending new technology and targeted data analysis to make seamless cross-channel creative experiences that integrate smoothly into people’s lives. At this second level it’s about understanding and meeting, or ideally exceeding, people’s expectations.
Initially this feels right, but it’s still not deep enough.
Yesterday I faced my usual challenge, getting the kids out to school on time. My standard tactics didn’t work – gamification through competitive timing, rational reasoning or negative consequences. I tried my own blend of integration, a competition with positive and negative consequences – if they didn’t hit the time the Lego got taken away for a day, if they hit it, they got an extra bit of screen time. It failed and we were all late. My interventions didn’t work because my kids had changed. They change every day, but my tactics don’t.
Change is the reason why this second level, our customer’s lives isn’t the focus of integration. The tech and the way we use it changes all the time, far too fast for us to keep up with. This pace of change creates ever higher levels of expectation that brands work incredibly hard to meet. Any source of advantage from technological integration is quickly eroded because it’s a series of tactical plays to stay current. It’s not strategic, just a game of constantly chasing the next big thing.
Brands have a choice, do they stop here and keep playing a constantly changing game, with little control, where the rules are changed by technology. Or do they go deeper on their integration journey?
Level 3 – Brand Purpose
The third and deepest level of integration is around the brand and its purpose in the world. This means integrating channels and technologies in service of a purpose that’s uniquely yours. This means doing what’s right for you, not just doing what everyone else is. When you integrate around purpose you set the rules. Dove’s mission is to help women realise their personal potential for beauty. This is about perception and conversation, so of course the idea of integrating different social channels is essential. Apple on the other hand famously shun social media. The only twitter account they have is the App Store, which makes sense because the App ecosystem is constantly changing, sharing this news is important. The rest of their business moves slower. If they got into the game of creating conversations around their products, they’d constantly be searching for things to say. They’d end up working in service of the technology and channels, so they don’t.
What worked with my kids yesterday was reminding myself that, for me, being a dad is about helping them be amazing people. My purpose if you will. So we left the house late and they got their first late mark at school. In the evening we talked about it. Getting a late mark made them feel bad, which helped us work out how to make mornings work better. Today, despite a few wobbles, we got out the house on time and in good moods.
Having a clear purpose gives you a way to focus on the actions that are right for you and no-one else.