Integration has been the Holy Grail for agencies and clients alike for at least two decades now. It has been seen as the way to create a communication platform that allows all media channels to work together, and to help agency networks facilitate cooperation between their different specialist agencies (especially digital). Unfortunately, this thinking is flawed from the start.
Integration, in the traditional sense, doesn’t work. Period. It is virtually impossible to get a traditional ad agency and a specialist or digital agency to work in a truly integrated way. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides of that equation. Too many things tend to get in the way.
Money gets in the way. Even when there’s a shared P&L, account directors have their KPIs to worry about, and therefore find it hard to share the wealth with their colleagues from other units.
Egos get in the way. The 'not created here' syndrome lives in all of us, so most creatives are not interested in hearing ideas from anyone else, unless it fully supports or looks like their own idea.
History gets in the way. It’s the way we’ve always done things. We come up with ideas, and usually, it starts with TV or print (or digital in pure-play digital agencies). And then everything has to follow suit—no matter how preposterous the end result is.
Clients get in the way. A lot of clients brief on task, as in 'please make us a TVC', or 'we need a digital activity for our campaign', instead of asking for a solution to a challenge.
And finally, media agencies get in the way. The number of times media agencies have been briefed ahead of creative, or have trouble with ideas, because 'we can’t book that', is mind-boggling.
Obviously, on all accounts, there are exceptions, but the integration challenge still persists.
True integration can only come when all decisions are 100 per cent media neutral, and none of the involved parties has an agenda to push or any vested interests.
Today, if you walk into a traditional advertising agency and ask for help, the answer they will give you is advertising (hopefully with some digital elements). If you walk into a digital agency, the answer will be digital. And if you walk into a PR agency, the answer will be, you guessed it, PR. But how can you know what the answer is before you completely understand the problem? How can anyone solve a business challenge without analysing the complete consumer path and all their brand interactions?
The responsibility to fix this falls on everyone involved. Clients need to provide business insights and be completely transparent with their business problem. And they have to recognise that their current budget allocation systems may be working against their goal to sell more products or connect with more people or retain more of their business—and in particular to achieve a more integrated marketing plan. And of course, the agencies must incorporate fully integrated strategies, employ hybrid staff (people with both digital and traditional experience) and recognise that creativity needs to be applied throughout the process, not just when creating the output.
The other problem with a traditional integrated approach is that it tends to see integration as a campaign treatment. It’s taking the same idea and/or look and executing it in a variety of media, often resulting in a “matching luggage” approach, executed in short campaign bursts.
But true integration is about connecting with the target audience in ways that are relevant to them and that work in that specific channel—at the appropriate time. So every media channel deserves its own sub-idea, based on the strategy and the overall creative concept.
But even that’s not enough. In this day and age, any campaign or marketing activity must acknowledge the digital culture we live in—for instance, the way we all watch TV with phones, tablets or laptops within reach. What we really need to do is to look at how we can integrate around the consumers themselves: their lives; their experiences; their emotions; their perceptions of themselves; their media habits; their friends and family; and their relationships to brands, products and popular culture. And of course, how they use technology.
The answer is what we call digital-centric communications. Digital-centric is a philosophy that is born out of the culture we live in, where digital is everywhere. But digital is not everything. It is part of the environment any marketer faces, and a digital-centric approach is as important when making a TVC as it is when making a website. Digital-centric is when digital supports all the other channels. But it has to do it on its own terms.
Digital-centric is true integration, where digital is never an afterthought, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of communications either. It is a balanced, digital-friendly and people-oriented approach to marketing. It recognises the breadth of opportunities in the marketplace, and seeks to connect with people in a relevant manner. Usually it is best obtained through entertaining people or providing them with a utility—but it could be anything. Well, anything but traditional hit-you-over-the-head-advertising. It is something that adds value to their life – or just in that moment.
Digital-centric is not just advertising. It applies to all forms of communication. It bridges the gap between advertising, digital, PR, event, media planning, content marketing, social media and CRM. It is convergence in practice.
By applying the simple principles of digital-centric communications, brands in Asia can build real connections with their customers, provide them with experiences they remember—and lead them to action. It is a holistic approach that brings a lifecycle perspective into marketing. It’s both strategic and creative, and the goal is to provide consumers with real experiences and create true connections for the brand. After all, what we really want to do is to get people to feel something and do something. It’s that simple, and that difficult. To get there, we must refute old paradigms and embrace every opportunity out there. We know it’s possible. All we have to do is take the first step. Who’s with me?
Erik Ingvoldstad is the managing director of Acoustic, based in Singapore and part of The North Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR.