A Contrarian’s Approach to Integration

Like everything else in life, integrated marketing would be a breeze to pull off… if only it weren’t for the people.

Because integrated marketing is actually a pretty simple thing to understand in theory.

We know, for example:

  • That the use of multiple media, focused around a tightly defined brand idea, produce better results than any form of media working alone;
  • That consumers watching TV, reading the paper, or tooling around online don’t make any distinction in their minds about marketing channels — as far as they’re concerned, there’s just a thing called advertising that more often than not is a barrier to the enjoyment of what they’re trying to do;
  • That while channels can all do more than one thing, they all do some things really well (there’s nothing better than TV to create awareness among lots of people, and nothing better than search at efficiently closing the deal.)

The problem isn’t with what we know. It’s with what we don’t know. Namely, how to work productively with “the others.”

After all, in order to put a truly comprehensive, thoughtful integrated plan into the market you need to draw upon the expertise of many people.

The number of people involved will of course vary based on the assignment, but I’ll tell you that I recently worked on a channel planning exercise that could not have been done without the significant contributions of at least 20 people. In other words, coming up with the best integrated plan is less of an intellectual exercise than it is an exercise in collaboration.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about collaborating in the context of integrated marketing was to actively learn about other disciplines. There’s nothing more disarming than being able to recognize the value of what other channels (and more importantly, the people who are advocating for them) bring to the table.

As someone who had spent an entire career on the digital side of the business, that meant I needed to learn more about everything other than the Internet.

And I found a great resource to do that in the form of a (self-described) cranky, foul-mouthed CEO/blogger named Bob Hoffman. Better known as The Ad Contrarian.

I highly recommend you add TAC to your daily reading list and download his free e-book, which is a nice summary of some of the key themes and principles he writes about.

Just beneath the very entertaining layer of bluster that is TAC’s trademark, what you’ll actually find is a passionate voice for reason. If he happens to skewer all that is unreasonable along the way, so be it.

Hoffman writes about the importance of simplicity in advertising. He’s got no patience for jargon (“Brand Babble,” he calls it) or anything else that gets in the way of selling stuff. The focus is on performance, which he believes is best achieved by changing consumer behaviors, not their attitudes.

He doesn’t subscribe to the traditional funnel view of the world, where impacting brand perception is at the top, leading over time to purchase at the bottom. His take is that the best way to build brand preference is to get people to use the product.

While he has written some hilarious posts like his take on Twitter — “How the Narcissistic Keep in Touch with the Feckless” — Hoffman is by no means anti-digital. He’s just anti-BS, and truth be told, there’s a lot of that flying around in digital circles.

The most important insight I’ve gained from reading TAC is to become aware of the industry’s death complex, most obvious in the ongoing discussion about “the death of TV.” In fact — and Hoffman is a stickler for the facts — TV has never been more popular than it is today.

I realized just how often digital teams rely on an argument against other media as a rationale for the use of interactive: “you need to do more digital because TV doesn’t work anymore.”

It’s a line of reasoning that I used when I worked at digital shops, trying to cut into the work of the lead agency. And it’s an argument that has lots of problems. For starters, it’s not true. So there’s that.

But as it relates to integrated (i.e., collaborative) marketing, it’s pretty much the worst possible way to work with other experts to craft a holistic solution. No one wants to work with you when you’re raining on their parade.

The better approach is to think about what other channels bring to the table, and how all this stuff works together. Whether your resource is The Ad Contrarian or something else, a great place to start is by finding someone who knows a lot about things you don’t, and who will challenge your tired assumptions.

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