by Michael O'Neill
September 24th, 2012

Integrated marketing has become a familiar buzz word, with clients increasingly asking for “an integrated approach.” But we rarely stop to think about what it really means.

Integrated marketing describes a harmonious marketing solution, spanning disciplines and platforms, delivering immersive and consistent results. It is about the outcome, the end user experience, not the process.

Integration is infinitely preferable to disintegration. It ensures consistency of voice, alignment of different platforms, efficiency of delivery and higher client ROI. It enables us to capture the interest of sceptical, worldly-wise consumers who are highly active and accustomed to co-creating in a real-time, content-rich environment. Yet in practice, truly integrated marketing is difficult to deliver.

Different disciplines “bolted together” may produce an integrated plan, but this is not integrated marketing. The result is no greater than the sum of its parts.

Rather than label as integrated that which clearly is not, we must reevaluate whether our process-view of integration — coordinating separate elements to provide a harmonious whole — will indeed lead to our ultimate goal as communicators: deeper and more authentic audience engagement.

The dichotomy of specialisation and convergence

As the number and specialisation of communications platforms explodes, we rely more heavily on experts to guide us through the conversation, to understand how, why and where consumer engagement comes to life. Expertise-led specialisation drives diversion within marketing disciplines, but in reality, although the entry point may differ by discipline, the outcomes and results increasingly overlap on the same platforms. This convergence has potential for both brilliance and confusion. No easy answer to those aiming for integration.

Re-thinking integration

I propose a more radical approach — breakthrough innovation through intersection of disciplines. Unlike directional thinking that is linear and driven by traditional logic and processes, intersectional innovation leaps in new directions, with the capacity to change the world by opening up new fields and generating followers.

Intersectional ideas are ground breaking because the concepts and combinations involved are so unusual no one would have thought them possible. Take the legendary cracking of the Enigma code during WWII — the team of cryptologists included linguists (as expected) plus mathematicians, classicists, chess masters and crossword addicts. Diversity allows different frameworks, viewpoints, approaches and solutions to emerge.

It was only through disruptive innovation — a particular type of intersectional concept which results in deeply engaging creativity — that Sir Richard Branson was able to transform a number of industries and create over 250 companies. At the frontiers of science, both bioengineering and materials science are inherently interdisciplinary.

Most major advances involve multiple disciplines, not by “fitting them together,” but instead by applying the force of convergence to look at problems in entirely new ways and develop more interesting and engaging solutions.

Creativity and innovation

Life at the intersection provides insight closely aligned to the triggering factor of creativity, derived from combining concepts in an unusual fashion. While we respect the disciplines of research, it is often difficult to trace the exact origin of an insight. But does that matter?

The creative idea, not where it originated, is what excites the consumer. Creativity is the spark that illuminates the most innovative strategy and the most compelling communications. Which leads us to an even more radical example of intersection: crowd-sourcing creativity — open source solutions curated by the marketer.

Adapt and thrive at the intersection

Working with a diverse group of people increases the creativity. This is an obvious truth but we seldom live it, sticking instead to our own disciplines and domains. What can we do in practice to adapt and thrive at the intersection?

- Become an expert-generalist

By intentionally gaining exposure to different fields, we set ourselves up for more diverse concept combinations. Become a modern “Renaissance person” with interest in different things, so you can see the trends and patterns and integrate what you know, transporting methodologies, ideas and frameworks into new situations and generating unusual idea combinations.

- Interact with different people

Behavioural research shows an overwhelming tendency to recruit and hang out with people just like us. We may be genetically programmed to do so, and furthermore it makes life easier, but seeking out environments with people just like you is a sure way to inhibit your own creativity. To generate intersectional ideas, seek out people who are different from you. The group dynamics will be more challenging, but worth it.

- Go intersection-hunting

Paradoxically we can utilise structured ways to introduce randomness into our thinking. For example, search for connections in unlikely places by taking a “thought walk,” either physical or virtual, to collect objects and images with no apparent connection to the problem.

Having been intensely involved in several marketing disciplines during my career, I’ve seen how expert silos operate. The desire for transformative thinking and breathtaking creativity is common to all, yet to embrace genuine convergence of disciplines, we must foster open minds and applaud courage.

Life at the intersection will be more demanding and less predictable, and yet I believe it holds the promise of the innovative and integrated solutions we aspire to create.

Welcome to the brave new world of integration. Creativity unleashed through the force of convergence.

Adrienne Bateup-Carlson is executive vice-president, China, at Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG)

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