Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Integrated (Insert Marketing or Brand) Is Backwards Thinking

I recently received an email invitation to an "Integrated Marketing" conference in my hometown. From the description, it promised that attendees would experience the future of marketing.

Actually, my first exposure to the term, "Integrated (insert brand or marketing here)," was through a young woman fresh out of college who joined the same company I was working for a few years ago. She often spoke about integrated brand and her desire to become more involved with it, and to get our clients to practice it. I had never heard of the concept until that moment. I admit I didn't quite understand it.

Perhaps, I was naive. Had my head buried in the sand. Maybe, I was just too old school for those super-smart Millennials.

But I had a hard time believing any of those things to be completely true because many of my clients were in rapid ascent mode, chewing up large chunks of market share and spitting out competitors. More importantly, they were building strong foundations to sustain their trajectories.

Instinctively, it seemed to me, integrated (insert marketing or brand) was another of those new-fangled buzzwords or phrases that comes out of nowhere but everyone starts using like, vertical strategy, optimization, value justification, etc. Marketers...gotta love 'em. Great at pilfering, repurposing and repackaging.

My gut reaction to the phrase, integrated (insert marketing or brand), was "really?" That's because I've ALWAYS practiced - and counseled clients - that their brand is their strategy, and everything they do, every decision they make, every program they initiate or system they build, every person they hire, every campaign they create, every dime they spend, etc., should be birthed and governed by their brand mission. If you haven't been thinking this way all along, there is a good chance you are not the dominate brand in your category. If you aren't thinking this way, and you happen to be the leading brand in your category, you are probably on top for reasons out of your control. Regardless, you are vulnerable.

Let me further explain: By embracing the notion, integrated (insert brand or marketing), you are essentially buying into the idea that you must fit together all of your company's existing pieces to create one idea or image. The biggest flaw in this thinking is believing that you can simply fit those pieces together to form the same image. Chances are, your parts and pieces were created independently and tactically to address a particular and present concern or need. Over time, they stack up. Stacks of unrelated things add up to confusion in the mind.

Essentially, integrated (insert marketing or brand) is backwards thinking.

That's because brand is the all-encompassing thing. Brand is your strategy. It comes first. Therefore, everything you do should flow forth from your brand, not be cobbled together to fit it. Your brand should dictate all the pieces you create. If this isn't the case, it's going to take separation, not integration, from those things that don't fit the brand, and the formation of new things that do fit it, in order for all of your parts and pieces to naturally form that single (and hopefully, distinct) impression.

Brand should also be your business model. Few brands were ever born from a spreadsheet. Though, many have been killed by one. Southwest Airlines is a terrific example of this premise. It's business model has always been about efficiencies. It makes no bones about it. SWA also leverages it in ways to create a fun, easy, and hassle-free experience for customers, whereas other airlines, that are now clamoring to streamline, are making customers feel like victims of their inefficiencies...and appearing to be greedy. Southwest's latest assault, the campaign about bags flying free, is brilliant. It was born from its brand mission and provides stark contrast to what virtually every other carrier is doing. SWA continues to separate itself in relevant, meaningful ways.

Southwest is also a shining example of creating a culture that bleeds its brand at every single point of contact, so promise and payoff are always one. That's how you create an authentic brand. It might just be the best example of building a transparent (had to throw in a buzzword) brand from the guts of its organization out to the consumer.

By the time I write my next blog in a few weeks, I bet there will be dozens of new buzzwords in the mainstream attached to revolutionary promises. Heck, I've already come across a Web site that portends to create your personal brand through aggregation (fancy term for integration) of all your social and professional sites. Sounds like another example of "integration." You can believe the hype if you want. Or, you can stick with what really works and always will: Building a brand from inside your organization out to your customers.

These are my Guts Feelings.

Kurt Bartolich, Founder/Brand Internalist, Guts Branding

These are my Guts Feelings.

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