Words are peculiar things. Before you know it, a couple of words with what seemed simple, straightforward meanings go off like teenagers and become all complicated and complex. Integration and strategy fall into this category. Today, integration is a world-class buzzword in the business, management and communications lexicon, and strategy is probably the most abused word in the English language.
The root of the word integration—when our friends the Romans were devising the Latin dictionary—is integer, meaning whole or entire. Integration is therefore the act of combining component parts to become something coherent and complete. It is a rational process. Strategy, on the other hand, is an art form with military roots, the art of designing a campaign or carrying out a plan skillfully, even with a bit of guile. Combine these two words, and suddenly, art meets process, the words demand capitalization, and they transform into a full-fledged trendy corporate cliché—even if not everyone agrees on the cliché’s exact meaning.
So what should Strategic Integration mean to us in the communications business? Because it deals with the continuous alignment of strategies and messages in an ever-changing environment, Strategic Integration is central to reputation management, brand building and business development, critical to crisis management, and indispensable in professional and public affairs. It is a vital component in an organization’s quest for purpose and its ability to then convey that mission to its various stakeholders. It is about seeing the whole in terms of a company’s story, but also assembling a team of players that stretches across an organization to help create and then implement that story and strategy in an authentic and consistent way.
So like the two words that make up the term, Strategic Integration is simultaneously a process and an art. And planning any major piece of communications or brand updating can no longer expect to succeed without this kind of strategy and integrated program in place. Launching a product, refreshing a brand, announcing an initiative, or developing and maintaining an ongoing business relationship with customers needs not only a timetable for activation across multiple platforms if it is to succeed, but also requires a plan for how those channels will interact, support each other, reaffirm the basic company story, and move stakeholders from paying attention, to engagement, to a real connection with the brand. While this is not rocket science, getting and sustaining attention and more importantly connection in a world that consumes megamillions of units of information every hour and every minute across a matrix of channels is not only the first challenge companies must overcome, it is an ongoing one that often gets more difficult with time and requires participation from all functions in a corporation, along with collaboration by all agencies supporting the brand.
Take, for instance, the fourth-quarter 2013 brand relaunch by Royal Philips N.V., a client of OneVoiceConnect which is a collaborative effort that draws expertise from nearly half a dozen Omnicom agencies, including FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Emanate and Togo Run. The goal was to introduce a new positioning and refreshed logo and brandline intended to firmly establish Philips as a diverse global technology company with innovation at its core. This was the story we were going to tell and then talk about with stakeholders. The team utilized a diverse range of platforms, channels and outlets and an integrated package of paid, earned, shared and owned media. It required cooperation across OneVoiceConnect agencies as well as Philips’ other advertising and media partners.
While it’s still early days in the Philips brand refresh, the exercise was a clear demonstration of how Strategic Integration is no longer just a cool approach or a trendy business school model to be considered. When attempting cross agency, cross media, cross channel, cross discipline and trans-global planning for a brand like Philips, Strategic Integration must be standard operating procedure moving forward to achieve any degree of lasting success. Every utterance—no matter to which stakeholder it is directed—is an utterance that all will hear, and more than ever false steps can produce deafening reverberations. Any communication creates a dialogue that has a life of its own, and without a strategically integrated program, the conversation can easily get away from an organization.
Some may choose to think of Strategic Integration as a trendy cliché, but in our current always-on, transparent environment of highly paced and constant change, Strategic Integration is more a reality of business. Those who opt to ignore it do so at their own peril.