The Rise of the Integrationist

March 28, 2012 11:00 pm

“There are two kinds of fool. One says, ‘This is old and therefore good.’
And one says, ‘This is new and therefore better'”
~ John Brunner

The sweeping changes wrought by digital have brought marketing to an inflection point. In 50 years, I think history will point to 2010 as the time when the foundations of the 21st century marketing organization were laid.

Shifts between eras are rarely smooth, and this is no exception.Hub

In nearly every aspect, the office of the CMO is torqued by conflicting demands. There is a pressing need for bold experimentation — if not to leap forward then just to avoid being left behind. But there’s also a competing need to deliver consistent results right now, today.

It calls for a new kind of organization. And if you look at marketing powerhouses like Coke and Pepsi, you can see the outlines of a new model starting to take shape. An important element in both companies are a set of executives I call “Integrationists”.

What Are They?

Integrationists are a new kind of marketing executive whose view of the world is neither analog nor digital. They embrace both and work to harness the feedback loop between them.

Given the need to integrate digital theory and practice into organizations whose core strengths are built on TV and promotion, it’s not surprising that most Integrationists have their roots on the agency side.

Pepsi brought in B. Bonin Bough from Weber Shandwick, and Shiv Singh from Razorfish. In October, Coke brought on Ivan Pollard, who was global partner at Naked Communications in London.

Deep Vs. Broad

As a general rule, marketers have been trained “deep” and agency people have been trained “broad”.

Marketers tend to develop expertise in CPG or in automobiles or some other industry. Nobody knows their business or their brands better. Career growth typically comes from building deeper experience within the same industry. The value comes from having a deep understanding of the full range of issues from manufacturing and legal and packaging and sales and distribution and so on that are unique to that business.

Agency people tend to be cross-trained on a wide variety of client businesses in a variety of very different categories. Career growth typically comes from building a well-rounded, multi-category perspective.

This makes digital agencies a particularly strong breeding ground for Integrationists. Digital is all about collaboration and about seeing things from different perspectives. If, as Alan Kay said, “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points” adding broadly-trained Integrationists the deeply-trained marketing teams at Coke and Pepsi should create a lot of value.

Integrationists And Culture

Some Integrationists will find great success on the client side. Others may find the move to the client side disorienting, because the cultures and needs are so different.

At agencies, ideas are king. New techniques and tactics are the lifeblood of the business. On the client side ideas are highly valued, but not for their own sake. Ideas must inspire people to reach in their pockets and pay for the client’s product. Ideas that are incredibly exciting in theory but don’t ring the cash register in practice are deeply disappointing.

A risk for Integrationists: will the marketing organizations split into warring digital and analog factions? In the early 1990s I remember meeting John Sculley, who was struggling with the challenge of bridging the gulf between “silver halide Kodak” and “digital Kodak”. In the end that war tore the company apart.

Long story short, here’s the takeaway: mutual respect — and setting the right incentives for the right behavior — is crucial for success.

Will The Next Marketing War Be Fought Over Talent?

Integrationists are in short supply, and both agencies and clients need to begin training the next generation.

In the meantime, clients and agencies could find themselves competing for a lot of the same talent. It’s not hard to see how this can further exacerbate client/agency tensions. Can you say no to an important client who values one of your key people so much she wants to hire them away?

Toward A New Kind Of Marketing Organization

A persistent myth of the early digital era is that we must forget everything we know. We must abandon everything that has ever worked in favor of the newest new thing.

As digital matures, we need a shift to a more nuanced and practical stance. My hope is that the Integrationists can help marketers build organizations that preserve the core of what has made the brand great, but stimulates progress.

It’s not an easy job. But I can’t imagine a more interesting one.

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