Integrated marketing refers to taking a comprehensive approach that presents a unified, seamless brand experience across all of the appropriate marketing disciplines and communications channels. This became a concern as the communications industry – and the firms that serve it – became increasingly specialized and fragmented, with agencies and even in-house departments focusing on a specific discipline while also striving to be the ones who drive the overall strategy.
Advertising, which had historically been the big gun, was often the most dominant agency, and therefore took the lead on strategy. But the digital revolution changed all of that, and suddenly agencies from other disciplines were legitimately trying to assert their views. But the overwhelming desire to focus on the target audience as opposed to the creatives and their egos has fostered a more integrated approach across all disciplines, and the firms that specialize in each, which has helped put the profession back on track.
Interestingly, many inexperienced communications professionals assume that integrated marketing simply refers to utilizing all of the various digital communications channels available today: blogs, chat rooms, email newsletters, online forums, podcasts, social media, websites, etc. In reality, this is only part of an integrated marketing plan, which would also need to include the various communications disciplines: advertising, direct mail, events, public relations, etc.
Having started my career at an integrated marketing firm, which gave me first-hand experience in nearly every communications discipline, this integrated approach comes naturally to me. It is my default setting.
I have developed and implemented countless strategic, integrated communications plans over the years, including holistic marketing plans when I have worked in-house. The value of such plans is that they ensure consistency and clarity in the eyes of the target audience as well as force the communications professional to consider every possible discipline and channel when developing a plan, resulting in a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to achieving the designated communications objectives.
For those puzzled by the distinction between a discipline and a channel, it can be illustrated best through an example: advertising is a communications discipline, which can utilize a variety of communications channels such as display ads, online ads, print ads, radio ads, television ads, etc. And for those unclear about the difference between an integrated plan and a holistic one, I explain that in detail over in my discussion of strategic planning. In a nutshell, though, an integrated plan provides a unified and seamless brand experience utilizing all of the communications disciplines and channels, whereas a holistic one also takes into consideration every aspect of the business, not just communications, and recognizes their inherent interdependencies (I like to think of it as integrated planning, drawing input from every aspect of the business).