Integrated: Re-birth Of A Buzzword

Posted in Insights

Don't Hate This Word Because It's Beautiful.

Unsupervised words decay over time. For instance, nobody’s been watching as the word “integrated” erodes into the verbiage equivalent of a once-great magician who now plays The Pocono’s and shills Prime Rib dinners. It makes shameless appearances as an agency cross-sales tool, validating the sorcery of coordinated marketing tactics that kinda sorta fit together somehow.

Let’s bring it back to its previous glory. Let’s do it such that, by the end of this article, it turns out thoughtful, strategic design services are very important. You will leave feeling your dollars are well spent in this department - perhaps you should even spend more. No slight of hand here; you get the agenda right up front.

I can be so overt because a long-forgotten, powerful premise supports me. Integrated marketing, and its corollary, integrated design, is based on an irrefutable truth that was perhaps never widely understood: integration refers to an effect, not a cause. Put simply, the audience does the integrating, and design helps them do it.

Whether you decide to proactively manage the process or not, your customers coalesce visual cues, experiences, impressions, and all sorts of information into a set of associations regarding your company and its products. The goal of building a brand is to effectively use these associations to secure a piece of your customers’ cranial real estate so that each time you talk to them you don’t have to say things like “Hi, my name is COMPANY, I sell PRODUCT, and there are lots of REASONS you should trust me more than COMPETITOR.”

Also, building a brand enables you to be wildly successful charging $5 for a cup of coffee.

*The audience does the
integrating, and design
helps them do it. *

Design is a principal tool in manifesting your brand’s core attributes and messages. It goes well beyond nice logos. The appearance of your website, packaging, advertising, retail locations, collateral, and any other contact points at your control all come together to create the visual point of reference to which your customers attach non-visual information. Design literally creates the focal point for integration.

Yet despite the military efficiency marketing lingo suggests (“targets”, “tactics”, “campaigns”), no company gets to fully dictate what happens in their customer’s minds. A well-conceived and, perhaps above all, consistent design approach is among the few variables a company can actually thoroughly control. Without this reliable air cover, the rest of the brand-building process is risky, dependent upon factors like the demeanor of front line employees, competitive product innovation, even the price of raw materials.

Sometimes it’s instructive to imagine that every contact you have with all your customers takes place through one guy, a salesman named Joe. This would significantly reduce the complexity involved with managing customer impressions. But the pressure on Joe would be tremendous. He could do everything right, but if he shows up for meetings with Fortune 500 companies sporting a mullet haircut and overalls, then scribbles his phone number on squares of toilet paper as a leave-behind, well, your company may not get the business. Don’t let the complexity of managing many more variables than just Joe dissuade you from providing customers strong, unified, visual evidence.

At best, failure to create and apply appropriate design standards through all contact opportunities means a failure to establish a common visual platform for customer relationships. At worst, it fosters a negative context. The important thing to understand is that failing to decide is a decision in itself. Either you (or your designated agency) must step in and manage design proactively, or your customers will do it for you. And they probably don’t care about your company or its products as much as you do.

It’s okay to value some marketing expense based on click-throughs or calls to your 1-800 number. But if you’re not simultaneously valuing the contribution to brand equity, building an asset that pays dividends when the phone stops ringing, you are wasting dollars. Reinventing your look and feel with every package, site, or print ad you do, for instance, is a good way to shift your company toward a purely infomercial model. Your product development roadmap should perhaps re-focus on handy kitchen gizmos, portable exercise devices, and no money down real estate courses. You’d still need strong design, but it would only require a 30-minute shelf life.

So we can rescue this downtrodden word from its near-death state and apply it to the important work of using design to manage touch points that impact customer’s integration process. Or, we can make up fancy new terminology (“unified design theory”, or “symbiotic perceptual amalgams” have a certain drama, but I vote for something timeless like “smart and consistent design”). Either way, the choice is between a conscious decision with potential long-term benefits or the idle hope that your outreach might result in more than just another contribution to ambient noise.

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