Integrating on Purpose

For our GSD&M SXSW analysis, I’m filing this post under the banner of Reinvention because, for brands to get and stay relevant in the new world order, the marketing and advertising folks in charge of their care + feeding may have to fundamentally re-visit some basic communications principles they grew up on.

In his inspiring Saturday afternoon session, “Brand Consistency Is Killing Digital Advertising”, planner Justin Cox of Pereira & O’Dell challenged the crowd to re-think the meaning of integration. Especially given the meteoric growth of digital communication in general, we should be moving farther away from definitions of integration that are all about [my words] rote visual consistency or rigid adherence to a single-minded communication idea. Rather, we should be thinking more along the lines that, “it’s all fair game so long as our efforts are true to the brand’s core value, jive with everything we know about consumer behavior, and connect with people in the right ways.” In other words, the way we think about integration should be built around the essential value(s) the brand stands for more so than just a standardized visual look or individual message.

Why? Simply put, this less constricted approach allows more headroom for brands to surprise and delight people beyond their basic expectation of how they think the brand will act. And, ideally, it also provides space for people to discover new ways that the brand (value) can relate to their lives. After all, only place the brand really exists is in the minds and actions of a target audience. And, as marketers looking to directly affect real-world success metrics as quickly and efficiently as possible, isn’t over-delivery on a target individual’s expectations the most important thing that could possibly happen in the context of an over-crowded, over-messaged marketplace? That’s just not going to happen via status quo approaches.

Now, to be clear, no one is saying here that visual brand consistency or single-minded messages don’t have their roles in the appropriate context. They certainly do, and should. But, for us as brand marketers, I suppose the real issue is: have we too often defined integration in such a narrow way that it actually winds up packing our brands away in ice? Are we, in fact, serving our needs for consistency and ‘normalcy’ at the expense of happily surprising our consumers?  We need our brands to actively participate in the real-time conversation and culture that’s happening all around us, not lie there dormant like dusty museum pieces. After all, isn’t that what being relevant and engaging is all about?

One of the nice things about a Purpose-based approach to branding — our passion at GSD&M — is that it focuses the conversation around the essential difference the brand is seeking to make in peoples’ lives. From there, it’s a very organic path to an integrated effort built on ever-expanding brand ideas that are all true-to-Purpose. Compared with this sort of integration (when it’s truly right), a rigid visual system or a constantly repeated one-track message smacks of trying to stitch a brand together with scotch tape and paper clips.  It may look neater up there hanging on the conference room wall, but is it ultimately going to make something happen out there in the world, where it really matters?

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