If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: integrated marketing. No matter what that means, it sure sounds fancy. That's probably why so many marketing agencies now claim to be experts in this field.

And yet, as you probably already know, there is more to marketing than fancy jargon. Sure, you have to understand exactly what integrated marketing actually means. But once you do, you might come to the same conclusion we have: it's such a natural concept that it shouldn't even be mentioned. When you get to that point, you might just reconsider how you evaluate potential marketing partners.

What is Integrated Marketing?

While the general concept is as old as corporate communication itself, the first formal definition hails from the late 1980s. In his landmark book Integrated Marketing Communications, Don Schultz (a professor at Northwestern University) formulated a strategy to bring all brand-related communications under a single roof.

The goal: to manage "all sources of information about a product which behaviorally moves the customer toward a sale and maintains loyalty." If that sounds elementary, it just might be. But it's important to understand that during this time, marketing communications was fragmented. Media relations, advertising, and other channels were often represented by very different departments and purposes.

Formal integrated marketing seeks to unify the process of communication with internal and external audiences. The idea is to focus on the consumer. For your business, PR and advertising may be different functions. But for your audience, they're both different expressions of the same brand and should be treated consistently as a result.

In today's fragmented media environment, that concept is more important than ever. Consider, for instance, an average female in her late 20s. During a given day, she may:

  • Listen to Spotify on her way to work
  • Check her phone for Instagram and Facebook updates
  • Browse Google or Apple News for relevant stories to her work
  • Drive past a billboard on her evening commute
  • Watch Hulu on her tablet or laptop.

During any of these (any countless other) activities, this member of your target audience will get countless brand messages. Even as a potential B2B buyer, she will interact with a wide range of digital and traditional media. The only way to stand out is to take a multi-channel approach, reaching her in various ways to break past the noise and competition.

Of course, she will only make the connection if all of the messaging follows the same, consistent patterns, visuals, voice, and tone. That, in a nutshell, is integrated marketing.

Why Do So Many Agencies Claim to be Integrated?

Because it sounds good. Is that too simplistic? Maybe. But at its core, that's exactly why so many marketing agencies tout the fact that they are fully integrated. 

Make no mistake: as established above, integrated marketing is a positive concept. In fact, it might even be essential to any modern marketing success. So naturally, agencies are bumping each other looking to get to the front row of potential clients' eyes. Look at me! Aren't you impressed with how integrated our marketing is?

At first glance, you might be. Which is exactly why their promotional materials highlight that fact so much. It's just one of those jargon words, used by those you expect to be authorities in the field. So as a result, an  increasing number of marketing agencies are using it to establish themselves as just that.

4 Reasons to Not Fall for the Promise of an Integrated Marketing Agency

Agencies claim to be integrated. Now, you know exactly what that means. So should you be persuaded by it? At first sight, the answer may appear to be yes. But then you look beyond that first impression, and the reality is not as pretty. In fact, here are 4 reasons you might not want to partner with an agency that bases its expertise and credibility on the fact that they're 'integrated.'

1) It Doesn't Actually Say Much

Over the years, IMC has gone from being a relatively new business concept to status quo. In the process, the term itself has gotten diluted. You will now see countless agencies claiming it as their own, without actually explaining what it means.

When they do, the explanations all tend to be similar: we build your business by integrating multiple media channels. But for any marketing agency offering services beyond a single channel, that should be a given. The term has lost its meaning, simply because it's a core assumption of any successful marketing today.

2) Real Marketing Results Might Differ From Claims

Be wary of any vendor or partner who cannot back up their claims. It's easy to build an entire web presence around the fact that the agency offers integrated marketing services. But is that actually the case?

It might be. Then again, it might not. Look not just for the tagline or business mantra, but real-life evidence of integration. That evidence should present itself in case studies, client portfolios, and third-party references rather than a brand-based marketing claim. 

3) The Chicken and Egg Argument of Credibility

As you evaluate potential marketing partners, pay special attention to the causation of any integrated marketing claim: is it based on a history of actual, tangible integration, or used purposely to build credibility in the eyes of potential clients?

Too often, it's the latter. Be weary of cheap marketing tricks designed to seem authentic. Yes, the agency might have been built during the times when Schultz first coined the term. More likely, though, they were simply looking for the words most clients respond to. Anytime you see integration used as a way to build instead of showing credibility, look in a different direction.

4) If It's Essential to Marketing, Why Even Claim it?

Modern marketing is integrated. It's impossible to stand out in today's noisy media environment without building a multi-channel approach. A customer-centric focus is familiar to any company looking to build its marketing strategy on the basic buyer's journey.

That, in turn, leads to a simple conclusion: any modern marketing agency, almost by default, needs to be integrated. Promoting it as a core competency is stating the obvious. It's akin to a dairy farm claiming that its milk is fresh. That should be a basic assumption, not a differentiating factor.

As you look for potential marketing partners, should you consider how well they integrate an omnichannel approach to build a single voice for your brand? Absolutely. But in today's environment, that just means finding a competent marketing agency. It's a core assumption of the business. Any vendor who seeks to specifically highlight it might not be the right fit to truly elevate your marketing efforts. Contact us to get started on finding the right partner.