The Importance of Integration

According to the 2004 USC Internet Report, the time people spend online in the United States has grown 33 percent over the past four years. Marketers might assume this growth has come at the expense of time spent with traditional media, but that is not necessarily the case.

Studies have found that media consumption has risen across the board. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, at first, given that the number of hours worked annually by Americans is rising, thus leaving less discretionary time.

In response, consumer behavior is adapting itself to the proliferation of the media landscape. Most people dislike forgoing things that they enjoy. We love watching a great episode of "Lost" on Wednesday night. We love listening to U2's new song on the radio. We love sending instant messages to our best friends. And even the most ardent intellectuals have a tough time not reading about Brad and Jen's big breakup in Us Weekly.

The trend is to do more with less. People have learned to multi-task, and this ability (or at least intent) will have a profound impact on how the media industry functions in the years to come.

As the playing field shifts towards a cross-media focus, the best (and only) way to reach consumers will be through seamless integration. We need to knock down the walls and disintegrate the silos that have existed between media channels. TV buyers need to play nice with the radio folks who need to embrace the print guys, all of whom now have to pay attention to the Internet runts.

Media agencies, some out of good strategy and others at the behest of clients, have begun in earnest the process of integration both on a creative and campaign management level. Cross-channel strategic planning teams have been formed. Agencies have eliminated separate profit and losses across business units. They have partnered closely with competing agencies that manage a client's media through a different channel. They have created dashboards that allow for multi-channel campaign performance reporting. Integration has become the theme of the industry.

Why is cross-media integration so important? Why do clients care so much about it? The immediate response, of course, is investment return. If we are the portfolio managers, then our clients need and demand to see that we are managing things holistically and that we can show them not just how stocks are doing against bonds, but also how the entire portfolio is performing.

The long-term answer has to do with convergence and human behavior. Presently, media channels are still fairly discreet entities. We watch TV on a television, and we surf the Web on a computer. But what happens when all those traditional lines converge and blur?

Technology is advancing to one clear point of unison, a point where consumers can access the same types of content through many different media channels and devices. What happens when you can watch television on your PDA or enter chat rooms on your plasma screen or read Vogue cover-to-cover on your tablet PC? The channels themselves become blurred, and people will cross over from one to the next effortlessly, multi-tasking to the beat of 2Pac in the background.

With consumers spending less attention at any one touch point, successful marketers will need to be at every touch point at just the right time to connect with them. Message delivery will need to mirror consumption behavior cohesively. To accomplish this, media agencies will need to behave like a human mind, mastering the ability to take in, plan, process, and report on multiple levels.

Since the advent of the remote control, every technological advance -- from the Internet to TIVO to video-on-demand -- has placed the power of choice in consumers' hands. We do not choose how and when they experience our brands. They choose.

Convergence will solidify this control. But our efforts towards integration, cross-media planning, and dashboard reporting bring us ever closer to finding those precious moments when consumers will let us in - when they will choose to lower the volume and pay attention to what we have to say.

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