Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is an approach used by organizations to brand and coordinate their communication efforts. The American Association of Advertising Agencies defines IMC as “a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communication impact.” The primary idea behind an IMC strategy is to create a seamless experience for consumers across different aspects of the marketing mix. The brand’s core image and messaging are reinforced as each marketing communication channel works together as parts of a unified whole rather than in isolation.
The Shift from Fragmented to Integrated Marketing Communications
Prior to the emergence of integrated marketing communications during the 1990s, mass communications—the practice of relaying information to large segments of the population through television, radio, and other media—dominated marketing. Marketing was a one-way feed. Advertisers broadcasted their offerings and value propositions with little regard for the diverse needs, tastes, and values of consumers.
Often, this “one size fits all” approach was costly and uninformative due to the lack of tools for measuring results in terms of sales. But as methods for collecting and analyzing consumer data through single-source technology such as store scanners improved, marketers were increasingly able to correlate promotional activities with consumer purchasing patterns. Companies also began to downsize their operations and expand marketing tasks within their organizations. Advertising agencies were also expected to understand and provide all marketing functions, not just advertising, for their clients.
Today, corporate marketing budgets are allocated toward trade promotions, consumer promotions, branding, public relations, and advertising. The allocation of communication budgets away from mass media and traditional advertising has raised the importance of IMC importance for effective marketing. Now, marketing is viewed more as a two-way conversation between marketers and consumers. This transition in the advertising and media industries can be summarized by the following market trends:
- a shift from mass media advertising to multiple forms of communication
- the growing popularity of more specialized (niche) media, which considers individualized patterns of consumption and increased segmentation of consumer tastes and preferences
- the move from a manufacturer-dominated market to a retailer-dominated, consumer-controlled market
- the growing use of data-based marketing as opposed to general-focus advertising and marketing
- greater business accountability, particularly in advertising
- performance-based compensation within organizations, which helps increase sales and benefits in companies
- unlimited Internet access and greater online availability of goods and services
- a larger focus on developing marketing communications activities that produce value for target audiences while increasing benefits and reducing costs
The Tools of Integrated Marketing Communications
The IMC process generally begins with an integrated marketing communications plan that describes the different types of communication tools that will be used during campaigns. These are largely promotional tools, which include everything from search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and banner advertisements to webinars, social media sites, and blogs. Traditional marketing communication elements such as newspapers, billboards, and magazines may also be used to inform and persuade consumers. Marketers must also decide on the appropriate combination of traditional and digital communications for their target audience to build a strong brand-consumer relationship. Regardless of the brand’s promotional mix, it is important that marketers ensure their messaging is consistent and credible across all communication channels.
Think about what else you are doing when you watch television, when you are studying, or when you are listening to the radio. It’s a hot day in July and you’re enjoying a day at the beach. Your friend turns on their playlist and the volume is turned up so you can hear all the music. If you’re listening to the music or talking to a friend at the beach while you’re listening to the radio, do you hear or pay attention to the commercials? But if you were using a streaming service, then there are no commercials so this doesn’t resonate with you, correct? Wrong. All streaming services still have ads but many times the advertisements are limited to promoting events on the streaming service or partner services. But still, there are flyers posted, billboards passed, in-game advertisements in video games. Do you remember which products were advertised? If you’re with a friend and hear someone else say your name, do you pay more attention to the person talking about you than to your friend?
With so many different types of distractions and technology (such as recording devices), imagine how difficult it is for an advertiser to get you to pay attention much less remember the message. Do you remember the terms you memorized for a test a day later? Do you know your friends’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses or do you just find their names on your contact list? To increase retention, advertisers may repeat the same message multiple times in different places, but they must be careful that consumers don’t get so tired of the message that there is a negative effect.
The communication process illustrates how messages are sent and received, as shown in Figure 10.1 “The Communication Process”. The source (or sender) encodes, or translates, a message so that it’s appropriate for the message channel—say, for a print advertisement, TV commercial, or store display—and shows the benefits and value of the offering. The receiver (customer or consumer) then decodes, or interprets, the message. For effective communication to occur, the receiver must interpret the message as the sender intended.
Figure 10.1: The Communication Process – this images puts the communication process discussed into a graphic form
You’re ready to go home on a Friday afternoon and you hear someone mention an upcoming event on Saturday. However, you did not listen to all the details and assume the event is the next day, not the following Saturday. Since you already made other plans for the next day, you don’t even consider showing up the following Saturday. Has this ever happened to you? You don’t show up at an event because you didn’t interpret the message correctly? If you do not hear someone correctly, misread information, or misinterpret a message, you might think a product or service provides different benefits or is easier or harder to use than it really is.
Interference, or noise, can distort marketing messages. Factors such as poor reception, poor print quality, problems with a server, or a low battery can interfere with your getting messages. Interference includes any distractions receivers and senders face during the transmission of a message. For example, when you were growing up did you see commercials for toys such as the pogo ball, which appeared to be so easy to use but when you tried to jump up and down on it, you found out it was extremely difficult? The same thing may happen if you’re studying for an exam while you’re talking on the phone. The conversation interferes with remembering what you’re reading. If a friend tells you a story, then you tell another friend, and that person tells someone else, will the message be the same after it is relayed to multiple people? If you miss class and borrow someone else’s notes, do you understand what they mean? Not only must advertisers try to present consistent messages (IMC), they must also try to ensure that you interpret the message as they intended.
Purchasing a product provides the sender with feedback, which often tells the seller that you saw information and wanted to try the product. If you use any coupons or promotions when you buy a product, the advertiser knows which vehicle you used to get the information. Market research and warranty registration also provide feedback.
We tend to purchase products and remember information that has some relevance to our personal situation or beliefs. If you have no need for a product or service, you might not pay attention to or remember the messages used to market it. Advertisers also want you to remember their brands so that you’ll think of their products/services when you need to make a purchase.
Elements of the Promotional Mix
Public relations is the management of a message between an individual or organization and the public. It is communicated through the media in the form of publicity events, speaking opportunities, press releases including video and audio news releases, newsletters, blogs, social media, press kits, and outbound communication to members of the press. The media is not paid to publish the information. Thus the media maintains control over the content.
The primary objective of a sales promotion, a catch all marketing function, is to stimulate market demand, improve product availability and to coordinate public selling, advertising and public relations. A successful sales promotion is meant to prompt a targeted consumer group to show interest in the product or service, try it or ideally buy it. The sales promotions are delivered to targeted groups via media and non-media marketing communications during a pre-determined, limited amount of time. Sales promotion cannot compensate for a poor product, a declining sales trend, ineffective advertising nor can it create strong brand loyalty.
Sales promotions tend to be short-term in nature in order to be most effective.
Selling, the art of persuasion, is defined as a one-on-one interaction whereby a tangible or intangible item of value is exchanged for a different item, usually with money in an amount of equal or greater value of the item being sold. Selling is part of the promotional mix. It is systematic, repetitive, and measurable. When properly analyzed, sales data will offer objections to overcome and help to predict sales patterns and projections.
When a company pays to have a message that defines its goods or services delivered or communicated to as many people as possible, they are said to be advertising. Effective advertising illustrates the product’s value and gives consumers a reason to take action and/or buy.
Through advertising, a marketer hopes to communicate a message to a targeted consumer group via means including print, electronic (radio and television), the Internet and mobile phones. Advertising generates feedback that is analyzed and measured. Good feedback typically translates into money spent on the product while bad feedback prompts the marketing source to reevaluate its marketing plan.
To effectively communicate with the target market, IMC should be carefully planned and implementation. The implementation involves using the four components of the promotional mix: public relations, sales promotions, personal selling, and advertising. Determining how many of these elements should be used, which specific ones should be used, and to what degree, will be discussed in the next section.