Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communications
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 concept that recognizes the added value of 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 in unity, rather than in isolation. (Figure 1)
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 strategy. Marketing was once used as a one-way feed. Advertisers broadcasted their offerings and value proposition with little regard for the diverse needs, tastes, and values of consumers.
Often, this "one size fits all" approach was costly and ineffective due to its general inability to measure results in terms of sales. As methods for collecting and analyzing consumer data through single-source technology such as store scanners improved, marketers were able to correlate promotional activities with consumer purchasing patterns. Companies also began downsizing their operations and expanding 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 towards trade promotions, consumer promotions, branding, public relations, and advertising. The allocation of communication budgets away from mass media and traditional advertising has raised IMC’s 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 versus 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 availability of online goods and services.
- A larger focus on developing marketing communications activities that produce value for target audiences, while raising benefits and reducing costs.
The Tools of Integrated Marketing Communications
The IMC process generally begins with an integrated marketing communications plan describing the different types of marketing, advertising, and sales tools to be used during campaigns. These are largely promotional tools, which include everything from search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and banner advertisements, to webinars 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.
Benefits of Integrated Marketing Communications
With so many products and services to choose from, consumers are often overwhelmed by the vast number of advertisements flooding both online and offline communication channels. Marketing messages run the risk of being overlooked and ignored if they are not relevant to consumer needs and wants.
One of the major benefits of integrated marketing communications is that marketers can clearly and effectively communicate their brand’s story and messaging across several communication channels to create brand awareness. IMC is also viewed as more cost-effective than mass media, since consumers are likely to interact with brands across various mediums and digital interfaces. As consumers spend more time on computers and mobile devices, marketers seek to weave together multiple exposures to their brands using different touchpoints. Companies can then view the performance of their communication tactics as a whole instead of as fragmented pieces.
The other obvious benefit of integrated marketing communications is that it creates a competitive advantage for companies looking to boost their sales and profits. This is especially useful for small- or mid-sized firms that have limited people resources and marketing budgets. IMC wraps communications around customers and helps them move through the various stages of the buying process. The organization simultaneously consolidates its image, develops a dialogue, and nurtures its relationship with customers throughout the exchange. Furthermore, IMC can be instrumental to creating a seamless purchasing experience that spurs customers to become loyal, lifelong customers.