Integrating various facets of marketing communications starts with understanding the consumers themselves, including their perception of the brand.
By actively listening to consumer needs, and restructuring the organization to promote two-way communication between the firm and the consumer, organizations can refine their marketing message for their market.
The objective of creating a positive, clear, and accurate perception of the organization by consumers is to empower loyalty and engagement between the firm and their customers.
Marketing has evolved significantly, particularly in the recent, technology-driven social media economy. As a marketer in the globally connected economy, integrating marketing communications and branding strategies to deliver a consistent, clear, and concise message to prospective consumers is more important than ever.
Integrated marketing communications (IMC) pursues this, expanding upon traditional marketing strategies to incorporate broader storytelling across a wider variety (and consistently expanding) series of communication channels between the organization and it's various stakeholders. From a technical view, this is all about identifying and aligning the vast array of tools in a marketer's kit (i.e. advertising, blogs, social media, PR, direct selling, etc.). However, another key piece to this puzzle is how the consumer feels about the organization, and how receptive they are to the values and operations of the company.
Marketing faces a number of challenges in the modern world, mostly revolving around trust, ad blindness, and the assumption by consumers that businesses are "just trying to sell them something." Consumers are apt to naturally dismiss ads as bias, which traditionally they often were (and are). This is one of the great mistakes of marketing that integrated and iterative communication seeks to solve.
The Outside-in Approach
Through integrating communication strategies and listening carefully to consumer values and perspectives, organizations can evolve to fit their markets and provide users with the type of communication, products, services, and values that are being demanded. This is not about creating ad materials, at least not at first. At this stage, the organization must actively listen to the needs, wants, opinions, beliefs, and perceptions of their core communities (i.e. stakeholders), and strive to become what it is that these stakeholders expect them to be. This is an iterative process, where consumer perceptions are constantly being measured and built back into the organizations operations, products, services, and values.
The Inside-out Approach
Generally speaking, this approach is inferior to the outside-in approach for the simple reason that outside-in is intrinsically consumer-oriented. The inside-out approach, however, is used by firms with strong values to which they are deeply committed. This approach focuses on identifying and communicating one, single, clear ,and perfectly unified message, and displaying that as the integral brand all consumers encounter. It works best when it is honest, clear, and aligned with the opinions and values of consumers.
Cross-functional Strategic Approach
As IMC continues to evolve, the most common perspective has become the cross-functional strategic approach to consumer perceptions. In this approach, organizations focus on building a customer-centric organization, where all that matters is creating touchpoints and engagement with prospective users. In this model, the entire organization is often restructured to build interconnected and agile channels between the firm and the consumers. Two-way communication and constant iteration is the central dynamic of this model.
The ultimate objective in identifying and building consumer perceptions into an integrated marketing strategy is engagement and loyalty. This means that consumers will identify positively with the brand, and prefer to buy habitually from the organization (as opposed to the competition). This is accomplished through truly integrating a customer-centric strategy.