Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). Its significance and issues.

The purpose of this essay is to explore integrated marketing communications philosophy, its significance and issues, and the importance of external and internal audience within IMC. It also demonstrates the comparison between different marketing writers’ opinions and thoughts by providing a critical analysis with integrated arguments. To support all these theoretical arguments and statements, a number of well-known industry examples are shown and discussed in this essay.

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is a concept of marketing communication planning that recognises the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines (i.e. general advertising, sales promotion, public relations and  direct response) and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communication impact. (Percy, 2008) According to Fill (2009), IMC can represent both a strategic and tactic approach to the planned management of an organisation’s communications. It also requires that organisations manage their various strategies, resources and messages in order to enable meaningful engagement with target audiences. In other simplest words, IMC is the bringing together all marketing communication activities across relevant audience points to achieve better brand coherence. (Pickton, 2005) The concept of integrated marketing communications is not a new idea however it has become much more popular in recent years. The main objective of IMC is to influence or directly affect the behaviour of the certain communication audiences. Further, IMC makes use of all forms of communication which are relevant to the customer and prospects, and to which they might be receptive. The IMC process begins with the prospect or customer and then works back to outline and determine the forms and methods through which convincing communications programs should be developed. Fill (2011) states that a wide range of elements need to be integrated. These include the communication tools, message and media, brands, the elements of the marketing mix and strategy, agencies, employees and technology. Integrated marketing communications are more expected to occur when organisations attempt to interact with their different internal and external audiences. To the extent that IMC may be targeted at many different audiences with various goals, it is more possible that not one but multiple messages may be used. What is important is that those messages should be consistent, clear and complimentary. It is interesting to note that stakeholders, including customers, automatically integrate brand messages. This means that as long as the gap amongst different messages are suitable, then management’s task is to manage the process and try to narrow these gaps that might be perceived. Successfully employing an IMC campaign requires using a diversified promotional and media mix that reflects the same visual and verbal tone of voice. A good example of this is Dove’s “Celebrating Curves” European campaign. In 2004, they re-launched its “Firming” line with the goal of repositioning the brand. The campaign focused on real women in their thirties rather than on younger and perfectly physical shape women. Dove went against tradition and the campaign reached success by creating a unique position for the product in the mind of targeted customers. Fill (2009) states that the elements of marketing mix also must be integrated because they also communicate. It is believed that all elements, for example, the price and values, the product in terms of quality, design and physical attributes, the overall service quality, will be harmonised to maximise impact and enable customers to test the brand via pre-, actual and post-product use. Brands are a form of integration itself. They need to be attractive to a number of different audiences and to do this it is essential to develop brands that appeal to diverse consumer groups. At a strategic level, integrated marketing communications have its foundations in the global business strategy of any organisation. If a low cost strategy, for instance, Asda, is being pursued, it can be worthwhile to complement the strategy by using messages that either stress any price advantage that customer may benefit from or at least do not suggest luxury. The next element that should be integrated states that IMC cannot be stable unless it is supported by all workers. It is agreed that all employees should accept a customer focus and ‘live’ the brand. It can be achieved through the various training courses and this commonly requires a change of culture and a long-term period of adoption of new technologies. Technology also needs to be integrated into not just only the overall information system strategy but also the marketing strategies of organisation. (Fill, 2009) For example, technology can be used to develop effective web sites, customer contact centres, advertising campaigns or database. Agencies play a vital and critical role in marketing communications and if IMC is established it cannot be completed without the clear participation of all those working on the supply side. A move to integrated marketing communications requires a radical change in agency performance measures. IMC provides opportunities to cut communication costs and reassign budgets, it has the potential to produce synergistic and more effective communications. Also, integrated marketing communications encourage coordinated brands development with internal and external participants. It is believed that integrated marketing communications provide for increased employee participation and motivation. On the other hand, IMC encourages centralisation and formal/bureaucratic procedures within organisation and normally requires cultural change from employees and encourages resistance. Further, IMC has the potential to severely damage a brand’s reputation if incorrectly managed. As it can be seen, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. However, some benefits are not always achieved because of difficulties of implementation. Several of them requires to do much with quality and ability of the employees involved as they have to do with benefits of integration. Percy (2008) suggests that in order to successfully implement integrated marketing communications, it is essential to understand the roles of traditional advertising and promotion in the marketing communication mix. Strategic planning for IMC includes a five step process. Firstly, the target audience must be selected and identified appropriately. Secondly, managers should determine how the audience makes brand decisions. Third step establishes how the brand will be positioned within marketing communication, and selects an advantage to support that positioning. Next step suggests to set the communication strategy; and final step involves matching the appropriate media option to that strategy to optimise delivery and processing of the message. During this planning process, the manager must begin to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different advertising and promotion options in order to satisfy the communication objectives. Almost every marketing communication task is an opportunity for IMC, and identifying the main touch points for communication comes from an understanding of how customers make brand decisions. This is the main element of strategic planning process. The best industry example of implementing IMC successfully is the Body Shop. It has been claimed as a highly popular international chain of retail stores. The product ingredients are all natural and are bought from developing countries; and none of the testing is done on animals. The company does not use traditional advertising. They use a range of marketing communications tools and has done very well to integrate the disparate components in order to create special impact. Basically, the aim is not on producing a creative ad that only grabs attention or gets an audience to laugh. Many marketing communication specialists get carried away by developing amazingly creative work that wins them communication award. (Sirgy, 1998)

A variation of audiences, stakeholders and publics, need to be measured within the context of a marketing communications campaign or variety of campaigns. Organisations such as Tesco, Apple, Nokia, Ryanair and Microsoft all operate across a number of sectors, marketplaces and countries and use a range of marketing communication tools to engage with their different audiences. For marketing to be successful many people have to be involved in the communication process both with organisation and outside it. (Pickton, 2005) Marketing communications should be an audience-centred activity and in that sense it is essential that messages be based on a stable understanding of both the needs and environment of the audience. The audience members may be external and internal to organisation. They will represent a selection of potentially different groups which have a direct or indirect effect on business performance and are selected to receive marketing communications. The stakeholder concept recognises that various networks of stakeholders can be identified, with each network consisting of members who are focused on supporting the organisation either in an indirect way or directly via the added-value process.  External audiences are individuals or groups outside of organisation, and not closely connected, at whom its communications and promotional efforts are aimed (Business Dictionary, 2013). For instance, the government, competitors, suppliers and shareholders, media, trade associations and customers. The relationship that organisation develop with the media are very important in ensuring that the message reaches their existing and potential customers. Customers represent a major stakeholder audience and are often the target of public relations activities, because, although members of the public might not be current customers, the potential they represent is important. By creating awareness and trust it is possible to create interest which may turn into purchase action or favourable word-of-mouth communications. This is achieved through media relations. Blakeman (2007) states that integrated marketing communications talk not to a target audience but to a single individual within the target audience. The customer must not only use the product but also be enthusiastic to recommend and repurchase the product or reuse the service again. Integrated marketing communications need to consider the roles and influence of each in order to manage the total process effectively.Also, external stakeholders will use the company’s financial information and other publicly open information for a number of purposes. Government will use this information for assessing tax payments, potential investors will use the information to make investment choices, media will use them for public awareness purposes, and analysts and stock brokers will use them to advise clients or potential investors.

Blakeman (2007) describes internal audiences as stakeholders or those who have a stake or vested in the company’s success and reputation. For example, employees, unions or managers. The employees of any organisation are major stakeholders and represent an opportunity to use word-of-mouth communication. It is believed that employees need to be highly motivated, stimulated and involved to perform their job at a high level. The role played by all employees of an organisation whether or not they formally meet customers or other external publics are significant when facing a direct contact with customers as they influence customer perception of the organisation. Generally, internal stakeholders have a large influence on how the company runs. For example, the company’s owners will take part in important business decisions. Customers are also internal stakeholders that are extremely important to a business as the extent to which their needs are met will influence the company’s sales. Company’s managers and employees also influence the company’s day to day operations by the various business decisions that they make. According to Dahlen (2010) the importance of understanding target audience requirements and the need to create long-term meaningful dialogues is seen as the key to successful IMC. Engaging stakeholders involves starting good communication between a company and its stakeholders and then maintaining a profitable relationship with them. Through this relationship, stakeholders can have their word and the company can listen and respond. The Cadbury Company established relationships with their stakeholders by consulting regularly with their employees, responding to their needs and aspirations and generally treating them very well.  By doing this the company’s products became popular with customers who chose to buy their products. Today, Cadbury continues to listen and work with its stakeholders. Engaging with stakeholders helps ensure potential issues are addressed, or changes communicated and understood. For these reasons it is essential for companies to find techniques and means of engaging with all their stakeholders, including shareowners whose willingness to hold shares underpins a company’s financial position. (The times 100)

Fill (2009) believes that in order to be successful, marketing communications should be grounded in the behaviour and information-processing needs and style of the target audience. Through the understanding of an audience’s preferred communication environments, business organisations try to develop and represent messages for its stakeholder groups, before assessing and acting upon any responses. By sending messages that are of important value, audiences are encouraged to offer attitudinal, behavioural and emotional responses. For examples, the Chivas Regal Whisky company has developed a reputation and set of values associated with good quality, friendliness with customers and special experience when drinking Chivas. Their main goal was to reach a massive audience by providing something valuable that would improve the customers’ lives. The creation of independent social network web site, called thisisthelife.com and sponsored by Chivas, helped people to share travel experiences and show what they want to enjoy next. The site’s banner says that it is sponsored by Chivas but otherwise it is devoid of commercial messaging. Without having an opportunity to message customers directly with brand information, this method adds value and serves to engage audiences and allow them to share experiences with each other. Another example of audience orientation is in O2, the second-largest mobile telecommunication provider in the United Kingdom. They developed a new campaign called ‘A world that revolves around you’, which was based on the insight that prepay customers felt neglect. Customers were offered the opportunity of a 10 per cent refund of their top-ups every three months. By understanding the media used by this consumer segment if became possible to develop a media mix that was oriented around the target audience. The result of this was a media plan that involved email, SMS, MMS, online chat rooms and brand street events. Around 50 per cent of O2’s customers took participation in the campaign. Integrated marketing communications mean different things to different people. Opportunities to develop IMC appear to fluctuate according to a number of factors, including organisation size and development. (Fill, 2011)

Integrated communications are the integration of formerly specialised communications functions into one organisational system that conveys a consistent set of messages to all the target audiences. (Pelsmacker, 2013) IMC focuses on building a long-term relationship with target groups by means of consistent interactive communications, rather than aggressively assuring the customer to buy a company’s products. The essay also outlined the difference and importance of internal and external audiences within IMC. Different authors’ viewpoints and arguments were supported with some successful industry examples, such as Dove, ASDA, Cadbury, Body Shop, Chivas Regal Whisky and O2 companies.

 

 

 

 

References        

Blakeman, R (2007). Integrated Marketing Communication: Creative strategy from ideas to implementation. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. p.21, 125

Business Dictionary. (2013). External Audiences. Available: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/external-audiences.html. Last accessed 6th Dec 2013.

The Times 100 ; Cadbury Schweppes. (2013). The importance of engaging stakeholders. Available: http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/cadbury-schweppes/engaging-stakeholders-in-a-business/the-importance-of-engaging-stakeholders.html#axzz2nvAqm8wP. Last accessed 19th Dec 2013.

Dahlen, M et al. (2010). Marketing communications: A brand narrative approach. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd. p. 48

De Pelsmacker, P et al (2013). Marketing communications: A European perspective. 5th ed. Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited. p.25

Fill, C (2009). Marketing Communications. 5th ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. p.16, 18,267

Fill, C (2011). Essentials of Marketing Communications. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. p.136-137

Percy, L (2008). Strategic IMC. Oxford: Elsevier Inc. p.5, 26-28

Pickton, D and Broderick, A (2005). Integrated Marketing Communications. 2nd ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. p.4, 26.

Sirgy, J.M (1998). Integrated Marketing Communications: A systems approach. London: Prentice-Hall Ltd. p.5-6.

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