A Review of the Application of Integrated Marketing Communications
The notion of integrated marketing communications (IMC) is not new although it has become popular in recent times (Pickton D., and Broderick A. 2005). While the marketing concept, more often than not, has always focused on consumer needs, the practice of IMC has truly provided the first major effort to really put the customer in the centre of firm’s marketing activities ; and even (some marketing authors would agree) to a large extent, has defined successful businesses.
That being the case, the need for Integrated Marketing Communication is not only needed, but critical to marketing success (Wirth, R. 2005). No doubt, it is viewed as a response tool to communication challenges facing today’s organizations.
More encompassing than advertising, IMC weaves together a broad array of traditional and innovative communication tools and techniques in highly coordinated customer-focused programs . But then, with all the accolade given to IMC, organisations world wide have not had it easy to embrace (Pettegrew 2000); an issue also explore in this report.
The dawn of the 21st century has seen the definition of IMC changed (Schultz and Kitchen 2000) . Previously, IMC was thought as a concept of marketing communication planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic role of a number of communication disciplines (for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations) and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communication impact.
Today, IMC is considered as a strategic business process used to plan, develop, execute and evaluate coordinated measurable, persuasive brand communication programs over time with consumers, prospects, and other targeted, relevant external and internal audiences (Schultz and Kitchen 2000).
The management process associated with the strategic development and dialogue of consistent, coordinated messages, would seek to reinforce core brand propositions that able to be perceived by stakeholders (Chris Fill 2002, p. 465). It means that your PR materials say the same things as your direct mail campaign and your advertising has the same ‘look and feel’ as your website (Kotler et al 2002).
That is to say getting all the horses pulling in the same direction; everything you do publicly should look, feel, and sound as though it is spoken by the same unmistakable organization. Your ads and brochures, your logo and TV commercials, your packaging and point-of-purchase materials, your store front, should share a singular look, feel, and tone of voice .
More so, it is not just a matter of transmitting uniform marketing communications, it is about blending internal and external messages so that there is a clarity, consistency and reinforcement of the organisation’s or brand’s ‘core position'(Chris Fill 2002).
All elements of the promotion mix should be coordinated and systematically planned to complement each other (Pickton & Masterson 2004, p. 240). Promotion mix, also known as marketing communication mix, consists of five major modes of communication including; advertising, sales promotion, public relations, personal selling and direct marketing (Armstrong & Kotler 2004) use for IMC. Every brand contact delivers an impression that can strengthen or weaken a customer’s view of the company.
However, Pickton and Broderick (2005) caution that “integration should not be taken to imply a uniformity of communications which many authors seem to suggest (p. 26)”. More than one creative treatment-message or image may be used, but where more than a single treatment is employed, they should be mutually consistent (Pickton and Broderick 2005).
IMC in Action Examples:
Haagen-Dazs demonstrated effective use of IMC when it entered the UK market. Ice-cream was traditionally a seasonal children’s food and the market had experience little growth or innovation. The business strategy adopted was to create a new market segment, one that has become referred as the super premium segment.
The positioning intention was to present Haagen-Dazs as a luxury, fashion orientated food for adults. To achieve the business goal, the entire marketing mix was strategically coordinated:
The product reflected high quality, the high price induced perceived quality and distribution was through up-market restaurants in prestige locations and five star hotels where Haagen-Dazs was the only branded ice-cream on the menu. The promotional campaign used celebrities from many works of life as opinion leaders to create a word of mouth ripple effect. The quality of the media used and messages themselves reflected the same quality theme.
Concern , an international relief and development charity, was experiencing a fall in revenue and facing challenging market conditions coupled with a historic lack of investment in marketing. The charity faced up to these difficulties, employing a hard-hitting integrated marketing communications plan that exceeded expectations. The five-year strategy is not yet complete. However, it has already turned the charity’s performance around and resulted in a cultural shift in favour of a long-term approach to donor management
Concern, along with its competitors, experienced rapid growth during the early 1990s and was able to extend fund raising operations into the UK, with offices in Belfast, Glasgow and London, and into the US via an affiliate operation. Concern restored brand positioning in the Irish third world charity market. The main competitor is Trocaire
The charity’s challenge
Most of Concern’s expansion was founded on emergency appeals in response to large-scale humanitarian disasters in Rwanda and Somalia. Although their event-driven fundraising was highly effective, their reliance on this method of generating income had three serious consequences for the charity. The first was that income fluctuated rapidly. The second was that a funding crisis developed as these major events faded from view and public consciousness.
Concern’s income 1991-1999
The third consequence was a failure to invest in the marketing function in general or activity that didn’t show an immediate pay back. The lack of investment in customer relationship management (CRM) activity left the charity vulnerable to fluctuations in market conditions.
Marketing strategy was fragmented across different offices. Existing budgets failed to achieve a real impact in UK markets or take advantage where potential economies of scale existed. Direct mail and press advertisements had achieved little success in recruiting new donors, except where the call to action was a high urgency, emergency appeal.
By the mid-1990s Concern found itself facing increasing competitor activity which eroded its market share and reduced brand awareness. Income was falling and the marketing department was not in a good position to respond.
Clear objectives were set….
After much internal debate, the following objectives were agreed by the senior management team:
- Fundraising net contribution to be doubled to million by 2003
- Long-term funding to be developed, especially regular donations using monthly standing orders or direct debits from million in 1999 to million by 2004 (increasing overall contribution to revenue from 10 per cent to 20 per cent)
- To exploit Concern’s traditional ability to raise funds for emergency appeals and then convert donors to long-term regular giving
- To regain leadership in the Irish market
- To improve positioning in the British marketplace
The targets were felt to be ambitious and the likelihood of achieving them was viewed with considerable scepticism. Having assessed a range of options, direct marketing was felt to offer the best hope of attaining all the goals. Tobin Aldrich was convinced direct marketing could deliver results for the charity, “The beauty of direct marketing is that the effectiveness of all activity can be directly and immediately measured. Direct marketing is particularly appropriate for charities that have to justify every penny they spend.” He was under pressure to achieve results quickly from the initial investment.
And the strategy was implemented…
A new team of marketing and fund raising professionals was recruited to ensure the necessary direct marketing skills were readily available in-house. A range of agencies offering specialist direct skills were evaluated. One was appointed to manage key aspects of campaign integration and creative and another to buy the media. The creative agency was briefed to produce new material that could be customised for local markets. The core propositions were Concern’s ability to deliver aid swiftly and efficiently, using operational staff on the ground.
Merging databases was a key step to take before the marketing approach could be properly integrated. Four marketing databases were combined into a new marketing information system. To make the most of the new information system, new procedures were also introduced to ensure donation and standing order processing could cope with new volumes. This attention to procedures paid dividends when responses started to come in better than anyone could have imagined. At one point standing orders numbered 11,000 in one month, from previous volumes of 200 per year!
Consistent with IMC practice, each activity was carefully monitored and evaluated and the learning points fed into future campaigns. A comprehensive Donor Lifetime Value model was developed. This model was used to forecast and manage future lifetime value by evaluating donors recruited from each source. Information about the best donor sources feeds back into donor recruitment strategy.
The new marketing team developed a fresh approach to donor recruitment. Initial donations were solicited in the form of a regular monthly gift for the first time. Concern decided not to engage in discrete brand building activity above the line as it was felt that direct marketing media would produce an uplift in brand awareness.
A rich mix of media was used and the campaign was fully integrated across the UK and Ireland. Each media had a target return on investment from recruited donors of 1:1 in the first year, rising to 4:1 by the fifth year. The packs, inserts and advertisements featured topical and hard-hitting messages coupled with a clear response device. A consistent message appeared across all media during the generic fundraising campaigns.
Direct mail packs were developed for specific emergency appeals. The Afghanistan campaign featured packs for high and normal value donors. The packs updated donors about the situation in Afghanistan using a letter, a clever e-mail-like insert, a programme update memo and photographs of individual families to bring the appeal to life. A simple donation slip and reply paid envelope completed the pack.
The appeal pack followed classic direct marketing principles and imparted emotive information in a straightforward way. The appeal for money is kept reasonably low key as the news speaks for itself. The letter’s opening paragraph acknowledges the donors status as a supporter and interested party. The simplicity of the pack, using cheap, typed inserts, is in keeping with the charities image. The non-donor or normal donor pack uses cheaper materials, fewer inserts and solicits a direct debit. The letter is slightly stronger in tone.
Exploiting the potential of rapid response media
The performance award judges praised Concern’s “impressive events-driven activity”, facilitated by their re-structuring of their marketing department and a fresh approach to their marketing challenges.
Appeal response capability was honed, allowing Concern’s appeal advertisements to achieve first appearance in the UK press and DRTV. Use of DRTV was refined to the point where Concern could air appeals within 48 hours of a disaster occurring. The development of two generic adverts that could be adapted to fit each circumstance, one for immediate disaster relief and the other for the recruitment of regular donors. DRTV is also considered to have had a major impact on brand awareness, following its use integrated with press and direct mail.
The results speak for themselves
All financial targets for the five-year plan, ending 2004, were achieved by end 2001. All investment has paid back within the first year. The charity has regained its leadership of the Republic of Ireland market and doubled its market share in the highly competitive UK market.
- Fundraising income has increased from .8 million to million. Fundraising contribution was million against a target for 2003 of million.
- The number of regular donors has risen from 8,000 to 95,000, resulting in a quintupling of regular donations to million. Regular donor income doubled to million in 2002 as the full value of monthly gifts was realised.
- Brand awareness has improved across all markets, from 49 per cent in the Republic of Ireland in 1999 to 55 per cent in 2001.
- Concern is now the dominant charity brand in Ireland, with 55 per cent spontaneous and 96 per cent prompted awareness. Market share in England, Wales and Scotland has doubled.
- Donor recruitment is up, using an integrated approach across existing and new media. In one year 3 per cent of the population of Ireland were recruited as regular donors.
- The return on investment for the first year was 1.5:1, with a 7:1 ROI over 5 years. Inserts, direct mail and press ads all returned 2:1, and DRTV produced an extraordinary 7:1 result over 5 years.
- Rapid response capability of online and DRTV media were exploited, contributing to a dramatic increase in online income generation from ,000 in 1999 to ,000 by 2001.
Building on Success
Following the encouraging performance of early campaigns, donor recruitment targets have been increased from 2002. Concern is now able to roll out new creative approaches targeting specific age groups with much greater confidence. The team now have detailed knowledge of which media perform best and will potentially return the best lifetime value.
To build on the lead gained by their successful donor recruitment programme, continuous monitoring enables Concern to control attrition using a comprehensive welcome and ongoing donor care programme. This has succeeded in keeping attrition below 15 percent, against a forecast of 20 percent.
The charity embarked on an ambitious expansion programme while experiencing very difficult conditions. Interactive marketing’s potential has been imaginatively exploited to produce some amazing results. Concern’s approach has combined practicality with flair and originality.
Having understood what integrated marketing communication means, it is suitable to briefly recognise some of the models advanced by some writers in this area.
Steve Yastrow (2000) comes up with the following model; a model he thinks represents the popular IMC.
He states that although many companies claim to practice this model, it is more often implemented as a series of parallel, as opposed to integrated, marketing efforts.
Another problem with the use of this model as Yastrow recognizes; it still focuses largely on communication initiated by sellers, with much more energy spent talking rather than listening (2002, p. 2).
The school of thought championing a synergy of the marketing communication mix is captured by the following model from Kotler and Armstrong (2004).
The customer points of contact with any of the marketing communication mix should deliver a consistent, clear and compelling message (whether good or bad) about the company, its products and its brands (Kotler and Armstrong 2004).
Pickton and Broderick (2005) usher in a model, which they claim attempts to represent the entire framework of IMC.
Their IMC process model demonstrates how integrated marketing communications work from sender to receivers. They agree that, their model derives four basic elements of Schramm’s (one of the earlier communication theorists) communication model including sender, message, media and receiver. Against the backdrop that Schramm’s model was simplistic, Pickton and Broderick (2005) included the notion of marketing communication context that encapsulates the macro and the micro business environment within which communications take place.
They also include the notion of brand equity that involves the customer’s responses or behavioral attitudes as a result of interacting with the IMC process for a product brand. The t+1 element of the process explains that brand equity is created and varies over time and past responses to a marketing communication can influence subsequent process and the output of communication in time period +1.
The customer/audience relationship management and Image and brand management depicted from the aforementioned model, according to Pickton and Broderick, describe the key strategic tasks facing those responsible for implementing and managing the IMC process.
Hansted and Hemanth (1999) opinioned that Integrated Marketing Communications Model recommends the customer, not the product, at its core and incorporates an element of learning from customers into the marketing strategy. Learning from customers becomes a continuous effort, and companies need to conduct extensive research of current and potential customers in order to interpret this data accurately (Hansted and Hemanth 1999).
To this end, the authors advocate building a global database of marketing insights as well as the creation of local customer databases. When entering an emerging market, the global database should be used as a benchmark, while the local customer database should be used to facilitate developing marketing strategies that suit local conditions. The model is circular and evolves in six phases:
Phase one: Defining the business and the brand
Many industries have their own version of the Coke and Pepsi tale. The probability of a company successfully expanding into foreign markets depends largely on its ability to define the business and how willing it is to adapt to the needs of a given market. By defining a basic global understanding of the brand, a company can provide a broader platform for more effective communications and business practices. For example, Coca-Cola’s core competency is refreshment. The basic understanding of the brand being “refreshing” allows Coke to adapt its product portfolio to whatever is perceived as refreshing in a given market.
Phase two: Creating a global database of marketing insight
A global database is a tool that facilitates the strategic planning process prior to a company’s decision to enter a new market. With the application of database software, the global database is able to identify clusters of countries and customer segments of strategic importance. The global database is an information base that offers companies the ability to group countries and customer segments with similar needs by applying what has been learned from one country to other countries. Groupings might be done according to similarities in product usage, culture, religion, gross national product and geography.
Phase three: Local market research
When determining market appeal, companies often restrict themselves to statistical measures such as population size, net disposable income and purchasing power. While this might be an adequate method in countries with similar characteristics to the company’s country of origin, it is seldom satisfactory in emerging markets where cultural issues can have a significant impact on market potential. Consumer needs and buying abilities are often very different in emerging markets compared to existing markets.
Dell Computer Corporation is an excellent example of a company that had to think outside of its current marketing structure when entering an emerging market. In China, Dell quickly realized that it could not just replicate its usual direct model. The infrastructure and customer need was simply not present. Dell did not discount the strong Chinese market, however. Instead, Dell conducted a market analysis that led to the identification of a new customer segment, namely big corporations that were very interested in Dell’s services (Albright & Kunstel, 1999). Dell currently operates a very successful business in China.
Phase five: Building a local database after market entry
In emerging markets, the database can be critical in creating and sustaining a competitive advantage for multinational companies. Market conditions can change overnight as customer levels fluctuate when competitors introduce new products or adapt existing products to better suit customers’ needs. A database gives a company direct access to customers and enables the creation of learning partnerships.
This database of consumer knowledge can then be applied to strategic planning and product development. The aim should be to build customer loyalty among the most profitable customers. Ideally, a local database supplements the company’s continuous research of market trends. Combining research and database knowledge enables the company to keep ahead of the competition through qualitative and first-hand knowledge of market developments used to make strategic adjustments.
Phase six: Measurement and feedback
The Integrated Marketing Communications Model is circular in nature because the learning is continuous. In phase six, the company’s activities are measured against objectives set in phase four. The local database can be used to assess how relevant the company’s strategies are to the local customer base. This process is intended to preempt any negative surprises in the market and to mold strategies according to new insights. Finally, knowledge is then fed back into the global database to facilitate future operations in other markets. This is the basic thinking accompanying the Integrated Marketing Communications Model for Emerging Markets (Hansted K. and Hemanth G. 1999, p. 5).
Every tenet said so far indisputably acknowledge the importance of integrated marketing communications. What then are the benefits of IMC to an organization?
The most obvious benefit derived from the integration marketing communications is synergy (Pickton and Broderick 2005). In incorporating the various elements of the marketing communication mix, in a mutually supportive and enhancing way, the resulting output is more compelling than the simple sum of its parts (Pickton and Broderick 2005, p. 27).
BUPA’s (Pickton and Broderick 2005) recent marketing strategy repositioned its brand and integrated its offering. The core brand proposition – ‘BUPA the Personal Health Service’ – was promoted on TV, in press and radio advertising through direct marketing, sponsorship, PR and internal communications. BUPA’s prompted awareness of the brand currently stands at 97%.
Moreover, IMC can deliver competitive advantage through clearer positioning, and encourages coordinated brand development with internal and external participants (Chris Fill 2002). An argument also echoed by Pickton and Broderick depicted in their so-called 4Es and 4Cs of integrated marketing communications thus:
The 4Es of IMC include:
- Enhancing- improve; augment; intensify.
- Economical- least cost in the use of financial and other resources; not wasted.
- Efficiency- doing things right; competent; Efficiency through reduction of duplication of effort; not wasteful.
- Effective- doing the right things; producing the outcome required; not wasteful.
The 4Cs of IMC include:
- Coherence- logically connected; firmly stuck together.
- Consistency- not self-contradictory; in agreement, harmony, accord.
- Continuity- Connected and consistent over time.
- Complementary communications- producing a balanced whole; supportive communications.
The rationale of a company adopting IMC cannot be over emphasized: when an organization integrates, its communication and interactions become consistent, its reputation and image more distinct, and its customers more trustful. The organization builds integrity because it is seen as a whole, rather than as a collection of fragmented functional units. The foregoing is lucidly reiterated by Duane Sprague (2002) thus:
“IMC leverages every contact point and media impression, and maximizes impact by emphasizing a one-look, one-voice approach. IMC gives consistency to the customer shopping and ownership experience. Brand image and awareness are built faster because all planned messages are consistent, and the best media tools are used based on a strategic marketing plan, backed by research to guide the direction of the campaign “.
But then, the use of the promotional mix together could be counter productive at certain instance (Pickton and Broderick 2005). Consider a scenario where sales promotion activities can portray a cheap or value-for-money product with money-off coupons and discount offers whereas distribution and merchandising activity may attempt to show the product in a status or prestige context with a high value image. The ensuing confusion may result in reduced sales.
The Debate: IMC Implementation
Integrated marketing communications has altered advertising practices by broadening definitions of advertising, facilitating significant shifts in marketing communication and promotion budgets, increasing emphasis on accountability, and fostering demand for new and interactive communication technologies (Rust and Oliver 1994; Smith 1995). And it’s making some people in those businesses mad as hell because instead of dividing communications into several overlapping departments, organizations use one strategy for everything, making every communication consistent with one message and one strategy .
Hertha Kettler (2002) admits that few executives and managers world wide have taken the trouble to embrace IMC. “In a study of top management and marketing executives in large consumer companies”, Kettler explains, “indicated that over 70% theoretically favoured the concept of IMC…yet most of them did not buy the IMC package services, preferring to put together different specialised agencies by themselves”.
One of the fundamental problems implementing IMC as Sprague (2004) would identify is the aspect of getting every employee in every department to work, plan and think together as a team. It is the separate and distinct territories that destroy integration, consistency, pro-activity, real branding ability, and solid customer service and retention (Sprague 2004).
This is due to the fact that the theory of IMC fails to take into account the way most corporations are structured and function or their unique culture . Manfred Bruhn (1997), in his own rights, lashes out: most IMC approaches concentrate on the integration of external communications and thus are incomplete IMC, is doomed to fail if the employees are not included in the integration process, and if the external community is better informed than the internal community .
The greatest barrier to implementing IMC in a given company is the absence of direct support from the CEO (Pettegrew 2000). In the absence of CEO support, there is an operational threshold past which IMC cannot be fully or effectively adopted.
Many companies held up as exemplars of IMC, fail to uphold IMC standards on a company-wide basis as evidenced in an examination of Nike and Proctor & Gamble in 2002 revealing neither company had comprehensively or effectively integrated its many communications functions seamlessly or spoken to their stakeholders with one voice (Pettigrew 2002).
The question remains, how do great companies like these miss the IMC mark? The answer to this important question lies, to a great extent, in their respective organizational structures; both Nike and Procter & Gamble are marketing organizations, organized around product marketing (Pettegrew 2000).
There are three organizational issues that must be resolved before IMC can be implemented: marketing planning systems and basic marketing thinking, organizational structure, and capabilities and control. They believe that because functional specialists within an organization try to keep the various communications programs separate, they are a major hindrance to IMC implementation (Schultz, Tannenbaum and Lauterborn 1992).
One of the most apparent conceptual barriers is the lack of strategic objectives in communications planning; even though most communication functions or activities are planned and executed in a professional manner, they lack strategic vision and clear positioning at the corporate level (1997). Fully integrated marketing requires a very high level of clarity in the articulation of brand strategies; the more understood and clear a brand strategy is, the easier it is to get people from distant areas of the company to work from the same game plan (Yastrow 2000, p. 4).
Another cardinal problem in IMC implementation is: large companies employ several communication specialists to work under their brand managers (Kettler 2002). Each specialist knows little about the other communication tools. Also, they usually have outside favourite outside agencies and opposed turning responsibilities over to one super agency (Kettler 2002).
The analysis of the main barriers led to the definition of a number of requirements for IMC: Employees willing to cooperate in the field of communications; employees with a comprehensive understanding of the communication system and of integration; the full support of top management; strategic positioning and objectives; new methods for planning and analyzing communications activities; radical changes in the way communication functions are structured; new methods of budgeting applying integration principles (Bruhn 1997).
For IMC to be effective it must tear down the traditional departmental walls that create information silos and management fiefdoms; all departments must work together as a unified team to carry out the strategic plan in total unison -one aim, one mission, one message and one experience (Sprague 2004) . IMC must be designed around the people who have to make it work, and has to take account of the prevailing traditions, skills, resource availability and organisational constraints (McDonald 2003, p. 81)
Furthermore, for IMC to be a reality in a corporation, adoption must precede implementation; existing IMC theory gives considerably more emphasis to implementation than adoption of IMC (Pettegrew 2000). Something McDonald agrees: “although writings on IMC explain the problem, there is little practical help for organisations on how to solve it” (2003, p. 360).
There are more critical issues, such as the planning and management of IMC, the IMC mix and the communication process itself, which would have been explored if not of the limit imposed for this report. Nonetheless, the purpose of integrated marketing communications cannot be over emphasized. Having got exposed to the diverse and overwhelming literature on IMC, my understanding is a successful IMC is not a one-off event, rather a continuous, adaptive and sustainable process.
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World Wide Web
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- ‘The Role of Integrated Marketing Communication on the Internet’, [Online] Available: http://ciadvertising.org/student_account/summer_01/kazues/project/IMC.htm
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