What are Integrated Marketing Communications?

 

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a complete marketing approach that reflects all of the ways your organisation addresses your customers and clients.

Integrated marketing communications enable you to coordinate all aspects of marketing, promotions, public relations, communications and advertising to provide clarity and consistency for your customers and employees.

 


 

What are the most common marketing tasks?

Marketing your business essentially involves improving relationships between your customers and your organisation. Modern marketing tasks include database and email marketing, direct marketing, sponsorship and partnerships, social media and ecommerce, public relations and perception and brand management. Marketing managers will have input into the design and creation of many elements of a business including:

  • Name, product names
  • Slogan
  • Logo and graphic elements, font and colours
  • Photographs and digital assets
  • Product design and packaging
  • Environmental design
  • Websites
  • Ecommerce sites
  • Social media accounts
  • Signage
  • Publications, reports, guides and manuals
  • Advertising and promotions
  • Campaign collateral
  • Stationery, forms and documents
  • Uniforms or clothing
  • Media statements

 

Setting the stage for IMC

There are many elements that contribute to your marketing and media mix. Each of these elements could be considered to be an individual actor. Each has his or her own part to play in a production. This role is unique - it is delivered a certain way, there is a unique costume and unique lines to be said. There is no harm in the actor practicing these lines by themselves, but ultimately, it is the bringing together the individual characters that creates a cohesive story.

It is the performance, the bringing together of all the parts that the audience wants to see.

Grace Pinegar in this article for Learning Hub sees it more like a “well-oiled machine”. Whichever analogy you prefer, the idea of the IMC approach is to coordinate many separate parts or functions, to have them working together.

 

Benefits of an IMC approach

 

By using an IMC approach and process, you will be able to plan, implement and evaluate coordinated, cohesive and persuasive marketing messages. This will increase brand awareness and loyalty. It will also help you:

  • Align old and new marketing messages
  • Marry up short and long term marketing initiatives
  • Reduce confusion about brand aspects and elements
  • Provide a clear framework for marketing activities
  • Consider all existing and potential customers and audiences
  • Communicate effectively and directly with customers
  • Provide an omnichannel model for streamlining of messages across multiple platforms
  • Give good return on investment in both cost and time

When you are not coordinating messages and creating consistency across multiple channels, your customers will be noticing. Customers will pick up on contradictions in your communications. They can tell when something is mismatched or not aligned with your core values. And these observations can harm your brand and reputation. An IMC approach helps you to take control of these mixed messages, coordinate your sub-brands that exist in silos and clear up your cluttered communications channels.

 

What are integrated marketing communications?

The IMC can be defined as the coordination, and integration of all marketing tools and channels, to create a seamless and consistent corporate identity. This coordination and integration create a business that operates in a holistic way- it is customer focused but it also creates effective internal communication methods and dialogues.

IMC models allow an organisation to create a consistent look and feel across your communication activities. It has the ability to respond to a changing environment- creating greater effectiveness and efficiency in marketing communications. An IMC approach can provide a more holistic identity management tool than simply a marketing or advertising plan.
 

An IMC model incorporates many elements of marketing messages; far beyond the traditional understanding of marketing tools. Adopting an integrated marketing approach helps you to consider all of the elements of your businesses. An IMC strategy helps you develop:

  • Corporate identity- residing within the organisation
  • Corporate image- residing outside the organisation

An IMC will also help you consider contributors to organisational culture:

  • Philosophy
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Mission
  • Principles
  • Guidelines
  • History
  • Structure
  • Subcultures

 

Internal communications through IMC

An IMC approach requires you to clearly think through and acknowledge a set of philosophies and an approach for your organisation. This comes from the idea that to communicate effectively internally; internal communication must be clear and articulated. A strong corporate identity leads to a strong corporate image. Your employees must be your biggest brand enthusiasts and ambassadors.

A clear brand strategy will drive your organisation from within, creating an influence on consumer understanding of your corporate construct. By clearly articulating these elements that underpin your whole operation, it is much easier to build up employee engagement and loyalty. An IMC model will help you answer the following big picture questions:

  • Who are we as an organisation?
  • What do we stand for and value?
  • Why are we here?
  • Where have we come from and where are we going?
  • What are we good at?
  • How do we do what we do?
  • How are we organised?
  • How do we behave?
  • How do we tell others what we are about?
  • How do people describe, remember and relate to us?

 

Who is IMC for?

When you work within an IMC framework, you will be seeking to bring together in a strategic way all of the messages your business sends. This will mean consolidating communications with:

  • Consumers, Customers and Clients
  • Prospects and Leads
  • Employees and Agents
  • Board members and Directors
  • Vendors and Suppliers
  • Media

Staff in the areas of advertising, marketing, sales, media and graphic design and communications will benefit from an IMC approach. Because it considers internal communications and interactions, IMC makes sense to HR and People and Culture teams. Information Technology professionals- analysts, coders, programmers, content creators and database managers will all find the IMC approach makes sense.

 

Your CEO, senior staff and leadership team will also benefit from working within the IMC model. This approach can help to open up communication channels, improve decision-making processes and encourage cross-team collaboration.

 

How can you best integrate marketing?

The benefit of an integrated approach to marketing continues to be recognised, and so too does the need for integrated data and a system to support it. The IMC approach is based on the understanding that the customer is at the centre of the business. Data and information about each customer must be acquired and interpreted, to be able to target specific personalised messaging, and also influence overall brand position.

Information is constantly flowing between customers and the organisation. This information may take the form of messages, requests, purchase records, social media likes and follows, complaints, documents or images. Operating in an online environment means that businesses must be looking at how they can create consistent engagements and experiences.

 

Integrated marketing strategy

Many retail organisations are now trading in both shop fronts and in the online environment. For enterprise businesses who want to stay ahead of the pack, a sound IMC strategy is no longer an alternative option but rather an absolute requirement. To document the IMC model, an Integrated Marketing Communication Plan may include: 

  1. Scope
  2. Objectives
  3. Strategic Overview
  4. Target and Consumer characteristics
  5. Market Analysis
  6. Strategic Activities to address communication, design, culture and identity
  7. Ongoing brand management
  8. Cost Benefit Analysis
  9. Evaluation

Factors that will impact the effectiveness of your plan include:

  • Organisational readiness
  • Size of your business
  • Existing technological and communications systems and level of support
  • Brand parity and existing perceptions of customers and consumers
  • Available channels
  • Competitors

Many companies do not exploit the capability that an IMC approach offers. Even when efforts are made to acquire and use data to understand customers, this is done in segmented ways. Motivation related information such as values, needs and interests are overlooked. Other barriers to effective implementation include:

  • Poor existing communication flow
  • Inexperience or lack of knowledge about IMC approach
  • Lack of strategic vision or an unwillingness to achieve digital transformation
  • Insufficient budget to allow for rollout
  • An unsuitable, dated or inefficient data system
  • A fear of change or resentment about the change

IMC in B2B and B2C

Understanding buyer behaviour and attitudes is important for both B2B and B2C transactions. If you trade in both B2B and B2C markets, an effective IMC plan will contain a strategy for engaging and communicating with both individual consumers and business to business transactions.

Using data and analytics to understand customer journeys and interactions will give you an insight into the purchasing process. If you are dealing in both markets, regular scanning of the environment will help you to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. By understanding the different needs and motivators of the B2b market, you will be able to tailor a more complete marketing approach for business.

Motivators may be different in the two markets. Regardless, customers and potential customers will still want to purchase from a brand they understand, are willing to engage with and who they feel will be authentic in their approach. All customers want to feel valued and understood. An IMC plan for B2B can help document communication networks and channels to get a comprehensive picture of the operational landscape.

Integrate marketing and sales

As customers increasingly conduct their interactions online, the marketing messages you put out via your online store needs to be consistent, relatable and engaging. To effectively integrate marketing and sales you need to understand:

  • Consumer behaviour through accurate analytics
  • Demographics and segments
  • The experiences of repeat customers, what keeps them coming back
  • Current market trends and attitudes
  • How to elicit positive responses from shoppers

There is a critical relationship between database management and integrated marketing. It is important to know as much about each of your customers and potential customers as possible, so that you are able to send specific and tailored messages.

360 degree customer view

You might also hear the term ‘360 degree view’ in relation to the IMC approach. To have a ‘360 degree view of a customer means that you have detailed, coordinated and relevant information about customers that is easily accessed by any department. This includes information like their name, address, gender, date of birth, but also their purchase history and sales documentation. It includes which sales and offers they have taken advantage of, which surveys they have completed, which channels they interact with you on.

 

Your 360 degree view of your customer gives insight into their preferences and tracks their interactions with your business. You can also establish relationships between individual

customers within the system- such as other family members and also any referrals or leads they have provided. The focus is on the relationships you have with your customers.

When you create a system that enables a 360 degree customer view, you have much better insight into customer trends and preferences. It also makes it much easier to establish meaningful brand relationships with your customers; it creates trust and authenticity. Having access to detailed client records makes it easier to personalise and automate communications.

Using data in an IMC

The collection of customer data and information is critical to the success of an IMC strategy, because it acts as the knowledge that underpins the messages that are created. An IMC should have clear processes for how data can be accessed and interpreted. One element of an IMC should be a statement about the emphasis of accountability.

In the dynamic and rapidly changing enterprise marketing environment, you will need to have a strategy in place for assessing the success (or otherwise) of communications and being agile enough to change direction if required. By incorporating a system that enables you to assess customer perspectives and behaviours, you will be better able to respond to changes.

The use of marketing and data software enables you to collect customer data and records, to adapt the communication that is occurring. A responsive IMC strategy, with software to support it, helps you to communicate with one voice. Your messages will be made coherent, clear and strong.  

Evaluating an IMC

Part of your IMC strategy should be setting objectives for growth outcomes. Measures of overall success of your IMC approach may be seen in:

  • Short term outcomes- sales, likes, follows, engagements
  • Long term results- brand awareness, brand loyalty, growth
  • Product awareness
  • Response elicited by the company
  • Internal indicators such as staff morale and retention

The bottom line: An IMC is a tool for covering all facets of the way your organisation communicates and addresses its publics. Enterprise businesses can benefit from consideration of and investment in cohesive and holistic communication strategies.