Future of Integrated Marketing Communications
Changes in the business environment, along with technological innovation, increasing consumer sophistication and changes in marketing communications practices, have led organizations to seek to improve relationships with their consumers, and to strive to deliver consistent messages to all stakeholders across a wide range of marketing communications channels, in order to effectively reinforce their core proposition. Although Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is an emerging field with a seemingly underdeveloped theoretical base, it appears to be an unavoidable trend which will continue into the future.
Keywords Agency; Brand; Communications Channels; External Audience; Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC); Internal Audience; Marketing; Marketing Communications; Marketing Communications Agency; Marketing Communications Channels; Message Consistency; Promotional Mix; Strategy
Marketing: Integrated Marketing Communications
Marketing is the way companies strategically develop, price, promote, and distribute their products to increase customer interest and attain organizational goals. Marketing communications refers to the messages and related media used to communicate with a market. The idea of integrating marketing and communications dates back to early marketing literature, but the term 'Integrated Marketing Communications' (IMC) only became popular in the 1980s. Even so, it was not until 1991 that a task force of academics and professionals began looking into issues such as appropriate terminology and definitions.
IMC can be defined as "the concept and process of strategically managing audience-focused, channel-centered, and results-driven brand communication programs over time" (Kliatchko, 2005, p.23). By drawing from the fields of psychology, marketing and mass communications, IMC reveals the subtle ways in which consumers respond to marketing communications, thus helping marketers to better manage their marketing communications choices and maximize their effectiveness.
In addition, IMC helps organizations maximize their resources and link their communications activities together. IMC integrates elements of the promotional mix as well as the creative elements, organizational factors and the promotional mix with other marketing mix factors. IMC also integrates information and database systems, communications to internal and external audiences, corporate communication and promotes geographical integration.
A major feature of IMC is the shift from traditional one-way marketing communications and advertising channels like advertising, public relations, sales promotion, specialty items, merchandising, packaging and licensing; to two-way channels such as personal sales, direct response marketing, events and sponsorships, trade shows and exhibitions, e-commerce, customer loyalty programs, plant tours and other customer service activities (McGrath, 2005b).
In recent years, scholars and practitioners have recognized a growing need to integrate marketing communications. Many factors have contributed to this need, including:
- Communications agency mergers and acquisitions.
- An increasing sophistication of clients and retailers, causing marketers to develop more elaborate and quicker response systems.
- The desire of firms for interaction and synergy with their stakeholders.
- The need for firms to save costs, causing companies to pursue new methods to increase productivity and value from marketing and media expenses.
- The increasing cost and decreasing effectiveness of traditional marketing and advertising, due to the rapid development and increasing effectiveness of integrative and interactive information technology.
- The decreasing cost of database development and usage.
- Increasing global competition.
- Increasing global and regional coordination.
- The rise of corporate brands which companies can use to communicate core values to different stakeholders, as against individual brands which are costly to manage and promote.
Organizations that are well integrated will maximize the impact on their consumers and other end users at a minimal cost for all of the organization's communications, whether business-to-business, customer-focused, or internally oriented. Such organizations will enjoy consistent messages with a consistent style and theme. Consistency will be maintained across a wide range of communications channels; costs will be reduced through the prevention of duplication of effort; corporate cohesion will increase; and dialogue and relationships with customers will also improve ("Chapter 5," 2003).
Generally, IMC is not easy to implement, but some firms find it easier to implement than others. For instance, according to Low (2000), small, consumer-focused, service-oriented companies in industries like manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, and mining, are more likely to have integrated marketing communications programs, since they typically target fewer market segments and therefore require fewer messages than large, product-oriented companies. It is also believed that IMC has the potential to thrive in conditions where there is the availability of experienced managers; where the market share for products or services is growing; and where competitive intensity is high.
Theoretical Foundations — IMC
According to McGrath (2005b), IMC is based upon three theoretical foundations. The first foundation proposes that IMC is based on an ongoing and dynamic two-way dialogue or relationship between consumers and marketers, with marketers seeking ways to strengthen their brand's relationship with the consumer, and with consumers using their own resources to develop a relationship with the brand.
In order to have effective relationships with their customers through IMC, marketers first need to know why consumers respond to marketing communications. Research in social psychology implies that consumers respond to marketing communications because of a natural desire or need to "complete" their concepts of themselves, otherwise known as their 'self-concepts.' A person feeling ‘incomplete’ might fill a perceived gap through the buying of material goods, and marketing communications can be used to influence or define which specific brands can best fill the gap. Additionally, marketers may position their products as desired, or even required, extensions of a person's self-concept, as is the case with luxury items such as clothing, luxury automobiles, and exotic vacations.
Marketers also need to know how consumers respond to marketing communications. The field of cognitive psychology has given insight into the ways in which human beings process external stimuli, including marketing communications messages. It is known that "individuals base many decisions concerning products on their attitudes toward individual brands, and these attitudes can be influenced by marketing communications" (McGrath, 2005b, p.4).
Consumers respond to marketing communications stimuli in three stages: Cognitive, affective and conative. The cognitive stage involves conscious intellectual activity, while the affective involves feelings and emotion. The conative stage is where consumers are inclined to take action. Equipped with the knowledge of how their own consumers respond to marketing communications, marketers can employ media planning models to determine the optimum amount of exposure that will help consumers receive the intended message.
It is also known that there are two routes to persuasion: Central and peripheral. Marketing communications messages which encourage central processing can “lead to the creation of relatively strong and long-lasting attitudes about the messages” (McGrath, 2005b, p.5). On the other hand, marketing communications messages that “employ superficial or peripheral techniques (such as the attractiveness of the message presenter, the credibility of the message source, etc.) will not be as long lasting or as resistant to change as those processed centrally” (McGrath, 2005b, p.5).
Consumers develop opinions about brands through product or service use, and through exposure to marketing communications messages: This knowledge helps marketers advertise brands in a way that encourages consumers to link their opinion of a brand with values that are important to them.
The second theoretical foundation of the IMC concept highlights the need to maintain a consistent message throughout all marketing media outlets and especially across all marketing communications messages. It is important that organizations and brands maintain a clear and consistent visual image (including color schemes, logos, symbols and other design elements), position, verbal and/or text theme (including body copy, typography, taglines and other devices) across all marketing communications channels, to ensure "one-voice" or "one personality" consistency, and "seamless" communications. A corporate manual will help to ensure a consistent corporate brand.
It is believed that messages that are consistent across different channels may create traces in the consumer's memory, and that these traces may be revived and intensified upon exposure to subsequent messages from different channels which the same conceptual themes. Thus, a brand using the IMC strategy of integrating different types of communications channels may be more memorable to the consumer and processed more easily than a series of brand messages which offer relatively inconsistent information across different channels. Message consistency simplifies mental message processing by today's consumers, who are inundated with increasing amounts of competing message stimuli.
The third theoretical foundation of IMC suggests that all facets of a brand’s...
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