The proliferation of high technology communications media and methods has changed the way that many people communicate in the 21st century. To be successful in this environment, marketing communications need to take into account not only these new approaches to communication, but also the way that people best receive and retain information. Prospective customers today are bombarded with information about competing products. Just running more advertisements is likely to only add to the confusion. Integrated marketing communications is an approach to marketing communications that combines and integrates multiple sources of marketing information to maximize the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. To be effective, an integrated marketing communications approach needs to be based on research and analysis of the target market, including its needs and motivations and the ways to communicate with the targeted market segment. The results of the analysis can be used to develop a plan of action for integrating multiple sources of communication about the organization and its products and services to optimize the effectiveness of the marketing effort.
In the late twentieth century, communication technology was much simpler than it is today. Although most people had land line telephones, the mobile phone was an almost inconceivable luxury only for the very rich. Correspondence was done by mail and one patiently waited for a reply by return mail. In the evening, those families with television sets sat down and watched their favorite shows with rapt attention. Those days, however, are long over. In many sectors of the culture, those without a cell phone or e-mail capabilities are viewed as technophobes, hopelessly behind the times. The fax machine that revolutionized the speed of communication in the latter part of the twentieth century is considered passé for many applications, as messages and documents fly through cyberspace at incredible speeds.
In many ways, this surge in communications technology has been a boon to the business world in general and the marketing function in particular. It is easy to pick up a cell phone or a computer mouse and communicate virtually instantaneously with a colleague or customer halfway around the world. The Internet can be mined for data to keep up with one's competition or to gain more knowledge about current or prospective customers (e.g., through social media). However, the proliferation of new communications technologies is not an unmixed blessing. The radio that was once a prime advertising medium has become, for the most part, nothing more than background noise or has been replaced completely with commercial-free Internet radio stations or music downloads. Even the value of television as an advertising medium has been diminished as people multitask (e.g., on tablets or smart phones) while watching, or record their favorite programs using DVR technology so that they do not have to watch the commercials. Many people prefer sound bites to long speeches and do not even process much advertising because they are so inundated with data they cannot comprehend it all. Many people have learned to automatically discard the junk mail that fills mail boxes daily and have software applications that automatically remove the spam from e-mail boxes. As a result, these medias are no longer as effective for advertising goods and services as they once were.
To help solve this problem and get their message across to customers and prospective customers, an increasing number of businesses are utilizing the approach of integrated marketing communications. This approach to marketing combines and integrates multiple sources of marketing information (e.g., advertising, direct response, sales promotions, publicity) to maximize the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. The concept of integrated marketing communications emphasizes that the organization coordinates all its marketing efforts to present a consistent face to customers while focusing the marketing campaign in an attempt to give the organization a competitive edge.
There are a number of factors that led to the development of integrated marketing communications. First, the proliferation of messages that one sees for various products frequently results in a situation of information overload in which the consumer receives more inputs than s/he can reasonably process. As a result, merely putting more advertisements in the marketplace is no longer likely to be successful since the consumer is already receiving too many inputs. Second, the growth of high technology approaches to information management has led to a decrease in the cost of database marketing. This means that it is easier and relatively inexpensive to acquire a list of single mothers, veterinary technicians, or whatever market segment the organization is interested in targeting so that advertisements can be sent out. Third, as discussed above, communication via mass media is becoming increasingly less effective while concomitantly becoming more expensive. In addition, the changing composition of marketing communications agencies resulting from mergers and acquisitions has allowed them to more easily compile comprehensive teams that can develop integrated marketing campaigns than can be done by separate agencies. As a result, knowledge and theory about how to better craft integrated marketing campaigns has increased. In addition, differentiation within and among the media is fragmenting the audience. For example, someone who listens to a classical radio station is unlikely to look favorably on an organization that tries to sell its product or service with a hard rock soundtrack and vice versa. Similarly, the demographics of people who watch the History Channel differ from those who watch MTV. Although in the past, advertising on the three major networks could get an organization's product or service recognition among a large market demographic, that is no longer true.
To better understand the purpose of integrated marketing communications, it is helpful to understand the marketing communication process. Figure 1 shows a simplified model of how marketing communications attempt to get a message across to potential customers in order to persuade them to buy the organization's products or services. At its simplest, communication starts when the organization decides to transmit a message to the receiver. The organization decides what it wants to convey to the customers (e.g., widgets can walk the dog and take out the garbage). This message is then sent to the receiver through the medium that the organization thinks will best reach the target market (e.g., television commercial, newspaper advertisement). However, this information does not reach the prospective customer directly, but goes through a series of filters that screen the message and may alter its meaning. For example, notice that Widget Corporation is not the only organization that is trying to reach the customer; both Acme and Gizmo are also sending messages that their products can more effectively walk the dog and take out the garbage and do these things for a lower price. The customer unconsciously screens the message for other reasons, too. For example, s/he may not own a dog and also misses the fact that widgets take out the garbage. Or, s/he may not like the background music played in the commercial or the layout of the print advertisement and so chooses to ignore them. The potential customer then decodes what the filtered message says and encodes an appropriate response. This leads to either positive or negative feedback to the organization that sent the message (e.g., the customer does or does not buy a widget).
The literature discusses several levels of development for integrated marketing communications. At the first level, the organization is simply aware of the need for implementing an integrated approach to its marketing efforts. For example, when trying to create a consistent image for excellence in its given field or for developing cutting-edge products, an organization may eventually realize that it would be helpful to consistently present this image across all its marketing efforts. This level of awareness regarding the need for integrated marketing communications is then followed by efforts to integrate the organization's image to ensure that a consistent message is being sent to potential consumers. This includes integrating the messages and visual themes of the entire marketing communications effort in order to...
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