Before reading this blog, you have to know that IMC concept is somewhat complex which is why this blog is going to be bit longer than a normal blog. So take a fresh air, be patient, and let’s start.
The American Marketing Association defines integrated marketing communications (IMC) as “a planning process designed to assure that all brand contacts received by a customer or prospect for a product, service, or organization are relevant to that person and consistent over time.” This planning process evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines—for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations—and skillfully combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum impact through the seamless integration of messages. Media companies and ad agencies, such as Armani Media Agency, are expanding their capabilities to offer multiplatform deals for marketers. These expanded capabilities make it easier for marketers to assemble various media properties—as well as related marketing services—in an integrated communication program.
Any advertising campaign has two major players, client and agency. In the client side, marketing department will develop a marketing plan which is not our concern in this article and one thing that a marketing plan will focus on is IMC planning. After IMC planning we go to the agency side. In the agency side, the agency will may evolve a creative strategy as well as a media strategy, this step will take place in correlation with the client and then the agency will plan a media plan and monitor the progress. This cooperation demonstrated as Figure 1 shows blow.
Figure 1- The major players in their tasks in developing an advertising campaign
Armani Media Agency is not an exception. So like any other agencies, the agency has developed its capabilities to manage and execute its campaigns in an IMC manner. As Figure 2 illustrate, any IMC plan has two parts, creative and media strategy. Armani Media Agency according to its brand offers a media strategy which includes planning, buying, and evaluating and monitoring the media. Armani also has its partner in order to offer the creative strategy and integrate the strategy and the media to achieve the best IMC campaign that could ever happen. In next blog we will focus on and discuss about the process in which the planning of an IMC campaign is done.
Figure 2- Steps of an IMC campaign
Because marketing communication functions have become so sophisticated and the media so fragmented, brand message clutter has significantly increased, making if more difficult and costly to manage brand communication. Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to reach prospects and retain current customers. Add to this all of the emerging communication technologies that have empowered customers, facilitating their ability to talk about brands to each other as well as “talking back” to companies. These changes have resulted in customers becoming more business savvy and at the same time having greater brand expectations than ever before. As these changes take place, competition becomes more intense, and top management demands more and more accountability and results from marketing communication expenditures.
The old marketplace motto “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) has become almost obsolete. Today, a more accurate axiom is “let the company beware.” Recognizing this new marketing environment, smart companies have intensified their efforts to integrate their marketing communication and all other brand messages because this is the most cost-effective way to build brand relationships and brand equity.
The Evolution of IMC
Originally, IMC was about creating “one voice, one look” across all messages in a campaign. So the print ad “looked like” the television commercial, and the billboard matched the website. For many years, the promotional function in most companies was dominated by mass-media advertising. Companies relied primarily on their advertising agencies for guidance in nearly all areas of marketing communication. Most marketers did use additional promotional and marketing communication tools, but sales promotion and direct-marketing agencies as well as package design firms were generally viewed as auxiliary services and often used on a per-project basis. Public relations agencies were used to manage the organization’s publicity, image, and affairs with relevant publics on an ongoing basis but were not viewed as integral participants in the marketing communications process.
Many marketers built strong barriers around the various marketing and promotional functions and planned and managed them as separate practices, with different budgets, different views of the market, and different goals and objectives. These companies failed to recognize that the wide range of marketing and promotional tools must be coordinated to communicate effectively and present a consistent image to target markets.
In a contemporary perspective, we now know that a more effective approach to IMC has moved from this narrow “execution” focus to a much broader focus on branding and customer brand perceptions. Rather than just using advertising to sell products, companies now want to use everything that sends a message to create a coherent brand presence that leads to long-term brand relationships. Although IMC has been around for 25 years, few understand the breadth—and depth—of this communication focus. It’s not just advertising, and it’s not just marketing communication; rather, it’s everything a brand says and does. IMC involves the entire organization. IMC is a commonsense ongoing process for managing brand perceptions and experiences as well as customer expectations about the brand. IMC planning delivers the brand essence (position, personality, and image) in all marketing communication but also at all brand contact points. It engages all stakeholders in meaningful and often interactive brand experiences. When these best practices are applied, they lead to solid brand relationships, and that leads to enhanced brand equity.
Implementing IMC needs some tools that are as same as the tools of communication that we’ve discussed in previous blog . Figure 3 summarized these tools for implementation of IMC.
Figure 3- Tools as promotional mix for implementing IMC
Key IMC Concepts
Integrated marketing communication is an important business concept as well as a set of principles and practices. We’ll begin with the key concepts that separate IMC plans and programs from more traditional advertising.
- Stakeholders and Brand Relationships
We start with stakeholders because a customer focus is critical in most IMC strategies. Although we say “customer,” we are really referring to all the stakeholders who impact on that customer relationship. Relationship marketing, a concept that originated with public relations, shifts the focus from the objective of a one-time purchase to the maintenance of long-term involvement from and by all of the firm’s critical stakeholders, whether employees, distributors, channel members, agencies, investors, government agencies, the media, or community.
Interactive and respectful communication is the link that connects brands and their key stakeholders and the glue that joins them in respectful long-term relationships. The possibility of authentic two-way communication has exploded with the development of digital technology and social media.
All stakeholders are critical in relationship marketing because they are communicators who can send either positive or negative messages about the brand. It is important to keep in contact with them, but it’s even more important to set up relationship programs that invite two-way communication and let them initiate messages.
Relevant messages delivered through media that drive positive experiences create value for consumers. This value adds up over time and emerges as loyalty—the ultimate goal of relationship marketing programs. Brand relationships are indicators of brand value—what a brand is worth both to the company and to its customers. Positive relationships underlie the financial value of a brand as well as its perceived value to customers. Negative impact, however, can come from mishandling the type and amount of messages directed to stakeholders.
- Total Communication
Media planning includes all the traditional as well as nontraditional media, but it is well to remember that in 360° communication planning, there are other message delivery points in the way a company does business. A total communication program monitors all these sources of brand messages. And remember, contemporary brand communication includes two-way as well as targeted strategies—receiving and responding to messages is as important as sending them.
Furthermore, consider that everything a brand does—and sometimes what it doesn’t do— can send a message. You can’t not communicate. Unintentional messages can arise from carelessly delivered brand experiences. For example, a long wait on a customer service help line or the inability of a company representative to answer a product safety question sends the message that the company doesn’t value a customer’s time or safety. Those messages can be more powerful—in a negative way—than anything said in the advertising. That’s why it’s necessary to monitor all marketing elements from a communication perspective.
- Moving from Channels to Contact Points
The concept of contact points has redefined and broadened our understanding of media as a message delivery system. Contact points, also called touch points, are the various ways a consumer comes in contact with a brand. This view of media moves from traditional advertising media (print, broadcast, and outdoor) and the media of various marketing communication functions (press releases, events, promotional materials, and sponsorships) to experiential contacts that in previous advertising-dominated media plans weren’t generally considered to be media, such as word of mouth and customer service.
Contact point management, then, is the way marketing communication planners develop systems of message delivery—both to and from all key stakeholders. The objective is to maximize and leverage the good contact points and minimize the bad ones. Difference between touch points and contact points is that consumers may receive information and impressions from a brand at a contact point, but a touch point is a brand experience that delivers a message that also touches emotions leading to positive and negative judgments. It has more emotional impact than a regular contact point. A critical touch point, then, is one that connects the brand and customer on an emotional level and leads to a yes-or-no decision about a purchase decision or a brand relationship (Also mentioned as moments of truth in the literature).
- Message Synergy
When you combine stakeholders and contact points—all the messages delivered through all possible media to all key stakeholders—you have a bundle of messages. The point is that brand communication is not about single messages but rather about the impact of various impressions and brand meanings that evolve as the messages interact and reinforce one another. Remember the principle of synergy that proposes that 2 + 2 = 5. In other words, messages that reinforce one another have a multiplier effect that not only cements a brand impression but also polishes and magnifies it. At every point of contact with every stakeholder, the essence of the brand should be the same. Strategic consistency drives synergy, and synergy drives the brand impression. Therefore, brand stewards and IMC planners are insistent on strategic consistency—the core or essence of the brand is clear in every message if they are tailored to the particular interests of various stakeholders.
- A Brand Is an Integrated Perception
Message synergy is the basis for seeing a brand as an integrated perception. People automatically integrate brand messages and experiences—it’s a natural process in perception. And that happens whether or not executives try to manage the process. Your impression will probably contain ideas about the brand’s position in the market as well as images of the people you see using it and the messages you’ve heard articulated in media and mentions by people you know. How that stew of information and images comes together as an integrated perception is just the way we make sense of things, and that’s how a brand impression is created. Perceptual integration works only if the pieces fit together.
- Unified Brand Vision
There is an art and a science to IMC management. A successful brand is the product of both science— a complex system of planned and managed activities— and art—a vision of the essence of the brand in which all the pieces and parts fit together perfectly in a coherent brand perception. The vision of the brand steward and how that unified vision is communicated to all the agents involved in the complex system of brand communication determines the effectiveness of a brand communication program.
- Internal Integration
Brand management involves creating and monitoring a complex set of philosophies and activities. You can’t be integrated externally if you are not integrated internally. A core brand strategy—a shared vision—drives the entire organization. Cross-functional management across department lines delivers unity of vision, which is the foundation for the consumer’s integrated brand perception.
The future blog will be advocated to be discussed about the process of planning an IMC campaign.
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Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2012). Designing and Managing Integrated Marketing Communications. In P. Kotler, & K. L. Keller, Marketing Management (14 ed., pp. 474-500). New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Moriarty, S., Mitchell, N., & Wells, W. (2015). Brand Communication. In S. Moriarty, N. Mitchell, & W. Wells, Advertising and IMC Principles and Practices (10th ed., pp. 558-588). London, UK: Pearson Education.