Research shows that many business firms are adopting integrated marketing communication (IMC) to enhance marketing in their firms. This is because of the realization that integrated communication in marketing helps to improve marketing efficiency besides assisting the firms to reduce costs of marketing. Integrated marketing communications assemble all components of marketing, thus allowing the customers to code and understand the product in an effective manner. These marketing functions include advertising, public relations, sales promotions, internet, and social media communication. The use of information and communicational technologies serves as one of the primary motivators of the development and use of the IMC. The main objective of the IMC is to establish a codified product experience for customers. In other words, IMC is a strategic way of managing brands in business (Cornelissen and Lock, 2000). The IMC is attained through proper coordination of marketing communication functions in marketing so that the ultimate objective, which is customer understanding, can be achieved. It is argued that, in spite of being run by the marketers of firms, the efficiency and effectiveness of marketing is determined by customers and not the marketers or advertisers. This is due to what is regarded as the role of receivers in a communication process.
Customers keep codding and making meaning out of the diverse functions of marketing and the communicative means used in implementing these functions. The concept of integration in marketing is thus considered to lie with the customers. This is irrespective of the fact that it is borne out of the marketers. This paper evaluates the practice of IMC. The paper analyses the essence of integrated marketing communication and the role of both the marketers and customers in the process. In addition, the paper highlights aspects of success and failure in integrated marketing communication.
Understanding the origin and development of integrated marketing communication
Kitchen (2004) noted that marketing is a process that makes full use of communication. With the presence of many channels of communication, including the wide adoption and usage of information and communication technologies in touch, marketing can either be simplified or made complex. The diversity of communicative tools is argued to have paved the way for the development of the IMC to facilitate the branding of products and services of firms. For example, the internet has totally transformed the manner in which business is conducted, including the way marketing is conducted. The IMC is a concept that was developed in the early 1980s. This concept of marketing management emerged because of three important things. These are the changing demands in the marketplace, media and communication, and the changing behavior and demands (Pickton and Broderick, 2005). It is important to note that all these factors relate to one another as far as the application of the concept is concerned. Advances in information and communication technology are argued to have set precedence for the emergence of the idea. Consumer-centered marketing approaches could be developed quickly by utilizing communication technologies. The relationship between customers and brands is given much attention in the definition and a real sense of the concept (Cornelissen and Lock, 2000).
Research in the field of integrated marketing communication has shown the determination of researchers to understand the whole concept of the IMC. The understanding of the definitional and communicative concepts underlying the idea is an aspect that should be regarded with the most significant concern. Marketing researchers have also been researching how best the image can be applied to marketing in the sense that marketing functions are completely integrated for useful understanding (Kitchen, 2004). The other thing that has been of interest to marketing researchers has been the understanding of the impact of integrated marketing communication for firms. The effect is looked at from two angles by researchers. This includes the impact that IMC has on both customers and marketers. According to market researchers, this impact is dependent on the way in which IMC is applied by marketers and the level of integration of marketing functions. Integrated marketing communication is a strategic process for managing marketing. It pays a lot of attention to what is referred to as content in marketing (Pickton and Broderick, 2005). Content means the messages that are carried in an individual sub-process of the more extensive marketing process within an organization. These sub-processes have to be appropriately linked to bring efficiency to the entire process of marketing. Integrating these communicative processes has been found to be effective in enhancing marketing (Kliatchko, 2008).
Marketing is often dependent on diverse relationships that can be better understood through the understanding of the role played by communication in sustaining marketing. Touch is applied in modern marketing more in postmodern marketing than it was used in marketing during ancient times. Integrated marketing communication is considered a postmodern approach to marketing and brand management by firms. It is essential to highlight the components of the IMC in an effort to open into the essence of this concept to markers and customers. Marketing is made up of several definitional concepts. The first concept of IMC is brand focus. Branding is one of the main objectives of marketing. Brands are built by an understanding of the products and services of the firm and are portrayed in a number of things. Among them is the corporate identity of a firm, a firm’s logo, branding style, and tagline, among others. The second aspect of the IMC is the consumer experience (Kitchen, 2004).
Marketing focuses on attracting customers to a product or service of a firm. Therefore, firms seek to engage in marketing processes that aim at ensuring that customers get to understand and enjoy the work that they release to the market. Customer experience is mostly attained through the design of products and the manner in which products are packaged and delivered to customers. There is also a wide usage of communication tools in IMC (Belch, 2009). The commonly used tools in this concept are online communicative tools such as using social media. The other communicative tool that has common usage in IMC is advertising using different modes.
Promotional tools form the other component of IMC. Promotional tools entail many business communicative processes. These processes include personal selling, customer relations management, trade promotions, public relations, as well as corporate social responsibilities. Corporate culture should be on the forefront to communicate and bring an understanding of brands. This can be achieved through the communication of the vision, personality of the organization, and its capabilities, among others. Integrated marketing communication is also made up of integration tools. The primary basis of integration tools in IMC is information and communication technologies. These include customer-tracking software that is used in tracking and monitoring the behavior of customers, as well as monitoring marketing campaigns. Customer relationship management, communicative software, and marketing automation are all included in the integration tools of marketing (Shimp, 2012).
According to Kitchen (2004), all aspects of the marketing mix are included in the IMC. This means that the marketing mix is not an entirely new concept in marketing but an improvement to marketing communication. This is intended for customers to link with brands or products in an easy way. It is a booster to the efforts by firms to capture the attention of customers through their brands in a comprehensive manner. This reduces the fragmentation of marketing functions, which have been prevailing in marketing for a long time. The fragmentation in marketing was found to have a negative effect on branding because of the inability of customers to make sense of the real products (Kitchen, 2004). Consumers have always been integrating the communication that is caused by advertisers and marketers in order to understand brands in the market.
However, this was not a swift exercise. This is because of gaps that existed within the marketing processes. Integrated marketing communication is thus a sigh of relief to consumers because it brings together all the marketing process and ties them into one bunch for ease of understanding. Mostly, the communicative integration initiative is the responsibility of marketers because it comes as one of the best means of full attainment of marketing goals. This can be best executed when all the information concerning the consumer is availed and codded in integrated marketing. The information about customers, which is included in the communicative aspect of marketing, provides motivation, needs, actions, and attitudes of customers. Integrated marketing communication influences the behavior of consumers and vice versa (Shimp, 2012).
The framework of IMC
According to Schultz and Pilotta (2004), the management should understand that consumers combine the information obtained from different media. This happens irrespective of the firm being involved or not being involved in integrating the messages across these media. The main issue here is the prevention of wrong or inconsistent interpretation of media marketing messages by consumers. Consumers have to be made to be considerably proactive by being put at the center of IMC. In this respect, the IMC represents a new approach to planning and utilizing media communication in marketing. All marketing activities, which influence profits and sales, as well as brand equity, are represented in IMC. The concept of IMC is much complex in the sense that it goes beyond the superficial aspect of using multiple channels of media in integrated marketing. In IMC, all elements of communication used to depend on each other (Pickton and Broderick, 2005).
The effectiveness of marketing communication is thus dependent on the point of each of the single communicative means that are used in marketing. Each communicative aspect is crucial because it has a more or less direct impact on the other communicative aspects and thus impacts the entire process. Consumers who form the main target of marketing management influence the end outcomes of the integrated approach in IMC. IMC is meant to enhance the understanding that exists between a firm and consumers of products that are produced by a firm. IMC does not only apply a push strategy in marketing communication as was in the old forms of marketing but also makes use of pull strategies. The most successful companies in the world are reported to use both push and pull strategies. They include Nike, the Coca-Cola Company, and Intel Corporation. Success and the real influencer of the integrated marketing communication process between the marketers and consumers can be best derived from the cases of application of integrated marketing communication. The adjustment of products in order to meet the demand of consumers is made through the incorporation of feedback in integrated marketing communications.
This denotes the relevance of both consumers and marketers in integrated marketing communication (Raman and Naik, n. d).
Different kinds of media are involved in marketing communication. The marketers often make choices about the types of media that are used by a firm in marketing. The marketers also choose the way to present marketing messages in these media forms. However, marketers are advised not to impose marketing communications to consumers. Consumers are the leading interpreters of the information that is carried in marketing communication. Marketers help in integrating the different messages representing different functions so that a consumer can understand them (Pickton and Broderick, 2005).
Zahay, Peltier, Schultz, and Griffin (2004) observe that consumers follow up information on different brands from different kinds of media, including social media. By doing this, they can be updated on the latest development in brands. They remain linked to the brands, and through their views and remarks, companies are able to know the modification to add to products. Companies have thus been encouraged to developed customer clientele using the available forms of media, including social media and the internet. This speeds up communication or the flow of information and comments on brands, which results in greater integration in the market (Belch, 2009).
It becomes easier to assemble the different opinions in order to achieve brand satisfaction. Many firms have achieved positive brand outcomes. These firms have been able to capture the IMC in totality within this technological era, where many channels of communication exist. With the aid of communication technologies, customers have become more proactive in the determination of the nature of products that reach them. They are no longer passive as was in the old forms of marketing. In the past, customers had limited channels of raising their opinions on products and could not determine brands. The more new consumers gain access to new forms of communication, the higher the impact they will continue to have on the integration process in integrated marketing communication. At this point, it can be noted that consumer influence on integration is proving to be positive for most firms that are using IMC (Swain, 2004).
Benefits of integrated marketing communication to firms
Integrated marketing communication aims at developing the best means through which the needs of customers can be addressed by firms in an effective manner (Shimp, 2012). As mentioned earlier in this paper, integrated marketing communication is a process that starts with the marketer and ends with the consumers. It has emerged as a vital concept in marketing as it guides better development and the subsequent implementation of communications in marketing. Integrating the marketing communication processes of an organization is beneficial to both the marketers and the customers.
Distinct marketing communicating functions can be merged appropriately to facilitate corporate brands to be understood from a single angle by the consumers. Marketing efficiency is improved through integrated marketing communication hence helping in bettering the understanding of the brands. Therefore, dialogues and the relationship between consumers and brands are enhanced, thus assisting the firms to benefit from the market. All types of marketing communication are planned and executive using IMC. Unison and connectedness are easy to achieve when firms employ integrated marketing communication. The overall benefit of IMC for firms that have employed this management concept in marketing is the rise in the competitive advantage of firms. Competitive advantage is attained through increased understanding of firms leading to increased sales of brands (Ul-Rehman and Ibrahim, 2011).
Pickton and Broderick (2005) observed that IMC seeks to eliminate weaknesses that are portrayed in individual marketing communicative functions. By integrating these functions, the liability that may be inherent in any of the marketing functions is dissolved in the strengths of the other communicative functions. Integration increases the power of each of the marketing functions, thus improving the marketing exercise ultimately (Keller, 2003). IMC increases brand equity because the perception of customers regarding the product or service being marketed is easily attained.
Consumers can predict with precision the brands that will be produced by a firm, thereby promoting trust amongst the consumers of the brands from a given firm. Integrated marketing communication encourages dialogue amongst the consumers, as well as dialogue between consumers and the firm. It is easy to build a long-term relationship with customers using integrated marketing communication because customers develop a deeper understanding of the brands of a firm. Markets make use of collaborative communicative practices to link customers to brands (Mihart, 2012).
Integrated marketing communication in business firms – the problem of implementation
Despite its relevance in modern marketing, the prevailing regulatory environment challenges the IMC. There exist problems in merging all the traditional communicative functions entailed in marketing. These are public relations, as well as advertising. These factors are essential in building the corporate image of an organization that is portrayed to incorporate messages. Corporates messages are often accorded legal protection as they express the commercial interests of a firm. Therefore, the customers are not wholly left to interpret the corporate messaged or corporate functions even if they are integrated through IMC (Pelsmacker, Geuens & Bergh, 2006). Firms will often strive to separate these messages or explain them. This is quite common even when the firms have been fully integrated with other marketing functions for the interpretation and understanding by customers. The marketers of firms interpret the corporate messages to customers so that the letters can be understood from both the inset ad the outset of an organization. Integration can thus be argued to be also influenced by marketers as they identify and interpret some aspects of communication in the already integrated processes (Fitzpatric, 2005).
Fill (1999) ascertained that IMC is inhibited by a number of factors, some of which are generated from customers who are presumed to be the significant determinants of IMC success. Customers may choose to jeopardize the use of integrated marketing communication by holding certain stereotypes about brands. Withheld stereotypes can be very damaging. This is significantly when they are extended to other marketing functions because of integrating the stereotyped aspects with other components of marketing. Useful integrations call for all members of marketing to carry an equal measure or value. However, this can hardly be the case when customers have long withheld perceptions on a number or any of the marketing functions of a given firm.
Integrated marketing communication may also be sabotaged from within the organization. The poor linkage between the departments that are bestowed with the responsibility of implementing IMC is one of the problems of implementing IMC. For a firm to begin implementing IMC in a logical and consistent manner, there has to exist an agreement amongst all departments involved people and departments. Inconsistencies are likely to occur when managerial loopholes are prevailing in a firm (Pelsmacker, Geuens & Bergh, 2006). Marketing managers may also fail to coordinate messages in the integrated process in an efficient manner. This results in the dilution of the effectiveness of the news that come out of the process of integrating marketing functions. In such scenarios, consumers become more frustrated with the overall strategy that leads to misinterpretation or poor coding of marketing in a firm (Kim, Han, and Schultz, 2004).
The cost-effectiveness of the tools used in marketing communication tools that are used in marketing does vary. Awareness is built through advertising that brings about customer comprehension. The conviction of consumers is highly influenced by personal selling, which is commonly practiced in marketing implementation. This is a delicate stage in marketing communications (Fill, 1999).
Integrated marketing communication was developed in the 1980s. This is a concept that seeks to put together the marketing functions to facilitate the branding exercise. Integration reduces the fragmentation of marketing functions, which further eases the creation of brand awareness for firms that have employed IMC. Although initiated by marketers, customers play a big part in the integration process of the IMC. This is due to the wide adoption of different tools of communication by customers helping them to access firms and influence the process of marketing integration.
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