The Role of Integrated Marketing Communication in Business

Introduction

Today, Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) becomes one of the main techniques which help marketers and retailers to boost sales, exchange of goods, services and information. In the last decade, IMC has come to be widely viewed as an area of considerable economic and social importance. The development of Internet has resulted in the rapid growth of marketing and changed all aspects of traditional business operations increasing the importance of new ways to conduct a business. Taking into account the nature of business, it is possible to say that IMC is a supportive tool of traditional marketing process and advertising which allows companies to expend their business and make it faster, easier and cheaper.

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IMC Defined

IMC’s most fundamental and perhaps most challenging task is trying to reach people who can conceivably purchase a client’s product. Yeshin (1998) explains marketing communications as “the process by which the marketer develops and presents an appropriate set of communications stimuli to a defined target audience with the intention of eliciting a desired set of responses” (p.3). The difficulty in reaching prospects is blamed on an overly segmented marketplace one-on-one communications, media savvy consumers and clients, and more fragmented media. Kitchen (1999) states:

IMC is a new approach to marketing communications planning being driven by technology, customers, consumers, and by organizational desire to properly allocate finite resources. IMC is still an emerging discipline and integration is a transition between the old historical product-driven outbound marketing systems versus the new information-driven interactive consumer focused marketplace of the twenty-first century” (p. 34).

Following Brassington and Pettitt,(2003) IMC is a communication tool which has a great impact on attitudes and tastes, values and choices of consumers. The consumer’s motivation and opportunity to process information will determine the amount of effort expended during the choice process. In our framework, this has an important effect on: (a) the amount of information retrieved and processed for choice, and (b) the willingness to retrieve less accessible information.

IMC and Promotion Success

To capture important brand insights, IMC planners are becoming involved at an earlier and more important stage in the overall strategic planning process. For instance, improvements in sales data reporting has given media planners a source of stronger quantitative information that allows for direct media and regional sales matches. Many clients have developed incredible sophistication in tracking sales. When shared with members of the account team, these data can provide sales on a market-by-market basis. To minimize waste and hopefully maximize sales, media parallels that information source for each brand (Fill, 2002). “Marketing communication activities most frequently considered in campaign planning among consumer, service, and retail marketers included point-of-sale material and mass media. Service marketers also gave special attention to direct-response programs” (Griffin and Mcarthur, 1997, p. 19). Increasingly, IMC planners are becoming involved at an earlier and more important stage in the overall strategic planning process. IMC planners are joining the account services group to assist in preliminary brand analyses.

The importance and success of IMC can be explained by increasing role of publicity and the Internet in marketing. Today’s consumers and other publics, the receivers of marketing communication, are a sophisticated lot. People are exposed to a vast array of information from early childhood on. This information represents a combination of personal product/service experience, sales promotion effort, word-of-mouth information, and hefty helpings of multiple media advertising. After customers graze these informational pastures, they engage in input interweaving as predicted by integration theory. As they weave mental fabrics from their foraged facts, they become aware of any breaks in the consistency of those fabrics (Chitty et al 2005). These inconsistencies disrupt cognitive integration and signal a threat to IMC. Marketers have long considered the response of customers/consumers to products and services, but perhaps have been less sensitive to their responses in the marketing communication area. To complicate matters, due to the differentiation of task and function within firms and the farming out of functions to agencies, firms have often failed to view their total communication package from the point of view of the receiver of those communications (Duncan, 2002).

The customer must see the communicated message and intended image as being consistent with his or her perceived reality of product/service and corporate image, or else a threat to IMC exists. The second situation suggests that with the recent emphasis of “green” and other “conscience” products, firms must carefully integrate and present their efforts in these social marketing arenas (Bulmer and Buchanan-Oliver 2004). In simplest terms the receiver of marketing communication, having completed all input interweaving from a given company’s marketing communication efforts, develops an image of that company. Following Brassington and Pettitt (2003) promotion can be defined as “a range of tactical marketing techniques designed within a strategic marketing framework to add value to a product or service in order to achieve specific sales and marketing objectives” (p. 26). Commonly, firms interested in proactively establishing, or reestablishing, such an image pursue two basic strategies. These strategies, image positioning or image rectification, must incorporate an IMC effort if they are to be successful.

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An image positioning strategy involves the development of a positively perceived image by consumers and other relevant publics. This strategy can apply to either a particular company or to an industry as a whole. For example, McDonald’s, in promoting its switch from styrofoam to paper packaging, may position itself as the “environmentally responsible” fast food company. There are numerous contexts in which image positioning or image rectification strategies might be undertaken. These include economic patriotism (i.e., “buy American”), social patriotism (for instance, sponsorship), and socially beneficial sponsorship (for instance, support for AIDS or cancer research, literacy programs, United Negro College Fund). Indeed, any context involving the potential for a positively perceived corporate or industry image would be appropriate. Which one is used would, of course, depend on the nature of the company’s or industry’s current perceived image. According to D’Astous and Jacobs (2002) unfortunately for IMC, both of the aforementioned strategies are vulnerable to boomerang effects. These effects can be driven by inconsistency between the image that is being presented in the communication and the audience perception of that image. Three different types of inconsistencies can be described: motivational inconsistency, circumstantial inconsistency, and negligent inconsistency. The other two types of inconsistency involve contraindicative information — information to which the audience is exposed that indicates some inconsistency in the IMC strategy (Chitty et al 2005). In contrast, negligent inconsistency results when contraindicative information arises, and the transgression is perceived by the audience to be intentional or due to abject carelessness. Accordingly, critics (Clow and Baack 2002) believe that a goal of integrated marketing strategies should be to present coordinated, consistent, and alluring lifestyle images to consumers in a variety of communications formats.

Possible Difficulties in IMC Environment

Moving to an IMC environment is difficult because IMC requires careful selection and evaluation of tools and techniques used in marketing campaigns. The tactical activities covered by integrated communications include traditional consumer advertising, direct marketing, trade promotions, retail display, consumer promotions, and public relations. A number of these are routinely evaluated according to their separate sales-generating capabilities. IMC first addresses the issue of lifestyle construction through multi-category product choices, and then delineates some of the communications formats that serve as vehicles to transmit the consumption ideals embodied by collections of disparate, expressive products and services. One possible strategy to coordinate a multiple media ad campaign would be to retain some parts of the ad as it moves from one medium to another. For example, advertisers have been known to take the audio track from a TV ad and run it, with some adjustment, on the radio as an ad. Similarly, a key scene from a TV ad has been used as the visual component of a print ad. To the extent that audience overlap exists with these different media, advertising can “cue itself” across media. This is much easier with database marketing than with manufacturers’ traditional advertising in which the sales stimulus is unconnected with the distributional channels. Some research state that “IMC provides advertising agency with too much control” and “IMC weakens competition between agencies,” while the client respondents agreed with them. This would seem to reflect the client’s concern that integration in any form may weaken their control or power over the process” (Han et al 2004, p. 31). Evaluation of the sales effects of promotions is also easy; indeed, alluringly easy. However, there are two immediate complications, both concerned with measurement advertising and sales promotions. Without taking profit into account, marketers are unable to compare these two activities with any accuracy, nor are marketers able to plan them to work cooperatively together (Ewing et al 2000).

Although promotional actions are conducted from a mixture of offensive and defensive motives that cannot often be separated from one another, the former are generally the more important. The third long-term legacy of promotions is the one that is most talked about, particularly by advertising agencies — promotions are said to devalue the image of the promoted brand in the eyes of the consumer (Gummesson, 2000). This theory accords with common sense, although there is no very extensive public evidence to support it. Indeed, the argument may not be quite as powerful as it appears, because once a brand has established a consumer franchise and a brand image, it takes a long time for these to decay, as the image is maintained more by people’s personal familiarity with and usage of the brand than by external marketing stimuli. For instance, print advertising is more likely to stress actively changing the environment than adapting to it, compared to advertising in Japan (Hennessey, 1998). Examples of advertising stressing such mastery can easily come to mind. Advertisements for cold and flu remedies often emphasize the ability of the medications to keep you going when you have such an ailment, effectively mastering the situation. Numerous advertisements for automobiles show how particular vehicles can get you through the most adverse weather conditions (Kaye, 1999).

Moving to an IMC environment is difficult because it should integrate all of advertising and promotion disciplines in an effort to reach people who can conceivably purchase clients’ products (Kotler, 2000). Shimp (2003) explains that today’s media planning starts with a clear understanding and acceptance of integrated marketing communications. Even though they are IMC advocates, these agencies have not renamed advertising. Kirshenbaum and Bond’s media director Steve Kline brushed the whole notion of semantics aside, suggesting that it is just how his agency goes about doing business. Critics admit that “even those respondents who did not clearly understand the concept of IMC, still accepted the necessity of the concept when given the clear definition. This shows that IMC will be accepted throughout the advertising industry if the concept is disseminated because most practitioners believe it is worth adopting” (Han et al 2004, p. 31). Similarly to motivational intensity, the opportunity to process information also will act to constrain the brand, attribute, or attitude information used by consumers during choice. Billboards messages are more effective to the extent that they use appeals that are designed to correspond to the self-concepts of the recipients (Schultz and Kitchen 1997).

Many people embrace the concept because the power of IMC is undoubted at present due to its strong impact on the public. No company producing goods or financial services currently neglects the possibilities which advertising offers to them. Even though companies have many ways to provide the promotion of their goods and services, advertising has been and will remain one of the most powerful tools which companies are using (Tapp 2001). The success of the product is in many ways pre-destined by the advertising strategy which the company uses. Following Smith (2002), using IMC has become one of the most popular practices for companies. They do no longer need to attract consumers with advertising based on competitive prices or higher quality than their competitors.

Many people embrace the concept because IMC gets fixed in the people’s minds and always have a major immediate effect on the consumer. Practice shows that advertisements can have both a major immediate effect and minor effects the influence of which on the potential customers will take a long time (Higham, 1999). The major immediate effect can occur in the case when the company has something new to say in the advertisement. However, if the product which is being advertised is not new, does not bear many new functions, or failed customers in the past, the advertising strategy has to be chosen very carefully (Sirgy, 1998). There is little hope the advertisement of the product will be met with much interest and involves any of the customers’ attention, unless the commercial has a beautiful model in it (Pickton and Broderick 2001).

Conclusion

For the marketer, IMC is most effective when developed as a carefully planned process for increasing penetration of international markets. In entering target markets, companies have traditionally begun with exporting, later developed a sales subsidiary abroad, and finally developed production facilities abroad. Online marketing helps to promote products and services, they inform and educate consumers about those products and services, or persuade them to try new and improved one. Having a powerful customer knowledge base also enables a firm to plan a communications campaign that targets potential customers in a highly specific way. This can be done using banner advertisements, electronic mail, experiential marketing and viral marketing. IMC allows marketers to change customer buying patterns and forces companies in certain industries to seek competitive advantage by focusing on the development of enduring relationships with customers. However, information technologies have provided additional incentives for firms to adopt such strategies.

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Consequently, it is important to realize that online marketing cannot only be used to manage information, but can also be used to manage customer relationships. Although self-consciousness is an individual difference variable that probably exists in all cultures, it is likely that the cultural stance on the doing versus being orientation relates to the prevalence of this trait. It would be expected that a culture’s orientation with regard to activity would be reflected in the themes used in advertising. Today’s media planning is based on an expanded definition of advertising that includes all marketing communications. IMC has received the most attention from the general public. IMC helps marketers to connect potential customers to the web pages of firms that are offering to sell goods and services online. IMC is important because it significantly increases sales volumes attracting wider target audience. In contrast to traditional advertising, IMC gives further commercial opportunities for the brand owners and legitimizes the investment in e-commerce development and maintenance. In this respect, connecting the brand site and the social aptitude of community participants potentially creates a new marketing tool. Greater access to informa­tion, growth in self-assisted services, and the widespread change from a sellers’ to a buyers’ market, are just a few of the drivers of consumer empowerment. IMC leads to new opportunities for advertising and promotion, and a new form or interaction with customers and suppliers.

Bibliography

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