In the 1960s, Chevrolet spent almost its entire US television media budget on one program – the Dinah Shore Show. At that time prime-time viewers had only three network channels to choose from and an advertiser could reach 80 percent of US households on any given evening by running commercials on CBS, NBC, and ABC programs. Newspapers were a primary source of information, and cable television and the Internet were decades away from development.
Currently there are over 400 cable TV channels in the US, TV audiences have declined at the rate of approximately 2 percent over the past decade, and cable now commands a larger audience than networks. The Internet has experienced unprecedented growth, and advertising can be seen on one’s mobile phone, in bathrooms, and almost every conceivable (or inconceivable) location imaginable. Product placements and integrations have increased dramatically. Erwin Ephron – a media consultant – estimates that in the 1980s a media planner had nearly 1,250 scheduling options on television alone. In the 1990s, with 100 broadcast and cable channels to choose from, the number of options rose to 1.25 quadrillion. With over 400 channels, the number of options is incalculable (Mandese 2005).
Now add to this the fact that there has been a proliferation of new media including the Internet, interactive wireless, podcasts, video on demand, blogs, and more. Traditional media, like public relations, sponsorships, event marketing, and product placements, have taken on a new perspective. Advertising is no longer king, as some of the largest TV advertisers (GM, P & G, American Express, among others) are shifting more and more dollars to the “new” media. In 2006, Pontiac introduced its new G-6 using only Internet advertising. Many others initiate their new product launches with an emphasis on public relations. Still more use sponsorships, guerilla marketing tactics, and other nontraditional approaches.
As a result of these factors – as well as other changes in consumers’ lifestyles, technology, etc. – marketers have had to dramatically change the way they attempt to communicate with their existing and potential customers. Communications programs now require the use of a variety of media to reach markets, as well as the integration of these media to put forth a unified and consistent message. It is now obvious to marketers that it is no longer “business as usual,” and that a new and different way of managing the communications environment is required. Integrated marketing communications addresses the issues involved in managing this changing media environment, while at the same time providing a framework for establishing communications objectives to be used to guide the communications program and assess its effects.
Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)
The changing communications landscape has led to the adoption and growth of integrated marketing communications (IMC). As noted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, IMC is: “A concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines – for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations – and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact” (Belch & Belch 2007, 10).
As can be seen, this definition – now over a decade old – notes the integration of what might be considered “traditional” media, with no mention of the myriad of channels that have surfaced since its inception. Nevertheless, the point is that the strategy calls for a comprehensive plan, specific roles for each medium, and the integration of these media to maximize communications impact. IMC is based on the expectation that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, with the synergy of multiple media increasing the communications effects of the overall program.
IMC combines and coordinates a variety of marketing communication tools and techniques to reach the customer and present the product or service in a favorable manner. It also emphasizes the need for all of a company’s marketing promotional activities to project a consistent and unified image. All forms of marketing communication must strive to present the same brand message and convey that message consistently across all points of contact with customers. All marketing communications must, in other words, “speak with a single voice,” whether they be new or traditional forms.
The Growth Of IMC
Kitchen (2005) has referred to the growth of IMC as the major communications development of the last decade of the twentieth century. While some academicians may disagree with this perspective, practitioners have completely embraced the concept. There are very few, if any, large-scale communications programs that do not involve the use of multiple media, leading to the rapid adoption of the IMC approach. In his book The end of marketing as we know it, Sergio Zyman, the former head of marketing for Coca-Cola, declares that traditional marketing “is not dying, but dead” (1999, 1). Jim Stengel, global marketing director for Procter & Gamble, notes that “There must be – and is – life beyond the 30-second commercial”(Zyman 1999, 13), calling for the advertising industry to embrace and develop new media to reach their audiences. These are but a few of many examples of the new perspective required.
In addition to the previously mentioned changes in the communications environment, a number of other factors have also contributed to the rapid growth of IMC. There has been a shift in marketplace power from manufacturers to retailers: large retailers such as Wal-Mart are using their clout to demand larger promotional fees and allowances, which siphons off monies from advertising and increases the focus on short-term promotions. Database marketing has grown: marketers are increasing their use of databases. These are then used to target specific consumers through telemarketing, direct mail, and other forms of direct response. Companies develop customer relationship management (CRM) programs to reward their most loyal customers through sales promotions, discounts, and other tools, all of which increase costs. There have been demands for greater accountability: an increased demand for accountability and focus on return on investment (ROI) have led advertisers to consider a variety of tools that may enhance the cost–benefit relationship. It is no longer acceptable to say that one does not know how well the advertising program is working, as too many other options for the use of these dollars now exist. The Internet has grown rapidly: as previously noted, the Internet is just one of the numerous new media to become available to marketers. Perhaps no other medium since television has had such a dramatic impact on the media landscape. The Internet continues to evolve, becoming more and more like television. Combining this with the advent of interactive TV, wireless, podcasts, and other new media, marketers have had to rethink their traditional media strategies.
Requirements For Successful Implementation Of IMC
The adoption of an IMC perspective necessitates a new way of thinking. Traditional means of conducting business must give way to adapting to the new communications environment. One of the most critical requirements is to recognize that consumers’ exposures to media and messages are now under their control – not that of the sender. Technological changes leading to the development of new media are just one of the factors that have enabled receivers to obtain information when they want it, not when the marketer sends it.
Second, marketers must recognize and accept the dramatic shift in media usage that has occurred – particularly among younger demographic segments. Besides watching less TV, younger demographics subscribe to fewer magazines (most of which are specialty magazines as opposed to general news), rarely read the newspapers, and rely religiously on the Internet for music, news, and information for everything from phone numbers to the announcement of sales, comparative-price shopping, and upcoming events.
To successfully adopt an IMC orientation, companies must accomplish the following tasks. They must recognize that consumer perceptions of a company and its brands are a synthesis of all the messages consumers receive or contacts they have with the company. The advertising messages sent, the media in which they appear, interactions with the sales force, the website, public relations, and publicity all help shape the perceptions of the company, its products, and its brand image. Companies must identify all of the sources of contacts that a customer or prospect has with the company. These contacts can include media advertisements, websites, articles and stories in newspapers and magazines or on television or radio stations, word of mouth, sponsorships and/or events, and product placements, among others. The IMC process starts with the customer or prospect and then works back to determine the best ways to reach them.
Companies also must consider the strengths and weakness of the various communication channels and of the marketing communication tools that form an effective IMC program. For example, mass media advertising – such as television – works well for building overall awareness but is less effective for communicating detailed information. Publicity lends credibility to a communication but is not always under the marketer’s control. The Internet, while excellent for providing information, is less effective than other media for achieving reach. Selecting the appropriate media is critical to IMC success. Companies must create a consistent unified message to current and potential customers. All forms of marketing communication should focus on the same key selling points, theme, and positioning platform, and strive to have one look and one voice.
Companies also have to focus attention on the achievement of communications objectives, which will ultimately lead to the attainment of marketing goals After years of discussion and research, marketers are only slightly further along in determining the ROI of various media in sales, market share, or other market objectives than they were decades ago. It is time to recognize the specific objectives communications are designed to accomplish, and to understand how achievement of these objectives will lead to the attainment of marketing goals. Companies must develop new ways to evaluate the effectiveness of IMC programs in producing outcomes. New metrics must be developed and used. These metrics must be validated and consistent to allow for proper measurement. The outcomes should include traditional measures such as recall and recognition, but must also incorporate new criteria such as increasing website traffic, or other media-specific measures.
Finally, companies have to reorganize the department or agency responsible for communications. In most companies and agencies today, communications silos continue to exist. Those responsible for advertising and media buying often compete, rather than cooperate with, those in public relations, promotions, and/or new media. Rather than working toward a unified goal, these departments continue turf battles to compete for budgetary dollars, inadequately communicate internally, and do not understand the specific roles each should assume to contribute to the overall effort. The education and training of specialists in integrating marketing communications and the integration and/or elimination of these silos will be critical to the success of the program.
The Future For IMC
The debate as to the merits of IMC, whether it is a marketing fad or viable management strategy, etc., has given way to acceptance of it as a required means of developing effective communications programs. As consumers’ needs and media habits continue to change, media continue to proliferate and evolve, and clients continue to demand accountability, the need for an integrated approach will increase accordingly. The degree to which IMC advances, however, will be dependent upon acceptance by those involved in the communications arena. This acceptance, itself, will be predicated on changes in internal and external management thinking, the development of new metrics for assessing communications effectiveness, and continual adaptation to changing marketing conditions.
There is no doubt that integrating marketing communications is here to stay. There is also no doubt that those who adopt this approach will achieve a competitive advantage over those pursuing a more traditional approach.
- Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (2007). Advertising and promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective, 7th edn. New York: McGraw Hill and Irwin.
- Kitchen, P. J. (2005). New paradigm – IMC – under fire. Competitiveness Review, 15(1), 72 – 80.
- Mandese, J. (2005). Hitting the wall. Media, 6(10), 26 –33.
- Neff, J., & Sanders, L. (2004). It’s broken. Advertising Age, pp. 1, 30 (February 16).
- Zyman, S. (1999). The end of marketing as we know it. New York: Harper Business.