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Marketing Strategy

What is Integrated Communications in Marketing?

April 13, 2022

The integrated marketing communications (IMC) process involves conveying a unified message across various channels to drive higher customer engagement for a company’s products and solutions. It’s the marriage of public relations (PR), advertising, and marketing.

IMC is a strategy that turns marketing departments from disparate functions into one interconnected approach. It merges various marketing channels and collaterals – from digital, PR, direct mail, and social media – with one dependable message.

Imagine trying to discover a company’s mission or a brand’s message. If the sales team delivers different social media marketing team messages, consumers will find it hard to understand the organization’s truth. IMC seeks to eliminate these challenges and inconsistencies and ensure brands send the same signals regardless of team or priority.

A 2018 Gartner study found that integrated marketing campaigns with four or more digital channels have a 300% increase in performance than a dual-channel campaign. Additionally, related marketing communications are valuable to multiple audiences. First, it helps create better consumer trust in a company and its values. It also benefits the organization’s stakeholders.

If a marketing team is struggling to deliver a cohesive message, they likely don’t understand the essence of an integrated marketing approach. This comprehensive guide discusses integrated marketing communications and their significance for brands and organizations.

In this article:

What is Integrated Marketing?

Unified marketing is the approach marketers take to create a unified and consistent experience for customers interacting with a brand or company. Today’s marketers must hold consumers’ attention long enough to convey the brand message and convince them to act. So integrated marketing combines all individual marketing efforts. It’s about mixing and matching different marketing activities to maximize their collective and unique effect.

Marketers embrace integrated marketing by executing several activities that create and communicate value for the end-user. It works on the premise that the whole is always more significant than the sum of its parts. Therefore, marketers ensure that every plan they implement, every campaign they run, and every channel they use are in sync. They plan and execute the IMC campaign while keeping other marketing activities, tools, and media in mind.

Marketers use different tools to convey the brand messaging, such as digital advertising, public relations, and traditional advertising, to reach end-users and deliver persuasively, consistent messaging at every interaction.

What is Integrated Marketing Communications?

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) refers to an approach to promote marketing’s messages through multiple tactics and strategies that work cohesively and complementary. This IMC meaning fits today’s dynamic environment requiring companies to blend public relations, marketing, and advertising to maximize brand awareness and returns.

So what is IMC in marketing?

An IMC campaign goes beyond PR initiatives like promoting company news or conducting media outreach, advertising materials like brochures and flyers, and marketing content like blogs or social media posts.

For instance, a company may promote a new brand, brand identity and slogan, or a full marketing strategy via multiple channels such as print, web, television, and social networks. Additionally, the company may use the same messaging for its different integrated marketing communication methods (Public relations, advertising, direct email marketing, sales promotion, and internet marketing).

Integrated communications strategies have proven reliable in the past because they fuse traditional and modern marketing, guaranteeing that communication incorporates the best of both worlds to reach all relevant stakeholders. Besides, communication is always effective when marketers deliver clear messages without disruption.

Marketing has evolved significantly into today’s technology-driven social media economy in the last few years. As a result, marketers in the globally connected economy need integrated communications and branding strategies to deliver a concise, consistent, and clear message to prospective consumers.

IMC pursues this and expands upon traditional marketing strategies. It also incorporates broader storytelling across various series of communication channels. Technically, it’s about identifying and aligning the different tools in a marketer’s kit, such as advertising, blogs, PR, direct selling, and social media. However, another key part is consumers’ feelings about organizations and their values and operations.

Done well, IMC builds good relationships between consumer and company. In addition, these approaches subtly promote the brands to potential buyers, convincing them that trying the new products or services is in their best interests. The overall effect is that the company is more likely to reach desired, increased profit margins, which is the main reason for engaging in and marketing business.

IMC Campaign Approaches

Different marketing plans have differing objectives. The most common IMC plans depend on what a company hopes to establish. They include:

  • External: The company outsources its marketing activities to a marketing or public relations firm. The company tasks the outside agency with designing and developing effective IMC strategies to push its products and solutions to the market.
  • Internal: Internal marketing involves creating an IMC plan in-house. The C-suite ensures that employees are excited about the new products under development. In turn, employees may leak the details prematurely, garnering excitement from the market and prospective customers before a product launch.
  • Horizontal: It brings together departments and prevents marketing teams from working autonomously – for instance, the product development and marketing departments. Creating open communication lines and sharing information between the two provides the collaboration that teams require to build an effective and complete IMC strategy.
  • Vertical: It demands products under development fit in with policy and company structure. Therefore, new products must fall and help the company work toward achieving the company’s mission and goals.

Examples of Effective Integrated Marketing Communication

The following are examples of effective, real-life campaigns:

  1. Always #LikeAGirl Campaign: In 2014, Always launched its #LikeAGirl campaign to change how people perceived the phrase and increase teenage girls’ self-esteem. The campaign spanned multiple channels such as TV, print, social media, and online.
  2. Domino’s AnyWare: Domino launched an IMC campaign for its new pizza ordering technology that allows people to order via text, tweet, smart TVs, smartwatches, and even Ford Sync.
  3. GoPro’s Be a Hero Campaign: GoPro launched its Be a Hero campaign to make an emotional appeal to the masses. The company urged people to use its portable video cameras to record adventurous moments, such as skiing, biking, and riding a motorcycle. The company’s campaign spanned several mediums such as digital marketing, magazines, in-store displays, and billboards.
  4. Snickers “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry”: The Snickers campaign featured on multiple mediums, including TV commercials featuring celebrities, social media, retail, print advertisements, and even appeared at the 2015 Superbowl.

What are the 4 C’s of IMC?

When creating successful integrated marketing campaigns, marketers should consider the four Cs of IMC. These principles of integrated marketing communications outline the four key concerns marketers must address to give their campaign a chance of achieving its goals. Below are the four Cs:

1.      Consistency

Do all the campaigns messages support and reinforce each other across all the company’s platforms? Are they pretty much similar? Do they have the same messaging?

An IMC campaign must carry the same message across all platforms. Marketers must also extend the consistency test to other Ps (products, people, places, and promotion) and ensure they support and reflect the messaging.

A core campaign message, hashtag, or image is one way to ensure consistency. Marketers then take a step back and think of how to convey the same message across all media elements during the buyer’s journey, ensuring consistency throughout the campaign.

2.      Coherence

Are the different marketing communications logically connected? Can customers see one message in one place and another on a different platform and understand how the two relate? Or maybe they are left wondering if they are addressing the same thing or not.

Coherence is critical for the success of integrated communications campaigns. Marketers need to test the coherence of their integrated marketing strategy on colleagues, family, and friends who haven’t been part of the campaign. Therefore, they should show them the different elements and ask if they can understand the core message from each. They should also see if they can pick out any differences in the messaging and whether they thought it was from one campaign.

3.      Continuity

Is the campaign connected to previous communications, and is it consistent through time? Solid and successful campaigns that ran for many years are built on the same core message or creative idea. They also use updated media and different ways of bringing the message to life.

The best way marketers can identify if their campaigns have continuity is to test with other people not part of the ideation process. They should show them the current and previous communications and campaigns material and throw in a few random pieces from competitors. They should then ask them which appear to be from the same company and how obvious it is.

4.      Complementary

The whole idea of integrated communications campaigns is to ensure synergy – how well all the different elements of the campaign complement each other. So it’s like a well-designed room where the various elements selected are interesting individually and work together as a whole.

When marketers step back and look at the elements of their communications, they should be amazed. Again, it’s best to test first on people before launching campaigns to see if they react with amazement or not.

What are the Advantages of an Integrated Marketing Campaign?

The goal of an integrated marketing communications campaign is to ensure customers receive the same message when interacting with a company’s different marketing channels. Below are the advantages of integrated marketing communications campaigns:

1.      Builds Trust

Integrated marketing campaigns focus on building a relationship with the customer. Companies try to build rapport by increasing their brand awareness and improving their reputation. Successful integrated communications campaigns get customers talking about the brands and their products in casual conversations, similar to how one might mention seeing a new movie or running into an old friend.

An IMC campaign strategy helps builds trust between brands and their customers. Messaging that values and pursues consistency and clarity will result in more understanding from the target audience. An organization’s various departments must say the same thing and share the same message. Hence, consumers know who to trust.

2.      Improves Brand Consistency

One significant benefit of IMC is that marketers can effectively communicate a consistent brand story and messaging across various communication channels to create awareness.

Consumers spend more time on PCs and mobile devices, so marketers seek to weave together multiple brand exposures using different touchpoints but with the same messaging. Companies can then review their IMC campaign performance in its entirety rather than as fragmented pieces.

3.      Allows for Personalized Marketing Campaigns

Companies that send targeted marketing messages have increased brand loyalty. For example, sending customers birthday messages and well wishes or addressing them by their first name via email goes a long way in creating positive experiences about the company.

Personalized communications extend to more than personalized email messages. They also involve loyalty programs that reward customers with offers or limited-time discount campaigns.

4.      Integrated Marketing is Everywhere

Integrated marketing appears everywhere, on TV, radio, and social platforms. As a result, today’s advertisements are in tune with individual interests, making them effective. For example, customers will see Snickers commercials on TV between episodes of their favorite programming. They will also see them during the Superbowl and at their local mall while shopping.

5.      Effective

IMC works. Reaching millions of impressions on social media is not an easy task. Although such success requires companies to strategize every step they take when done well, these campaigns can also allow users and potential customers to help with some marketing. For example, customers waiting in line and tweeting or posting about it on Facebook increases interest and awareness. The IMC campaign is an investment, but the surrounding publicity is free.

6.      Cost-Effective

IMC campaigns can reduce a company’s marketing costs by developing multi-use materials such as videos, imagery, and copy, which easily pass from one medium to another. It ensures consistency and keeps companies from hiring designers for several jobs.

7.      Creates Competitive Advantage

IMC creates a competitive advantage for SMBs looking to boost their sales and profits. SMBs usually operate on a smaller marketing budget with limited staff. Therefore, they can use IMC to immerse customers in communications and help move them through the various buying process stages. As a result, SMBs can simultaneously consolidate their image, develop a dialogue, and nurture relationships with customers throughout the exchange.

8.      Return on Investment

United messages across different platforms are more effective at increasing a company’s return on investment than several disparate advertisements or commercials.

Creating an integrated marketing campaign takes a lot of strategic planning, like a themed birthday party. First, the marketing team comes up with the original idea, then brainstorms ways to execute it. So if the theme is superheroes, then the decorations, favors, and games should fit that theme. Otherwise, marketing risks having a misunderstanding with the target audience.

How to Design an Integrated Marketing Communications Campaign

Designing an integrated marketing communications campaign is more complicated than running billboard advertisements, TV commercials, or social media campaigns. Marketers use multiple channels to push the same message or idea, so there is no step-by-step process everybody can follow to execute the perfect campaign.

Part of running a successful IMC campaign is deciding what is best for the company. It requires understanding the target audience, defining goals and metrics, choosing the proper communication channels, and creating a cohesive workflow to ensure alignment, among other things.

A lot goes into developing a successful integrated communications campaign. Below are a few ideas on what steps most likely go into the design phase:

1.      Understand Your Audience

When developing an IMC campaign, it’s critical to start by thoroughly analyzing and determining the target audience – often made up of existing and prospective customers. It’s also essential to decide on the characteristics of the target customers, including age, gender, income, education level, and geographic location.

For example, if one of the personas a brand targets is baby boomers, email marketing and Facebook work best. On the other hand, Millennials prefer texting, Twitter, and Instagram, while Gen Z frequent social channels like TikTok.

Marketers can then address customers’ needs by identifying the needs of the targeted demographics to create buyer personas.

2.      Define Your Goals and Success Metrics

Before beginning an integrated marketing communications campaign, determining the brand’s marketing goals could mean the difference between failure and success. Teams should never start any work without understanding what is expected from them and what the brand stands to gain. Is it more engagements? Or is it increasing the overall annual recurring revenue?

Apart from the goals of the IMC campaign, it’s also critical to establish success metrics and how to measure them. Marketers need to know if the campaign is a success and how to improve it moving forward.

3.      Choose the Communication Channels

Part of the integrated communications strategy is determining the marketing communication methods to leverage. Marketers should first consider the target audience and how they prefer to receive information, research brands, and gather facts on the problem they want to solve.

After identifying the target audience, marketers can determine the appropriate channels for the specific campaign. These include:

  • Content Marketing: It involves making the brand’s content available online through blog content, premium content, video marketing, paid ads (pop-ups), and dynamic website content. Online content helps potential buyers connect with the brand and learn more about its products and solutions before starting their buyer journey. The aim is to increase traffic to the company website for lead conversion.
  • Email Marketing: Email helps re-engage existing audiences through unique, personalized, and valuable content. Marketers should consider the existing contacts as much as they do potential customers and how to re-engage them through content. However, it’s not always about generating new leads. Instead, the most impactful marketing efforts come from delivering appropriate content at the right time to existing subscribers.
  • Social Media Marketing: Social media has opened the doors to building relationships, generating website traffic, reaching wider audiences, and developing brand awareness. Therefore, when marketers combine it with content, email, and other digital marketing channels, it can bring exceptional results because it connects brands with target audiences on platforms they are already frequent.

4.      Create a Workflow

An integrated marketing campaign has numerous moving parts and spreads across multiple channels. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a clear and defined workflow to ensure no steps are left out, deadlines are met, everything runs accordingly, and nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Creating a workflow is especially critical for teams working together that have never collaborated before. Every team member must know where to send their work and how to coordinate with others throughout the process. Everybody working on the campaign should be moving towards the same finish line. Executing an efficient and successful IMC campaign has no time for misunderstandings.

5.      Consider the Customer Decision-Making Process

Understanding the customer decision-making process helps marketers know why they would choose to buy from the company. It’s critical to know the problems that target audiences are trying to solve, how to help them solve them, and how to promote the brand’s value proposition. Some customers use extended decision-making, while others make limited or spontaneous buying decisions. Brands selling B2B software will likely face a longer decision-making process due to the increased number of people involved.

Companies that understand the nature of consumer behavior and the decision-making process can enhance their IMC campaign’s effectiveness by tailoring their message accordingly.

The Communication Process and the Role of Public Relations

Public relations (PR) is a must-have and natural leader of integrated marketing communication campaigns, focusing on stakeholder relationships and needs. PR is an effective way to build on marketing strategies and create a solid brand and online reputation. Companies have caught on and are investing significant money, effort, and time into their PR strategies.

Public relations is concerned with controlling the narrative to protect the interests and reputation of the brand. However, even the best PR strategies need quality content before turning it into news and spinning it in favor of the company. Therefore, having a successful IMC campaign with similar messaging that resonates with the brand and its stakeholders makes PR teams’ jobs easier.

Public relations is not all about damage control. It is also about sending the right messages to the right people and places and creating a more substantial brand reputation. PR agencies work with their clients to achieve this and promote their business within their client industries.

While IMC may be more concerned with marketing dominance, PR stands to gain from its emphasis on creating solid relationships with all stakeholders.

Why is IMC Essential to a Successful Business?

Integrated marketing communications is essential for successful businesses because it helps pull brands’ message points together into a cohesive whole, ensuring the core message is not confusing or disjointed.

Today, there are numerous marketing channels, each competing for consumers’ attention. Additionally, different people within brands could lead the different channels. As a result, today’s companies allocate marketing budgets towards trade promotions, branding, public relations, advertising, and consumer promotions.

Unfortunately, brands are also pulling money from mass media and other traditional advertising tools instead of using them to complement their marketing efforts. Hence, integration is needed to help brands relay a clear message, regardless of the channel.

IMC campaigns represent the perfect opportunity for brands to show customers the extent of their creativity while delivering distinct messages across multiple channels. The brand’s name could bounce around in thousands of emails, text messages, and weekend brunch conversations when done right. It could also go viral on social media platforms.

The effects of awareness and attention are impossible to measure ultimately, but they could boost sales and increase profit margins.

What is the Goal of an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan?

Brands may think that their marketing is the best globally, but the reality is that target audiences will forget it quickly if they experience it only once. In addition, other factors such as short attention spans and competing marketing content also affect how audiences interact with promotional material.

Companies can only impact by coordinating their messaging and reminding consumers about their brand and products even if they know. Therefore, the goal of IMC plans is to consistently push the same brand messaging across multiple channels to increase its exposure.

What are the Primary Tools for Integrated Marketing Communications?

Integrated marketing communications methods are the promotional tools marketers use to push content. These include the following:

  • Public relations
  • Internet marketing (content marketing, SEO tactics, webinars, blogs, etc.)
  • Advertising (TV ads, online ads, banners, newspapers, billboards, etc.)
  • Direct marketing
  • Sales promotion

Marketers must decide on the right mix of traditional and digital communication tools to build a solid brand-consumer relationship with the target audience. Regardless of the tools marketers use, they need to push consistent and credible messaging across all the channels.

Measuring the Effectiveness of IMC

The advantage of digital marketing strategy and tools such as internet marketing and social media is measuring the IMC campaign’s effectiveness.

Measuring the campaign’s effectiveness on social media should surpass tracking likes and shares. Instead, marketers should tie the results of their social media campaigns to business goals like conversions, brand recall, and brand awareness.

Marketers can also use vanity metrics to gauge the overall presence of the campaign on digital channels. However, they should not be the only source of measurement. Other metrics include:

  • Awareness: Followers count, mentions, reach, shares, and retweets
  • Website traffic: Social media clicks, bounce rate, etc.
  • Lead generation: Social media and website conversions
  • Brand engagement: Likes, shares, retweets, mentions, reviews, Q&As
  • Customer service: Response time, reviews, and customer satisfaction scores

Companies now lean towards individual marketing efforts by initiating conversations using bots and customer service representatives. They also position themselves as market leaders and experts by sharing quality online content such as white papers, reviews, infographics, studies, and videos. Marketers can measure such engagement using metrics like views, time spent on documents, and downloads.

The Bottom Line

Integrated marketing communications is a strategic, promotional, and joint marketing function where a targeted audience receives persuasive and consistent brand messaging through various marketing channels and at different touchpoints. In addition, everything integrates to move buyers through the research and decision-making process (buyer’s journey).

IMC ensures brands communicate a consistent experience across all their channels. It does not mean that the channels must repetitively communicate the same messages but that all messaging converges on the brand’s underlying core message or vision.

At the most basic level, IMC ensures marketers use all the available marketing communications to amplify marketing campaigns and the brand messaging to reach the buyer persona or target audience.

Integrated Marketing Communications FAQs

How is Integrated Marketing Communications Used?

Integrated marketing communications is a strategic, promotional, and collaborative marketing function where a targeted audience receives persuasive and consistent brand messaging through various marketing channels and at different touchpoints. Everything is integrated to move buyers through the research and decision-making process (buyer’s journey).

What are the Main Objectives of IMC?

The primary objectives of IMC include creating brand awareness, increasing the desire for products, generating product interest, keeping products and solutions in front of consumers, and prompting action such as a sale.

Why is IMC Essential to a Successful Business?

Integrated marketing communications is essential for successful businesses because it helps pull brands’ message points together into a cohesive whole, ensuring the core message is not confusing or disjointed.

What are the Advantages of Integrated Marketing Communication?

The advantages of an integrated marketing campaign include building consumer trust, improving brand consistency, creating competitive advantage, allowing personalized marketing campaigns, having ever-present marketing content, and cost-effectiveness.

What are the Disadvantages of IMC?

The disadvantages of IMC stem from the need for different marketing channels to act coherently and cohesively in a synchronized manner. They include high costs of campaigns, difficulties managing content across various channels, information overload, problems measuring ROI, not being geared for all businesses, and inability to reach national and interactions audiences due to cultural differences.

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