The currently integrated marketing communication concepts have been developing over time. They have moved from the historical marketing approaches that focused on the 4Ps to the current interactive market-place IMC.
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The argument is that marketing itself and marketing communication concepts are developing.
The development of the integrated marketing communication is illustrated through structural and theoretical perspectives of three market-places which are presented according to location and information technology control.
The assertion is that as information technology changes from one market-place to the next, definitive changes in the need for communication also develop. In addition, a furnished description of integrated marketing communication concept is provided.
Based on this description, a four-stage alteration of IMC progression has been anticipated as businesses move from one period of IMC to the next based on their capabilities in capturing and managing information technology.
In the last two decades, marketing and marketing communication have been working differently from the previous periods.
In fact, marketing and marketing communication are under crucial scrutiny, especially with the advent of information communication technology (Cornelissen & Lock, 2000).
Marketing and marketing communication emerge not only under the scrutiny of the organization boardrooms but also questioned around the globe. This scenario is quite unique, given the current information age.
From this contrast, it can be deduced that marketing and marketing communication are undergoing a transformation. These evolutions provide a stage in which new approaches to marketing, communication and marketing communication could be innovated and implemented.
Various researches recently done indicate that the integration of marketing communication tools offer the best solution to the current problems being faced.
Integration is the incorporation of a wide range of activities and functions that have influence and impact on the dynamic flow of information between the firm and the stakeholders (Belch & Belch, 2006).
The stakeholders, in this case, comprise of the customers, employees, shareholders, prospects as well as other crucial audiences. In other words, focusing on independent disciplines such as the public relations, advertising and sales promotion no longer holds true.
It is also inappropriate to limit the responsibilities of marketing communication to a single outbound channel of communication.
These are old concepts that have been found to be unable to fit and fulfill the needs of the current organization, customers or prospects.
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These concepts no longer fit the current firms because they were developed for those organizations that no longer drive businesses and for the market-place that do not exist as well as for media organizations whose dominances are long gone (Belch & Belch, 2006).
Therefore, there is need for an integrated form of marketing communication that incorporates all the disciplines of marketing, and that can fit the current scenario alongside meeting the need of the current market.
This paper will be discussing this form of integrated marketing communication as it appears in the twenty-first century, putting emphasis on its application in the last twenty years.
The paper will discuss how organizations have been applying the integrated marketing communication giving detailed applications, providing examples of those organizations which have failed and those that have succeeded in their quest for integrated marketing communication.
The discussions will be in relation to the approaches of IMC applied in the current global market-place.
Transformations of marketing communication
It has been found that approaches to IMC have gone through minimal changes. However, the market-place where most organizations operate have transformed substantially (Fill, 1999). The dynamic transformations have been driven by the application of information technology.
The traditional market-place was dominated by the mass market where the mass media-driven organizations were devoted to product differentiation.
These organizations employed the information technology in areas including mass distribution systems, consumer research and mass media to capture the largest share of the market (Cornelissen & Lock, 2000).
They also applied such strategies, including product differentiation and brand development in order to dominate the market. Early market-places were dominated by first entry organizations.
By virtue of being the first in the market-place, these organizations captured the larger market share, dominated the media and distribution channels as well as consumer using distinguished services or products which could not easily be simulated (Hutton, 1996).
With the development of technology, market-place began to change as products proliferated, albeit few attributes to distinguish them from their competitors (Hutton, 1996). In addition, the media became more specialized and fragmented.
There was tremendous consolidation within channel segments.
The acquisitions and integration of business have been occurring at a higher frequency as stronger organizations continue to acquire weaker competitors and expand the franchise into new regions and markets (Kitchen & De Pelsmacker, 2004).
As a result, businesses that were traditionally localized have expanded to international levels giving buyers massive influence on bargaining with the manufacturers (Fill, 1999).
As the organizations go through these changes, information technology also shifted its focus to the distribution channels away from the marketers or manufacturers.
The computers, Universal Product Code dubbed UPC, magnetic strip bank, scanners and credit cards made it cheap, easy and fast to capture data on consumers (Pickton & Broderick, 2005). For instance, who the consumers are, where they buy and what are their preferences.
The shift in IT altered the power in the market-place with the distribution channels being favored over the marketers and the manufacturers (Schultz & Schultz, 1998). The reason is that the distribution channels have more information than the markets or the manufactures.
Today, the consumer product categories are dominated by retail that has close relationship with the consumer.
With this realization, the large organization has changed their marketing strategy using highly sophisticated retail distribution channels.
Changes in the market-place as a result of information technology determines the way large organizations will be spending their marketing funds through pricing and location to sway and hold the customers (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
Currently, the market-place is dominated by the retail and distribution systems that control the direct access to consumers and end-users.
However, a new model is emerging where the consumers are dominating. The reason is that the consumers have become the controller of IT.
Systems such as the tall free numbers, international credit cards, overnight delivery services have already been developed and in the hands of the consumer (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
With these technology, consumers can identify the products, easily access information and make purchases at any time and in any place they find convenient.
The current market-place is interactive, fast and easy, driven by internet and World Wide Web and it is more convenient than ever before (Shimp, 2008). This form of market is brought about by IT, which in effect drives the electronic commerce.
In other words, IT has changed the status quo where the market-place is driven by the needs of the consumers, when they need the product and the condition in which they want their products.
In addition, the consumers have a direct linkage with the producers; make a decision on important issues, the product values and the type of correlations are required (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
The need for new approaches to marketing communication
It is unfortunate that the existing marketing and marketing communication advances and theories are intended for the conventional market-place.
The indication is that new changes that are taking place in the current market-place have not been tested or new models have not been developed for the current market-place practices.
The market-place is currently moving towards the consumer from the marketer/manufacturer domination (Pickton & Broderick, 2005). It is as a result of IT that these changes are taking place.
The transformation of IT is the driving force for these changes and at the same time, enables communication solutions.
As discussed, IT was formerly used by the marketing/manufacturing organizations so as to have the market power, it then used by the distribution channels and eventually exceeded to the consumer (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
Each of these market-places has specific needs of marketing and marketing communication tools. Moreover, every market-place has a fundamental necessity to put together the communications.
However, these integration communication need becomes more complex as market-place changes (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
As was mentioned before, marketing and marketing communications must transform to be in accordance with the needs of the current market-place (Pickton & Broderick, 2005). Successful organizations tend to adopt new communication tools that are appropriate to each market position.
Moreover, as the organizations changes to the new market-places, they encounter various challenges in their marketing communication program (Hutton, 1996). These challenges signify the stages of integrated marketing communication.
In as much as organizations have moved away from the traditional market-places, some categories of organizations in some places are still found in such market.
For instance, those organizations protected by patents and organizations that enjoy near-absolute or absolute monopolistic distribution advantages or products (Schultz & Schultz, 1998). However, as deregulation and competition increase the advantages these companies enjoy will eventually erode.
In this traditional market-place, the main communication challenge is to come up with compelling and concordant massages, which can be delivered in a coordinated and synergistic way (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
This is a challenge, particularly as the structure of the companies operating in these markets expands and they become international.
Initially, integrated marketing communication was a response to the practical needs of the organization to achieve more significant impact and consistency across different products divisions and regions (Schultz & Schultz, 1998). Some organizations still use the same approach.
As the market develops into the current market-place, organizations need to be imaginative and novel in their marketing plan.
In addition, they must create a better configuration between the marketing and marketing communication as well as field sales forces to enhance the significance of their brand in the eyes of both the channel and ultimate purchasers (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
This demands for coordinated, multi-level approach to communication that take into consideration end-users channel customers, consumers and the organization employees (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
The evolving IMC concept
IMC has been discussed by both practitioners and academics for approximately a decade before they can reach an accord on what exactly is IMC and how marketers benefit from it.
Major agencies and advertisers in the United States in their studies acknowledge IMC as a marketing communication planning concept which is acquainted with the added values of an all-inclusive program that assesses the premeditated functioning of various communication disciplines.
The disciplines include public relations, sales promotion, direct responses and general advertising. IMC merges all these disciplines to offer maximum communication impact, consistency and clarity.
Schultz and Schultz (1998) conducted a research in 1996 to find out whether the IMC definition was adequate. Their findings indicated that executives from most advertising agencies had nothing to add in this definition.
However, other executives quoted that the product message and consumers materialize as the starting points. Others claimed that IMC is more than just a plan and should incorporate quantifying and measurement elements since it emerges as a product-oriented concept.
It commences with clients orientation and initiates integrated strategies that other disciplines might endeavour to work against. Initially, organizations concentrated on marketing communication operations and tactics.
Such organizations have recently recognized that there must be a more comprehensive and holistic approach to justify their actions to the corporations’ management and build customer relationships (Belch & Belch, 2006).
Considering changes in marketing communication management context and how organizations have implemented IMC, a novel definition capturing both the future and current IMC scope has been developed.
According to the new definition, integrated marketing communication is observed as a strategic business procedure.
It can be utilized in planning, developing, executing, and evaluating persuasive, measurable, coordinated brand communiqué programmes overtime with prospects, clients, consumers as well as other relevant internal and external objectives.
The current definition of IMC is distinct from the previous attempts, given that its concentration is on business procedures and actions. Since the primary target for all businesses is to attract and retain clients, the currently applied IMC concept creates systems that are closed-looped.
These enable each communication activity to be properly evaluated, implemented and planned. In fact, IMC is presently being driven or directed by clients’ information.
It requires corporations to comprehend clients brand contacts and perceptions, but of great essence is to offer fundamental methodologies unto which all investment decisions can be evaluated and communicated.
That is, when compared to the past, IMC currently lays more emphasis on potential and current values of consumers to a corporation by focusing on clients evaluations (Shimp, 2008).
The current levels of Integrated Marketing Communication
Apparently, integration does not have a single path. Every corporation tends to approach the IMC opportunities and challenges based on the availability of clients’ information, channel dependency and business nature.
These must, however, have the support of the management and strategically directed by the corporation.
Due to IMC implications, barriers and issues, organizations have adopted a sequential pattern of achieving success in their business endeavors and the main focus is to satisfy clients’ needs.
Thus, corporations that are truly integrated are obliged to display competencies in the requirements and activities in all the four phases (Cornelissen & Lock, 2000).
First phase: Tactical coordination
Most corporations enter into integrated marketing communication system to synchronize varied communication activities across countries, regions, divisions and products.
From the fiscal 1980 to 1990s, corporations adopted various techniques and tools in sending messages to business prospects and clients. During these periods, marketing communication as was used in earlier markets constituted mostly of partial options.
These included broad-based public relations, outdoor billboards, mass circulation of magazines, major metro newspapers and broadcast advertising.
Nevertheless, as most media systems emerged to be more fragmented and specialized, each of them had tailored campaigns directed towards delivering typical messages to the specialised consumers segments (Jackson, 1987).
Furthermore, the customarily used marketing communication tools that experienced tremendous growth. Such marketing tools included sponsorships, cooperative ventures, custom publishing, event marketing, sales promotions, direct marketing, as well as interactive and electronic tools.
According to this phase, IMC initially promised to create one sound, one sight through instituting a general organization intended to merge communication forecast.
Often, marketing communication was centralized, whereby planning each and every campaign element took place in concerts to help realise enhanced success.
Others promoted the development of strong business strategies on tones, usage and instituting business messages while leaving the marketing managers to execute the whole plan to help achieve business outcomes (Belch & Belch, 2006).
The main aim of the adopted IMC strategies was to ensure that all the consumers and clients’ needs are met.
Cross functionality is an added hallmark in the first phase of integration. Various corporations have developed different cross-functional approaches to realize advance competencies.
This is not only meant to manage personal communication efforts but to similarly achieve dynamism and synergies athwart all the undertaken activities.
Beside, marketing divisions in the last twenty years have created cross-functional marketing teams that consist of direct marketing, public relations, communication experts and specialties. The main aim of these teams is to attract and retain the attention of consumers.
Such teams create multidimensional communication and media on particular services and products (Kliatchko, 2008).
Investing in cross-functional communication expert training is another approach that currently enables departmental market members to have confidence in the most efficient strategies and applications in various communiqué tools.
Marketing agencies have particularly adopted the one sound, one sight promise approach. This is because they have seen integrated marketing communication as an opening for offering greater service menus to the consumers.
Basically, key marketing agencies have gone thru a frantic period as they try to purchase particular discipline associates across the globe and acquire specialty stores in public relations, sales promotion and direct marketing.
The aim is to effortlessly service all the consumers’ demands using a broad-based agency umbrella (Hutton, 1996).
The approach is actually diverse. Whereas many companies search for agency conglomerates so as to organize and integrate the assorted programmes across the universe, other corporations give preferences to managing the processes of integration themselves.
This means that various suppliers and agencies that hardly have direct contacts are used by these corporations that keep the coordination tasks in-house.
The second phase: Redefining the marketing communication scope
The level of consistency and coordination is hardly enough for most corporations. This obliges them to redefine the marketing communication scope.
In reality, corporations are currently attempting to switch to the viewpoints of the end-users, consumers, and clients from the widely embraced corporate operation driven viewpoint.
Instead of seeing marketing communiqués as outbound activities sequences that ought to be managed to attain the desired level of efficiency and effectiveness, marketing organizations are currently considering each probable point via which the consumers and clients alike might come in touch with the products or marketed brands.
Usually, the product or brands contacts have information that bear clients experience with the product or brand categories.
As a result, product brand contact experience is regarded as an aspect that varies from a particular client to next, hence a highly personalized subject (Pickton & Broderick, 2005).
Whereas the customary brand communication activities are apparently the most essential contacts for product brands, marketers are forced to look for the most effective marketing communication channels that would create an influential contact to challenge the consumers purchasing decisions.
The consumers are bound to be driven by marketing communication functions which either subtract or add substantially to the product brand identity and messages that area communicated via outbound communication actions.
As a matter fact, customers do not differentiate marketing messages coming from the accounting, operations and marketing departments.
The clients and consumers only observe their complete experiences with a corporation and accordingly form their preferences and perceptions (Duncan & Everett, 1993).
Thus, it is an essential facet of an integrated marketing communiqué to realign the communication strategies so as to appear as the clients observe them.
Corporations stand a chance of putting their marketing communication programmes under decisive reality checks when they put brand contacts and messages at each point. This assists in shifting the message focus to a clear comprehension of what consumers receive.
Besides, it would enable a corporation to understand the manner in which consumers perceive relevant brand messages.
Third phase: Application of information technology
In the past twenty years, IT has enabled business solutions and drove the marketing communication changes. Organizations through the third phase have been able to harness the emerging technologies potentials and power to improve marketing performances.
The application of IT has facilitated the manner in which product marketing messages are delivered to various targets, including business prospects and consumers.
Sophisticated mailing systems could be utilized to customize offers and generate personalized messages. Moreover, databases have been used as benchmarks for storing and capturing information related to prospects, consumers, and clients (Kliatchko, 2008).
Fourth phase: Financial and strategic integration
To orient an IMC, the organizations management must play decisive roles, including aligning the organization and allocating resources. From the closed-loop marketing communication system diagram below, it emerges that two issues are critical.
These include the capacity to measure clients’ investments returns and the capacity to utilize integrated marketing communication in driving strategic and organizational resources (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
These instigate from the present clients databases directly to indirect or direct measurement of the clients’ behaviours.
Figure 1: Closed-loop integrated marketing communication system
An example of a successful IMC campaign
“Just Do It”, is one of the integrated marketing campaigns that hard hit the market in the fiscal 1998. This campaign strategy came in when Reebok dominated the sportswear market. In fact, the Just Do It IMC campaign saw Nike Company making sales return amounting to $9.2 billion.
The campaign was indeed sweet, short and summarize anything individuals and groups felt they wanted training.
An example of an unsuccessful IMC campaign
Basically, Wal-Mart Consumer retail stores had one of the worst IMC campaigns that were deemed very unsuccessful.
The IMC campaign, “The Hub” really failed to draw and attract the attention of consumers and clients alike. Wal-Mart failed because it went and cloned MySpace and whoever the site was called “Hubsters”.
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Cornelissen, J. P. & Lock, A. R. 2000, “Theoretical concept or management fashion? Examining the significance of IMC,” Journal of Advertising Research, vol.40 no.5, pp.77-89.
Duncan, T. R. & Everett, S. S. 1993, “Client perceptions of integrated marketing communications”, Journal of Advertising Research, May/June, 30-9
Fill, C. 1999, Marketing communications: contexts, contents and strategies, Prentice Hall, London.
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Jackson, P. 1987, Corporate communications for managers, Pitman, London.
Kitchen, P. & De Pelsmacker, 2004, Integrated marketing communications: A primer, Routledge, New York.
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Pickton, D. & Broderick, A. 2005, Integrated marketing communications, Pearson Education, England.
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