Though many scholars have not agreed with the common definition of integrated marketing communication, majority agree that it is a business process that is audience-driven. It strategically manages the stakeholders’ channels, content, and the results of the brand communication programs (Kliatchko 2008, p.137).
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Belch and Belch (2006) argue that it is a theory of marketing communication framework that acknowledges the value of all-inclusive arrangements that assess the tactical functions of a wide range of strategic areas of marketing such as sales promotion, advertising, public relations and the direct response.
In other words, it integrates all the areas of marketing disciplines. In essence, integrated marketing communication is a concept that brings together all marketing disciplines in order to provide precision, reliability and optimal impact on communication (Kitchen & De Pelsmacker, 2004).
However, most of the definitions of IMC have derived their arguments from the centralised idea. That is, bringing all the instruments of communications together, its synergistic effect and the homogeneity of the communications (Belch &Belch, 2006). From this perspective, IMC coordinates the other entire marketing communication tools. Therefore, IMC has more value when judged against conventional communications (Kliatchko, 2008, p.137). From the viewpoint of consumer, integrated marketing communication is considered vital.
Development of IMC
Since its inception as a theoretical concept in the last decade, integrated marketing communication has been accepted in the management circles. In essence, not only in the management circles has the concept been conceptualised as a practice but also in academics where it is regarded as a formal field of study (Belch &Belch, 2006).
From early 1990s to mid-2000s, IMC was seen just as a marketing communication tool that integrates other disciplines of marketing. Later, it was considered as a vital strategic process that brings together other marketing communication strategies (Kliatchko 2008, p.137). Currently, IMC is understood as a business process rather than being seen as mere coordination of marketing communication tools (Kliatchko 2008, p.137).
The most important consideration in the conceptualisation of the IMC is its applicability as well as its implementation within the organisations. The concerns over its applications focus on areas such as its impact on the current advertising as well as in the practices of marketing communication (Cornelissen & Lock 2000, p.78).
In this area, researchers analyse how the total quality management processes are supported by the integrated communications within the organisation as well as the challenges that are faced by organisation in regards to the IMC implementation.
IMC has also been studied in relation to public relations. The studies have examined how integrated communication marketing can be incorporated with public relations (Kliatchko 2008, p.138). However, critics from this particular viewpoint argue that the IMC is biased and has a narrow point of view of public relations (Cornelissen & Lock 2000, p.84).
The concept has also been studied in relation to marketing and the implications of the IMC concepts to marketing relationships. The study indicates that implementing an approach that is more humanistic to marketing relationships results in long-lasting interactions between the consumers and the marketers (Kliatchko 2008, p.140).
Moreover, the general social nature of the businesses and in particular marketing depends on the relations that the marketers create between them and the consumers. In addition, understanding the role of communications is vital in maintaining the profitable stakeholder’s relationship (Kliatchko 2008, p.140).
As indicated, the major areas of study in IMC concern its definitions, understanding theoretical foundations surrounding the concept and perceptions. Besides, the implementation and practice of IMC within the organisations, disagreements, conflicts, as well as the opposing views also emerged as hot topics that have drawn a lot of interests (Cornelissen & Lock 2000, p.84).
Conceptualisation of IMC
IMC has been conceptualised as the business process that is consultative (Kliatchko 2008, p.142). In other words, it purposefully deals with the stakeholders’ interest or contribution, channels as well as the results of the brand communication programs. This conceptualised framework of IMC is more encompassing and provides a broader understanding of the concept of the IMC.
Essentially, IMC approach to business planning is characterised by the vitality it offers to the various audiences or simply the public, for instance, the customers or prospects (Kliatchko 2008, p.142). The customers or the prospects are the major driving forces in all the decisions that the businesses make.
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The IMC concept is considered to be customer-oriented and demand-driven (Kliatchko 2008, p.142). That is, IMC is a business process that has an outward-looking orientation. It has moved away from the inward-looking mindset that traditional organisations used to apply while managing their marketing communication (Kitchen & De Pelsmacker, 2004).
As opposed to traditional approaches to marketing communications, IMC applies the one-to-one marketing strategies as well as the relational model. Additionally, IMC applies business and marketing strategies that is consumer-focused. IMC besides enables organisations to market their products anchored on consumer benefits and customer relations (De Pelsmacker et al. 2004). Furthermore, IMC business process focuses on customer retention and fact-based marketing.
These are not the only attributes of IMC. IMC put into consideration the consumers, convenience, consumer cost and communication. The principle of IMC is based on the consumer dialogue and targeted communications as well as the mindset to the multiple, interactive, relevant, digital contact points together with media neutrality (Kliatchko 2008, p.144).
Instead of chocking the audiences with the advertising messages as seen in the conventional communication mindset, IMC focuses on building relationships. Furthermore, it focuses on the extra value proposition in addition to behavioural and accountable measures (De Pelsmacker et al. 2004).
As can be observed, IMC is data-driven and customer-centric (Kliatchko 2008, p.143). The IMC business process approach should be understood from the development of its target audience as the guiding principle in determining the marketing and branding objectives in addition to the strategies.
In other words, the business process of the IMC is demand-driven business model. IMC understands and manages the whole of the customers experience, including their needs, desires, wants and behaviour in the market (Kliatchko 2008, p.143). Therefore it aligns the entire organisation to meet the customer requirements.
In the implementation process, IMC engage both the operational and corporate levels of an organisation (Pickton & Broderick, 2005). Each of these levels emphasises on the vital managerial and strategic issues that are vital in the implementation of the business processes. At the corporate level, managers are expected to have a holistic view of the business, define the extent of the business operations, determines the business mission, vision, goals and objectives (Kliatchko 2008, p.144).
In addition, the managers are supposed to focus on strategies that are driven towards building the corporate brand as well as promote a solid customer point of reference in the management of business processes. The organisation managers at this level have the responsibility of safeguarding the image, reputation and identity of the organisation (Fill, 1999). The managers have the task of integrating all the functional units of the firm so as to deliver what will end up satisfying the customers.
At the operation level, the managers are supposed to be focusing on planning, implementation, and managing the IMC process (Kliatchko 2008, p.144). In the management process, IMC measurements should be emphasised. All these processes begin with acknowledging the customer needs, desires and behavioural patterns of the multiple markets. In other words, the IMC business processes take into consideration both the external and internal audiences that the organisation has interaction with in the market place (Shimp, 2008).
In addition, managers are supposed to develop and analyse the particular strategic programs that will allow the firm to compete successfully in the market place. Essential in the whole process is to manage the customer relationships that will ensure long-term profitability of the firm (Kliatchko 2008, p.144). At this level proper coordination with other marketing communication agencies such as advertising is highly required so as to properly implement the IMC program.
Critical analysis of IMC
Via the utilisation of the hindsight sextant, the principle of drawing on numerously integrated marketing communication techniques have apparently emanated to be an acknowledged industrial concept. In fact, while the evolution of IMC continues, many manuscripts have emerged to discuss and argue the IMC prototype in its individual accuracy.
Theories that have been discussed critically assists in defining IMC and marketing communications. The concepts explain the ideas which support the IMC model while concurrently showing that several novel principles, practices and theories started to surface in the fiscal 90s. However, all of them significantly impacted marketing communications. Based on the milieu outlook, they incorporated:
- The information technology engine which allowed considerable clients data manipulation and holding
- The agency practices development namely networks, multi-office structures, multi-country, practices driven by the needs of the customers, organisational learning, clients mirroring, globalisation and internationalisation
- The internet usage as a source of info, distribution tool, transaction facilitator and communication channel
- The verity that changes have occurred in the communications forms, the globe and nature, hence the management and development of marketing practices should equally change
Basically, each of the above-named changes has been drawn on by scholars in buttressing arguments that concern IMC development. As depicted by early literature on Integrated Marketing Communication, it is true that the concept has immensely enthused considerable interests in the world of marketing.
Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) showed in their paper that various arguments, philosophies and enquiries they reviewed depicted that IMC was a comparatively novel concept but was a vibrant research area that appeared to be in the initial development stage.
Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) further reveals that, even though there have previously been various cynicisms that surrounded the IMC campaign value, it is apparent that little doubts are casted that integrated marketing communication is a concept that has just emerged and whose epoch materialises to have disembarked.
There are some questions that have been left unanswered. For instance, has literature been conquered so simply by IMC? Or has IMC concept been voluntarily absorbed by public relations agencies, advert agencies and customers? From various scholarly sources, there are nonconforming accents amongst the up-surging approved choruses. Perhaps, the IMC weaknesses could be illustrated by considering its aspects from both the negative and positive perspective.
The cons and pros as regards to Integrated Marketing Communications
Disparate voices and different views have emerged to explain each piece of innovative theory and novel thinking as argument that concerns whether e-commerce is a representation of the bubble economy or new economy. Similarly, when the IMC conception began, adverts gurus favoured the IMC concept as they saw it to be the most excellent to all humanities. Conversely, public relations instructors remained to be passionately resistant and opposed.
Many public relations practitioners and thinkers viewed integrated marketing communication concept not just an infringement but equally as a kind of marketing and advertising imperialism where concerns relating to public relations were aired. This is because the management functions entailed public relations whereas promotions and various kinds of advertising appear as components of marketing functions.
Kliatchko (2008) asserted that the concept of IMC emanated merely as a pretext for the advert groups to overwhelm public associations in order to manage customers’ funds reductions for purposes of mass media relations. Nevertheless, Cornelissen and Lock (2000) conducted a research with public relations and adverts practitioners.
The results showed that IMC enjoyed the overwhelming support of public relations professionals who clarified the concept was accepted as a necessity as well as reality. Furthermore, the argument is that public relations have a lot for contributing to the IMC thinking and accrue some benefits from the integrated marketing communication concept.
It was after several years had passed that scholars began questioning the novelty of the integrated marketing communication concept. Pickton and Broderick (2005) claim that integrated marketing communication massiveness seems to be advancement analogous to marketing and adverts, which merely fakes marketing and just renames as well as reinvents the general theories. In some instances, academics have equated integrated marketing communication concept to newfangled wines that have been put in aged wineskins.
On the other hand, debates have cropped up questioning whether IMC persists as an advancing academic theory or a management fashion. Pickton and Broderick (2005) reported that doubts have been casted on the actual importance and theoretical robustness of IMC concept in promoting and marketing practices and thoughts.
Literature according to these scholars shows that IMC concept is apparently viewed like an uncomplicated rhetoric while from their viewpoints; integrated marketing communication tool is just a managing fashion which is evidenced by its need for transient influence and definition.
Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) disproved the dare by asserting that the citations made by Cornelissen and Lock (2000) materialised to be incomplete and selected by place and focus according to the public relations discipline. In essence, they claimed that integrated marketing communication concept itself appeared to be in a pre-paradigm advancement phase; therefore, it was not barred by acknowledged description.
Other scholars supported the views of Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) claiming that IMC is a key theoretical model that is not unlike other strategies, methodologies, managerial and marketing concepts which have emerged (Pickton & Broderick, 2005).
All the current concepts have behavioural, discursive and evolutionary histories which specific concepts have redefined and defined several time. Thus, similar to other theoretical constructs developed by different authors, whose focal points are on inductive approaches, IMC is amongst the representatives of emerging paradigmatically theoretical developments.
IMC is further criticised based on its lack of efficiency in measuring the integrated marketing communication programs. Whereas Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) urged that a lot of concentration ought to be given to the measurement of marketing communication performance outcome instead of output, the authors raised more apprehension.
The fears were that various marketing activities are hardly measurable while the communication impacts and effects values have appeared to be even much weaker. Hence, IMC does not only have the measurability problem, but every marketing communication basic behavioural concerns. Besides, the measurements of the promotional mix elements which have multifaceted interactions seem to be more complex and could be above the currently available methodological tools.
Regardless of the fact IMC concept has received much criticism claiming that the theory has been extended and disputed, the IMC initiative is welcomed and acknowledged by most leading writers and theorists in the field of marketing. The scholars dedicate most of their writings to IMC avowing that the concept has replaced the phrase marketing communication.
This derivative theory or IMC is currently diffused making it to be generally executed by various firms and marketing agencies globally. Despite the approaches of IMC being widely developed, it is apparent that the concept is still in its premature development phases.
Countries like Latin America, which give more value to the IMC concept viability, in both service and retail marketing have remarkable reports on the concept. The findings by Kliatchko (2008) showed that IMC approaches are valuable specifically as a way of coordinating messages and media delivery fundamentals in styles. IMC, therefore, offers means of linking behavioural reactions to advert messages and media vehicles.
Barriers to the development and implementation of IMC
Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) claim that IMC has four stages instigating from the marketing fundamentals strategic coordination, marketing communications scope redefining, IT application as well as the strategic and financial integration. Empirical studies reveal that IMC has many stages that corporations hardly finish to implement.
In fact, companies only fulfill the implementation of stages one and two while just a few will move to stages three and four. Given that integrated marketing communication enables diverse marketing communication messages ensuing from various channels to merge and produce coherent brand and corporate images, Belch and Belch (2006) assert that the biggest IMC implementation barrier is lack of cross-disciplinary management skills.
Pickton and Broderick (2005) on the other hand report that the encountered turf battles and corporations egos are the major obstacles to the implementation and integration of the IMC elements. Fill (1999) acknowledged the four potential groups of barriers to the implementation and success of IMC.
These included modification and flexibility issues; overall resources and agency talents or skills; cultural organisation and clients skills issues; and control, coordination and power issues. Kitchen and De Pelsmacker (2004) insist that during the IMC implementation, the manner in which corporations are made up totally makes it very challenging and hard to implement and integrate the IMC model.
The argument is that customary control and command structures ought to be replaced with newly devised swift retort models. Besides, corporations’ managers should avoid focusing on outputs but on outcomes in order to make IMC implementation and integration to be realised.
Undoubtedly, the understanding of the IMC concept has been broadly built and the global dissemination of the model is apparent. Such diffusions and advancements are anchored on the essential niche factors which depict improved acceleration in the current century. This appropriately augers the prospective advancement in the integrated marketing construct and the related IMC.
However, integrated marketing communication has eminently provoked intense criticisms as well as diverse discussions. It is believed that the late 1980s hypothetical parameters and forces that caused the emergence of IMC cannot be applied in the current world. Still, the IMC concept has become widely recognised and acknowledged despite various issues that require advanced analysis and explorations.
Belch, G. E. & Belch, M. A. 2006, Advertising and promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective, McGraw-Hill, Boston.
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.
De Pelsmacker, P., Geuens, M. & Van den Bergh, J. 2004, Marketing communications: A European perspective, Prentice Hall, Harlow.
Fill, C. 1999, Marketing communications: contexts, contents and strategies, Prentice Hall, London.
Kitchen, P. & De Pelsmacker, 2004, Integrated marketing communications: A primer, Routledge, New York.
Kliatchko, J. 2008, “Revisiting the IMC construct”, International Journal of Advertising, pp.133-160.
Pickton, D. & Broderick, A. 2005, Integrated marketing communications, Pearson Education, England.
Shimp, T. A. 2008, Integrated marketing communications: Advertising and promotion, Thomson South Western, USA.