Over the past decades, integration of markets has shifted from theory to practice with its application varying from one market to the other as well as from one enterprise to another. However, the integrated market communications (IMC) programs have taken a solid stand as a standard for the academic community, agencies and marketing organizations.
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Integrated marketing communication has been a major concern to many organizations, an aspect that has made it attract considerable attention globally. However, there has been argument concerning the perception of IMC with the idea that IMC should be considered more as a philosophy (Bowie & Buttle 2004, p.71)
This focus is aimed at creating room for flexibility by adapting to changes in the market. On a critical view, this idea seems to follow a path similar to that of marketing. Since the impact of IMC was felt towards the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of 21st century, it has become a major communication development with significant impact in the business environment been evident.
From its emergence, development as well as its re-emergence, aspects relating to researchers, advertising practitioners, as well as educators have found a clinging site (Barker & Angelopulo, 2005, p. 218).
IMC at a glance
IMC has diffused throughout the world within a short time period. It has also been welcomed as a guide or a norm of businesses and more so as the agencies which deal with the businesses needs. If we can take a pause and look at the state that we are currently in and try to figure out what process have contributed to this state, we can connect the situation of the IMC with Daniel Webster’s quote who said:
“… when the marine has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the element has driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float further on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we are now. I ask for a reading of resolution…” (Cited in De Mooij 2005, p.307)
In regard to the purpose and the meaning of the Integrated Market Communications, it can be considered that they have gone and still going in the course of a conjectural storm.
This is so because the initial point or meaning of IMC was associated with creation of “one-voice” phenomenon through bringing together mix elements of promotion. Nevertheless, IMC has advanced beyond this point (Beamish, 2008, p. 174). In consideration of the IMC’s starting point, one may view its ending point as an accomplishment of emergence of “integrated marketing.”
However, since integrated marketing can be considered to be connected to the frame of promotional juxtaposition, “an extension of old-style marketing covered in a new garment, this will have its rhetorical day, which eventually will pass” (Kitchen et al. 2008, 54). Conversely, IMC aims at introducing a new vibrant paradigm which will smooth the progress of business movement to marketing communications which are in line with customers as well as their interests.
It is also worth noting that for this advancement to be realized, (IMC becoming more than a promotional juxtaposition) communication had to accommodate a transformation of strategic business partnerships, from a component of tactical promotional.
This is a movement that is greatly dependent not only on theoretical literature, but in addition as according to Kitchen and Schultz (2009, p. 98), “on marketing development, the nature of the business, investments required by the businesses and the organizations that service their needs in becoming customer-oriented and customer-driven” (Applegate & Johnsen 2007, p. 517)
Development and progress
Since the 20th century, IMC has become a major developer of communication when focusing in the communications sector. IMC has gained significant attention from organizations which look at it as having a significant competitive advantage in terms of marketing. IMC has seen a long journey in its development from a point of being conceptualized as “the coordination of communication tool for a brand, to a more strategic conceptualization” (Ewing 2009, p. 111).
Initially, the conceptualization of IMC was not a clear aspect; as a result it contributed to employment of diverse approaches to the creation of messages. According to Baker & Hart (2007, p. 172) “despite of a significant quantity of time used in IMC research area, there are still existing diversities regarding the best angle in conceptualization of IMC by the researchers.”
For example, according to kitchen and Schultz (2009), “IMC is a management fashion rather than a theoretical concept,” whereas according to Cornelissen et al (2006), “IMC is an emerging paradigm whose progression as a concept and discipline is entirely appropriate and in accordance with scientific theory.” Nevertheless, if viewed from a dimension of post structural paradigmatic perspective on theory, IMC can emerge as a powerful theoretical tool (Beamish 2008, p. 352).
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IMCs aim was to integrate, combine and synergize communication mix elements. This has been an aim that had been received by organizations which have integrated their communications under a strategic marketing communication roof which is IMC. There has been a growth in the recognition of the IMC approaches and its significance in the effectiveness of marketing.
This has been more emphasized due to the budget allocation trend from the advertisement of mass media from heightening fragmentation of media as well as the segmentation of the taste and preferences of the customers.
According to Torp, (2009, p. 198) other factors that have lead to development of IMC include; “easier access to customer databases and computational resources, importance of reinforcing consumer loyalty via relationship marketing, and the importance of building and increasing a brand’s image-based equity” (Brandlow et.al., 2009, p. 319).
In the 1980s, the concept of IMC was not very much recognized. Torp (2009, p. 28) notes that “many academics and professionals involved in the marketing field regarded each function of marketing communication as an operator holding a range of autonomy degrees.”
This made the theory and practice of publicity, sales promotion and advertising among others to take different angles in their operation. Later on, wide marketing communication tool spectrum were employed which introduced a simpler way of communicating and evaluating messages. Through this development, the element of interdependence and interrelationship involved in different specialties of communication were emphasized (Chitty & Barker 2005, p. 93).
By 1991, the idea of integration was realized through the first study conducted by Caywood Schultz and Wang. Gradually, there was an increased emphasis on the unification of the existing activities of communication which were tied in one frame, with IMC being the evolving paradigm boosting this unification.
This was facilitated by the academics and professionals who were constantly exploring promotional integration methods. Duncan (2002, p. 237) notes “there was awareness that integration was the foundation of wider ramifications of marketing communications through recognition of the value of juxtaposition as well as that one of each discipline.”
A couple of years later, it was noted that global organizations and marketing managers were converging and becoming more and more similar However, many marketing managers had fear of depending on one agency in integrating their marketing communication programs. This called for more development of IMC by incorporating marketing budgets, infrastructure, skills, and staffing in it.
By the end of 20th century, the IMC curve had diffused throughout the world. This diffusion was significantly contributed to the way IMC was perceived, utilized and developed by executives in United States and United Kingdom on behalf of their clients, through analyzing the value and importance of traditional advertising agencies where IMC was accelerating its importance.
According to Mulhern (2009, p. 97), “IMC increased communication impacts, made creative ideas more effective, provided greater communication consistency and agency executives believed integrated approaches could and would improve client return on investment.” Nevertheless, despite this positive perception of IMC, there was uncertainty related to its cost and time efficiencies (Dahlen, et.al., 2010, p. 140).
Early 21st century, it recorded a rapid growth of IMC with respect to its acceptance by advertising agencies, involvement and development throughout the world. This has therefore indicated how within a sort decade the IMC program has swept throughout the planet, becoming not only a marketing and marketing communication phenomenon, but as well according to Fill (2009, p. 316), “an apparently integral part of the marketing and even corporate communication strategies of many companies.”
Definitions of IMC
Different practitioners and academics have emerged with different definitions of Integrated Marketing Communications, which have both similarities as well as differences.
According to Ferrell & Hartline (2008, p. 213) “IMC is a concept of marketing communications, a planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact.”
On the other hand, Gorchels (2003, p. 157) defines IMC as “a process which deals with managing the relationships of the customer that drives brand value.” Logically, this means that it is an integrated process which establishes and nourishes a relationship by rewarding customers and other related stakeholders through critical control or influence of every message sent to these parties as well as encouraging data-driven, purposeful dialogue with them (Hendrix & Hayes 2009, p. 66).
Unlike the second definition which has positive sequential processes of customer attraction and involvement in an attempt to satisfy their desires, the first definition only focuses in bringing together the elements of promotional mix in an attempt to acquire “one voice.” The definition ignores the fact that such an approach is possible to be internally managed despite the term “strategic” (Ones 2007, p. 55).
However, both definitions have a similar goal of having an impact in behavior by ensuring there that the communication is directed. In addition, both the definition gives more weight on the needs of the customer and they portray a result oriented perspective (Hackley & Hackley 2010, p. 364).
According to Jain (2008, p. 417), “IMC is the process of developing and implementing various forms of persuasive communications programs with customers and prospects over time.” In this case, IMC can be defined as a tool of communication, system of media planning, theoretical concept, practitioner discourse or organized behaviors and practices within organization and agencies.
In Jain’s definition, IMC is depicted as an effective knowledge of organizational participants acquired through an interactive relationship between the two parties involved. On the other hand, where the first definition brings out IMC focuses on interests of the customer, the second definition covers a wide range of marketing to include other organizational internal operations such as its behavior and practices (Jones & Beamish 2006, p. 441).
According to Finne and Gronroos (2009, p. 188) IMC can also defined as “a strategic business process used to plan, develop, execute and evaluate coordinated, measurable, persuasive brand communications programs over time with customers, consumers, employees, prospects, associates and other targeted, relevant external and internal audiences,” another definition of IMC is a notion that guarantees all forms of messages and communications are cautiously connected together by means of integrating all tools of promotion to enable them work collectively in accord.
In the first definition, there is a broader view of the specification of target groups to include both the external and internal audience as IMC targets whereas in the second definition, the focus is only confined on two-way interaction (Shimp 2009, p. 80).
However, despite the differences in all these definitions, they all portray similar features which include; customer is the key aspect of the process which then moves backward to the brand of the communicator; IMC uses all communication forms and all brand sources as prospective channels for transmitting messages; there is a need for a successful marketing communication in IMC which is necessary in enhancing the Brand-customer relationship; there is a timely, appropriate and data-driven planning and evaluation in determining the success of the process; and organization’s resources are the bases on which the tools of communication are selected in determination of their suitability to the recipient targeted (Koekemoer & Bird 2004, p. 517).
Advantages and Disadvantages of using IMC
There are various advantages and disadvantages associated with usage of IMC. Despite the fact that IMC demands a lot of effort, it has significant number of benefits which in general include increased sales and profits and provision of a competitive advantage while at the same time cutting down the cost as well as saving time and strains.
Yeshin (1998, p. 127) notes that “IMC enables customers to go through the buying process stages through concentrating communications around them.” In a parallel manner, the organizations are able to create their images, develop a dialogue and cultivate their relationship with stakeholders.
This is a relationship that helps win the loyalty of the customers which ensures that the organization is protected from customer shift during the periods of stiff competition. Through increased effectiveness in communication, there is an increase in profits realized by the organization. This is because a unified message unlike disintegrated one creates a significant impact which results to desirable customer response.
In addition, IMC has the capability of making the messaging more credible due to its emphasis on consistency. This is achieved through saving the customers’ time in commodity search procedure hence reducing the threat in their mind through strict control of the comparison of brands final product.
Also, according to Keillor (2007, p. 64) “IMC saves money as it eliminates duplication in areas such as graphics and photocopy since they can be shared and used in say, advertising, exhibition, and sales literature.” Here, the fee paid to the agencies is reduced through dealing with a single agency to operate all messages and communications which is as well associated with time saving and reduction of workload and their accompanied stress (Lacobucci, et.al., 2003, p. 381).
IMC has also been considered to have assisted firms in establishing the brand equity of their products and services through synergy. Since successful IMC has been known to ensure desirable responses from the customers, it is true therefore that IMC can potentially establish effectiveness in the firm and in communication with targeted markets (Thorson & Moore 1996, p. 202).
This will as a result through higher brand equity assist the firm in achieving considerable financial performance. More importantly, IMC has positive effect on the budgets of the client since its adoption was accompanied with a reduction of expenses of the client. Through the attempt for harmonious marketing communication integration, IMC has protected organizations from restriction to one strategy.
This enables the organization to shift their tactics and restore different strategies whenever they feel that their current operating ones are not effectively promoting their products and services. As a result, IMC has enabled maximization of strategies associated with marketing communication through allowing firm to select the most effective ones (Lee & Johnson 2005, p. 637).
On the other hand, despite these advantages, IMC has some disadvantages. According to Kliatchko (2009, p. 163), “IMC lacks measurement criteria of the effectiveness of the IMC programs.” Schultz and Kitchen stress that despite the fact that more emphasis should be put on measurement of “outcome” rather that “output”, there are many immeasurable marketing activities which make the determination of the value of communication effects and their impacts more complex.
There are also many obstacles which restrict proper usage of IMC which include lack of management know-how, Time Scale conflicts as well as muffled creativity among others. For example, in organizations characterized by rigid structure, their managers are always on the run to protect their power base and budgets. As a result, there is isolation of data, communication and most likely management from each other (Kitchen & Pelsmacker 2004, p. 117).
Since every strategy in sales promotion should fit the overall strategy of marketing communication, IMC normally limits creativity. In addition, during advertisement, those based over long term can conflict with those of short term due to different time scales unless carefully planned.
In addition, a recent survey revealed that a significant number of managers as well as agencies lack expertise in IMC. There are still few people who are able to effectively use IMC, a factor which has been attributed to lack of commitment (Kurtz, et.al. 2009, p. 531).
Review of the different IMC and Marketing communication tools
There has been unison use of various IMC and marketing communication tools accepted by industries as concepts of communication. Since 1990s, there has been emergence of principles, practices and theories which has had a significant impact on organizational communications (Straubhaar, et.al. 2008, p. 87). They had as well contributed to effective changes in way organizations and customers relate with each other.
The use of internet as a source of information has been of great help to customers and firms through reduction of time for researching on information. Also, through introduction of engine of information technology there has been enhancement of access to customer data as well as data holding and manipulation by the marketing managers. This has in addition facilitated to effectiveness of distribution tools as well as facilitation of transactions (Lamb, et.al. 2007, p. 19).
Notably, through the use of information technology specifically use of internet as a communication tool, organizations have been able to improve their dialogs with customers. Targeted customers can be sent “information through e-mail along with electronic and traditional customized newsletters segments” Mackay (2005, p. 273).
In addition, the categorized customers are presented with original advertisements and messages through broadcast and print media. This allows inclusion of message in response to selected customer segment inquiry or need.
More so, the advancement in computer telephony integration (CTI) allows use of telephone as a mean of link which enables managers through use of keypad to send or receive customer’s message. New electronic media has also, according to Meldrum & McDonald (2007, p.482), provided a “two-way, customized communication which allows organizations to develop “smart” communication programs that constantly evolve over time.”
Some of the other IMC and marketing communication tools include; first, advertising. Advertisement in media has always been dependent on well-developed software system which interwove the advertisement throughout the alternatives of media with a focus on the customers’ profiles.
Through media digitization, there has been an acquisition of effective automation in advertising allocation. Internet evolution particularly semantic web has improved advertising through provision of both the customer needed information and the outcome of the products consumption.
More importantly, integrated advertisement has been more effective since where the customers are not ready to pay for the information, they are able to get it free and pay for the products and services. Though sometimes the cost may be high, this tool is capable of reaching large number of customers through avenues of mobile technological communication devices such as internet, TV, and newspapers among others (Meek, et.al. 2007, p. 371).
Second, sales promotion is another vital tool used for meeting short-term sales objectives, encouraging continued purchasing as well as establishing an awareness of the brand. Meek et.al. (2007, p.371) notes “this tool is mostly employed through various strategies which include demonstration of products and services, contests, incentives, premiums, coupons, displays and samples among others.”
Thirdly, public shows, press and news release are also used as a marketing communication tool. This is done with the purpose of creating a good public image in order to win customer’s trust and goodwill. More often, this tool is associated with products, person and company presentation, in a positive projection (Medill 2010, p. 411).
Fourthly, direct marketing is another IMC and marketing communication tool which is initiated through catalogs, email, mail, as well as encouraging customer’s responses to media (Swain 2004, p. 55). This is a tool that aims at reaching potential customers in an attempt of rising sales as well as testing alternative tactics of marketing and new products.
Fifthly, personal selling is another effective IMC tool. This is carried out through organizing one-to-one communication with customers such as sales meetings and appointments, presentation and home parties among others. This IMC tool is initiated with an aim of reaching out organizational consumers and strengthening organization-client relationship (Ouwersloot & Duncan 2008, p. 613).
According to Reid (2005, p. 46), “it is important for brand managers to consider a number of factors such as legal, social, ethics, competitive, regulatory and technological consideration before selecting an IMC tool.” This is so in order to avoid getting your message to inappropriate consumers and causing discrepancies.
If this happens, it can result to a significant damage especially where an attempt to encourage customers to interact with your company or when trying to establish a brand awareness. Therefore, through evaluating their consumer’s emotions, beliefs and behaviors in relation to their brand, the marketing managers can effectively chose an IMC tool which will best influence customer’s attitude (Sirgy 1998, p.41)
Measuring and evaluating IMC campaigns
For the past decade, IMC measurement has occupied the marketing landscape. However, even in the 21st century measurement of IMC campaigns is still a major challenge. According to Lehmann argument, “the measurements need to be based on chief financial officers, which include customer value, stock market value and brand value” (as cited in Lee & Johnson 2005, p. 87).
Nevertheless, financial metrics alone are not enough to measure the IMC campaigns. Mostly, the measures that have been in use were noticeably ‘soft’ and rarely connected to any solid business outcomes. There is a call for the future measurements to incorporate.
According to Pradhan (2006, p. 163), “hard and soft measures, both attitudinal and behavioural measures, both short- and long-term effects (or cumulative vs immediate): separeting cause from effect, and being able to distil both singular and combined (integrated) marketing communications effectss” (Palmer, et.al., 2007, p. 47).
Organisation performance is the key aspect of the effectiveness of IMC and as a result, considerable effort should be empasised in effectual demonstration of IMC’s contribution to the perfomance of the organisation. Measurement of IMC campagns has historically been based on a medium-by-medium which are also the marketing communication tools.
They include; advertising, publicity, sales promotion among others. According to Pride & Ferrell (2007, p. 251), “the new electronic communication systems are in danger of falling in the same trap with measurement categorised on web, ‘word-of-mouse’, and mobile among others. Yet, consumers seem to use all these communication systems concurrently, simultaneously, and synrgistically” (Pike 2008, p. 411).
To clearly measure the IMC campaigns, several considerations need to be evaluated. First, comprehend how “consumers process marketing stimuli, drawing on insights from neural science” (Schultz & Kitchen 2000, p. 94). This helps undestand how campaigns such as advertising work. In this effect, the ongoing shift from retionality to affect can be reflected through a methodological shift of neuro-imaging technology in examining brain processes advertising.
There had been three routes for long-term memory advertising transferral noted in the early emphirical progress. They include: “advertising requiring pure memory; memory associated with emotion; and emotion and cognition” according to Ambler. In addition to a reflect from brain activity, familiarity has been considered as an important determinant of choices of purchasing (Pride, et.al. 2008, p. 38).
Secondly, it is important to clearly understand how IMC stimuli interrelate with one onother. Unlike the traditional measurement of isolated mediums, there is a need of business sense in measurements in form of authentic commercial impact and street credibility of IMC.
This requires a strategic selection of combined promotional tools to initiate a greater return than any one of them in isolation. This will ensure that, if other factors are held equal, the campaigns in holistic should be greater than a combined outcome of all individual parts (Percy 2008, p. 375).
Thirdly, understanding the manner, the reason and the time to implement and measure the IMC campaign. It can be argued that IMC as a concept is still not well implemented and understood globaly (Russell & Taylor 2004, p. 201). In global organizations, many marketing communication practitioners are still unaware of IMC campaigns, and in some instances, they are using them though they cannot tell what they are.
It can be deduced that IMC is an easy concept to teach and understand meaning that it is theoreticaly known but practically a riddle. This calls for further querying and examination. In addition, though IMC campaigns can successifully be measured or realised from the consumer’s end, “the value of examining the ‘process’ by which IMC is created and managed within the firm is often marginalised, and there is a need for more decscriptive and explanatory research into IMC implementation” (Tuckwell 2007, p. 160).
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