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Today, more than ever before, organizations are finding it hard to surmount a myriad of challenges in the business environment. These challenges, mainly fuelled by stiff competition, globalization of world markets, and market saturation, have forced organizations to develop strategic frameworks and tools that can be of assistance especially when it comes to marketing of products and services.
In the 21st century, conscientious and assiduous marketing managers are left with no alternative other than to utilize proven marketing approaches such as the marketing mix, market segmentation, and integrated marketing communications if they are to remain afloat in the turbulent economic waters (Belch & Belch, 2009). It is, therefore, the objective of this paper to critically evaluate the broad spectrum of roles played by integrated marketing communications (IMC) in product or service brand building process.
Integrated Marketing Communications, thereafter referred as IMC, is a phrase commonly used to depict a holistic strategy to marketing communication. The main objective of the IMC concept is to guarantee uniformity of the advertisement message which may be aired through online or offline marketing conduits (Belch & Belch, 2009). This way, IMC is also able to ensure the complementary utilization of media.
Online marketing conduits incorporated under IMC includes e-marketing strategies such as the now popular search engine optimization (SEO), banner and pop-ups, internet TV, blog advertisement, electronic mail, pay-per click, banner advertisement, among others. Offline marketing conduits include traditional print media such as newspapers, calendars, public relations, billboards, indoor advertising, and traditional electronic media such as radio and TV, among others (Schultz et al, 2003).
IMC, therefore, entails the amalgamation of all marketing tools, resources, and strategies within the reach of a particular organization with the express purpose of maximizing the impact of a particular product or service on the minds of consumers, hence ensuring optimum profit at the least cost for the company (Belch, 2008; Smith et al, 2004).
The Role of IMC in the Brand Building Process
IMC has been known to positively impact a business enterprise especially when the ideal marketing mix is utilized. IMC, more than anything else assists organizations to build healthy customer relationships through building and maintaining a brand character that appeals to the targeted market segment (Patti et al, 2003).
Proper management and utilization of IMC tools enables an organization to make contact with consumers, thereby enhancing the acceptability of products and services due to the tools’ capacity to develop a positive brand image for the products (Belch, 2008). In the light of this, organizations have realized that communicating efficiently with customers entails much more than the employment of traditional marketing communication tools previously in use such as newspapers and magazines, and are getting increasingly involved in developing a holistic approach towards advertising their products and services in the hope of triggering acceptability of products and building a positive brand image.
IMC has become broadly accepted by both practitioners and users of products, not mentioning the fact that the tool have turned out to be a fundamental component of brand strategy entailing broad brand development activities within an organization (McDonald et al, 2005).
As such, the IMC harnesses all the organization’s marketing activities into an all-inclusive and consistent plan of action that ensures that any advertisement campaigns must reflect the uniqueness of product inline with the dependability of the company (Belch, 2008). In other words, IMC permits a scenario whereby the strengths of the product or service and the strengths of the organization are intertwined in the marketing mix to develop and maintain a positive brand image.
IMC has the capacity to “…replace diverse, limited-focus promotional tools” (McDonald, 2004 p. 1). This implies that the tools have the capacity to reach wider audiences than was traditionally the case. For instance, an advertisement channel such as SEO is capable of reaching millions of customers within a split second, and organizations such as Amazon.Com have been able to amass millions of customers due to these channels.
Marketing analysts opines that organizations are able to build a brand name for their products or services much more quickly if the strategies used for communication and advertisement have the capacity to reach a wider audience (Schultz et al 2003). As such, IMC is increasingly being viewed as a strategic practice linked to brand management rather than a mere mechanism of bringing promotional tools and strategies together (McDonald, 2004).
According to Belch & Belch (2009), IMC is “…a strategic business process used to develop, execute, and evaluate coordinated, measurable, persuasive brand communications programs over time with customers, prospects, employees, associates, and other targeted relevant internal and external audiences” (p. 775).
As such, it can be argued that IMC employ the promotion aspect of the 4P’s in the marketing mix to bring together all the above stakeholders to enhance the brand building process. The goal, according to experts, is to produce short-term financial gains and develop long-term brand image and value (Smith et al, 2004).
A Case Example: Hilton Hotel
In the 21st century, many companies have made it a basic managerial and marketing requirement to employ IMC tools in the hope of attaining their goals and objectives in business. Hilton hotels, for instance, has developed effective customer relationship management (CRM) system aimed to develop customer loyalty in the products and services produced by the hotel chain in the hospitality industry, thereby enhancing its profits (Sandhusen, 2008).
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The hotels’ CRM system utilizes both online and traditional channels of communication and promotion of its products and services to ensure customers remain loyal on a long-term basis. The CRM systems used by the hotel-chain combines both decision support system (DSS) and information and communication technology (ICT) to maximize its revenues while ensuring that customer satisfaction policies remain top-notch.
Furthermore, Hilton chain of hotels have efficiently utilized their CRM system under the auspices of the IMC tools to undertake a well-defined market segmentation aimed to reach all their customers in all market groups, from individuals to groups to corporate entities (Sandhusen, 2008).
Such a system assists the hotel chain’s sales and service personnel to strategize beforehand due to the fact that it avails and also aids in the distribution of information about customers, prospective customers, and suppliers of commodities and services. It is also used to develop programs that promote customer satisfaction and loyalty such as the Hilton Honours.
The inclusion of customer’s personal data on the CRM system goes a long way in building strong relationships, hence ensuring the Hotel-chain remains profitable in all its endeavours (Sandhusen, 2008). The hotel-chain has also engaged in a vigorous marketing campaign for its conference and convention facilities mostly through online marketing, customer service, and relationship building.
The hotel-chain, indeed, keeps a database of past conventions to identify customers or groups with the best profit potential. It also has strategies to identify convention and meeting facilitators, and distributes customized IMC advertising materials through the facilitators in the hope of attracting them to its splendid conference and convention centres.
Belch (2008) posits that the best IMC approach requires that marketing professionals provide appropriate mixture of communication tools and techniques, and take time to explain their standard, qualities, features, and the extent to which such tools can be used to maintain a positive brand image. This is what Hilton has been doing.
All in all, the critical importance of IMC tools in developing and maintaining a positive brand image, hence assisting in customer satisfaction and profit enhancement strategies, cannot be questioned. The IMC tools, more than anything else, assists organizations to realize their goals by facilitating healthy customer relationships, and ensure products and services meet the stated needs of customers, thereby enhancing their acceptability in the marketplace.
The marketing tools allow the strengths of the product or service and the strengths of the organization to be intertwined in the marketing mix to develop and maintain a positive brand image. IMC, indeed, is increasingly being viewed as a strategic practice linked to brand management rather than a mere mechanism of bringing promotional tools and strategies together. The paper has also revealed how Hilton chain of hotels uses its CRM to build and maintain strong relationships with its customers, thereby increasing its profit rakings.
List of References
Belch, G (2008). Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communication Perspective. Sydney: McGraw-Hill Australia
Belch, G., & Belch, M (2009). Advertising and Promotion: An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective. New York, NY: McGraw/Irwin
McDonald, R.E (2005). Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) and Brand Identity as Critical Components of Brand Equity Strategy: A Conceptual Framework and Research Propositions. Journal of Advertising. Web.
Patti, C., Luck, E., & Chapman, S (2004). Building a Brand Relationship with Voters: The Need for IMC within Political Parties, Queensland University of Technology. Paper presented at ANZAMAC Conference Proceedings, Adelaide, Australia
Sandhusen, R.L (2008). Marketing, 3rd Ed. New York: Barons Educational Series, Inc
Schultz, D.E., Tamenbaum, S.I., & Lauterborn, R.F (2003). Integrated Marketing Communications: Putting it together and Making it Work. Chicago: NTC Business Books
Smith, P.R., & Taylor, J (2004). Marketing Communications. An Integrated Approach, 4th Ed. London: Kogan Page Limited