Integrated marketing communications
Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is the application of consistent brand messaging across both traditional and non-traditional marketing channels and using different promotional methods to reinforce each other.
Components of Integrated Marketing Communications
IMC weaves diverse aspects of business and marketing together. These include:
- Organizational culture
- The organization's vision and mision
- Attitudes and behaviors of employees & partners
- Communication within the company
- Four P's
- Price, pricing plans, bundled offerings
- Product (product design, accessibility, usability)
- Place (point of purchase, in-store/shopper experience)
- Broadcasting/mass advertising: broadcasts, print, internet advertising, radio, television commercials
- Outdoor advertising: billboards, street furniture, stadiums, rest areas, subway advertising, taxis, transit
- Online advertising: mobile advertising, email ads, banner ads, search engine result pages, blogs, newsletters, online classified ads, media ads
- Direct marketing: direct mail, telemarketing, catalogs, shopping channels, internet sales, emails, text messaging, websites, online display ads, fliers, catalog distribution, promotional letters, outdoor advertising, telemarketing, coupons, direct mail, direct selling, grassroots/community marketing, mobile
- Online/internet marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Mobile Marketing
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Social Media ( Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, Foursquare, Pinterest, Youtube, Wikipedia, Instagram)
- Sales & customer service
- Sales materials (sell sheets, brochures, presentations)
- Installation, customer help, returns & repairs, billing
- Public Relations
- Special events, interviews, conference speeches, industry awards, press conferences, testimonials, news releases, publicity stunts, community involvement, charity involvement & events
- Contests, coupons, product samples (freebies), premiums, prizes, rebates, special events
- Trade shows
- Booths, product demonstrations
- Corporate philanthropy
- Donations, volunteering, charitable actions
First defined by the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1989, IMC was developed mainly to address the need for businesses to offer clients more than just standard advertising. The 4As originally coined the term the "new advertising," however this title did not appropriately incorporate many other aspects included in the term "IMC" - most notably, those beyond traditional advertising process aside from simply advertising.
Overall, an influx of new marketplace trends in the late 20th century spurred organizations to shift from the standard advertising approach to the IMC approach:
- Decreasing message impact and credibility: The growing number of commercial messaging made it increasingly more difficult for a single message to have a noteworthy effect.
- Decreasing costs of databases: The cost of storing and retrieving names, addresses and information from databases significantly declined. This decline allowed marketers to reach consumers more effectively.
- Increasing client expertise: Clients of marketing and public relations firms became more educated regarding advertising policies, procedures and tactics. Clients began to realize that television advertising was not the only way to reach consumers.
- Increasing mergers and acquisitions of agencies: Many top public relations firms and advertising agencies became partners or partnered with other communication firms. These mergers allowed for more creativity, and the expansion of communication from only advertising, to other disciplines such as event planning and promotion.
- Increasing global marketing: There was a rapid influx in advertising competition from foreign countries. Companies quickly realized that even if they did not conduct business outside their own country, they were now competing in global marketing.
- Increasing media and audience fragmentation: With the exception of the decline of newspapers, media outlets, such as magazines and television stations, increased dramatically from 1980 to 1990. Additionally, companies could use new technologies and computers to target specialized audiences based on factors such as ethnic background or place of residence.
- Increasing number of overall products: Manufacturers flooded retailers with a plethora of new products, many of which were identical to products that already existed. Therefore, a unique marketing and branding approach was crucial to attract customer attention and increase sales.
Model & Stages
Similar to the definition of IMC, models of the IMC approach vary according to the source cited. Frequently, models stress the importance of blending various marketing tools to maximize the customer experience and value. IMC models also often emphasize the lack of a specific hierarchy of importance in the IMC stages: all components of the model play an equally important role and a company may or may not choose to immediately implement any or all of the integration strategies.
- Stage one: Awareness: Knowledge of changing business, social, political and cultural trends creates the demand for a new approach to marketing.
- Stage two: Image integration: Having a consistent image, message and feel to an organization is crucial. The image reflected in corporate symbols serves as an important element for maintaining consistency in an organization.
- Stage three: Functional integration: Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each functional area of communication (public relations, event planning, media, etc.), and determining how the different areas can come together to create an effective campaign.
- Stage four: Coordinated integration: All communication functions become equal in their potential to influence company marketing efforts and many integration barriers cease to exist.
- Stage five: Consumer based integration: The elements of the different communication functions begin to work together. The campaign begins to achieve greater marketing effectiveness because only fully targeted consumers are exposed to the strongest and most effective forms of marketing and media.
- Stage six: Stakeholder based integration: Beyond just the customer, there are stakeholders who depend on the positive outcome of marketing campaigns. Companies carefully identify stakeholders, determining who can or will be affected by the success or failure of their campaign. At this stage of integration, the IMC expands from a sales-driven goal to a broader communication goal. This means that a company needs to enhance past marketing efforts through clear, correct and open communication between all parties involved.
- Stage seven: Relationship management integration: A fully integrated communication strategy exists that brings customers and stakeholders into direct contact with the business.
Schultz and Kitchen developed a model that illustrates the four levels of integrated marketing communications (IMC) development.  The model recognizes that the ideal location for a brand is the 3rd or 4th level. These levels focus on business processes involving the whole organization, spanning the entire spectrum of brands, products, customers and service including all contact the organization has with its stakeholders at all levels. 
- First level towards becoming integrated is to coordinate IMC at the tactical level. The aim is to generate harmony among the various communication tools and the product. The primary focus is on the external communication of the brand. 
- Second level expands the deﬁnition of communications to all communication contact points that a customer or prospect can have with the company. 
- Third level utilizes the increasing ﬂow of information about customer behavior, attitudes, and transactional data via databases, turning it into customer knowledge, which can be shared between employees, distributors, and suppliers. 
- Fourth level is to deploy IMC at the strategic level. This involves marketing and ﬁnance working together so the business becomes customer-centric and there is a measurable return on investment. 
The Growing Importance of Integrated Marketing Communications
Integration has become an essential concept in marketing because technological advances have changed how business stakeholders interact. Marketing theory that was established during the discipline’s formative years has been overtaken by the complexities of real-time, multimodal, multi directional communication. 
A few examples help illustrate the growing importance of integration:
Search marketing: When someone is considering buying a product or service they will often conduct an online search. What they find, on Google and other search engines, as well as information from news sites, review sites, directories, videos and place-based searches, will affect their attitudes towards a brand and their behavior. Marketers therefore need to concern themselves with what their audience finds.
Accessibility & convenience: Consumers expect information and services that relate to a brand to be conveniently accessible via its website. For instance when a consumer visits Virgin.com they are able to book a flight, manage their money, top up their mobile phone plan or find up-to-date news about the company. 
Aggregation of information and services: The traditional demarcation between a company, its suppliers and customers has become confused. For instance the Apple iTunes app store aggregates software and information from app makers, along with reviews provided by consumers.  Product promotion, delivery, service and information from many different sources are seamlessly presented together.
Social media: Traditionally businesses were largely in control of their brand communications. Now brand communications are multidirectional as consumers can easily share, comment and create content. Brands can use this to their advantage by creating appealing content. For instance Unilever’s campaign for Dove, The Dove Real Beauty Sketches went viral with over 54 million views on YouTube. 
Growth of mobile: The growing penetration of smartphones with fast internet connectivity means that marketers need to take into consideration integration between the online experience and place-based experiences. For instance when a consumer downloads the Target app they are able to receive coupons to their mobile phone and redeem them at the checkout by presenting the coupon barcode to the cashier. 
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