8.1: The role of IMC
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The case example clearly points to one of the most difficult problems facing marketers. How can a marketer clearly and effectively communicate the story (message) in a society that is so over communicated that the typical consumer is both overwhelmed with the vast number of messages and annoyed at the thousands of messages that have no relevance whatsoever to that person's needs and wants? The amount of sameness, and the amount of communication clutter is so excessive, that the approach employed by American Express appears to be the only answer. Yet, as we have noted throughout this text, the needs and capabilities of marketers vary, and not all marketers are blessed with a creative genius like Jerry Walsh. Nor do all marketers require a multimillion dollar national advertising campaign in order to reach objectives. All marketers, however, must learn to communicate their strategy to their target market.
The concept of Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is offered as a general framework, which can be employed by marketers in order to design a comprehensive and effective program of communication. It acknowledges the inherent differences between marketers and builds upon the reality that "every company is cast in the role of communicator". Ultimately, it is the choice of each company whether this communication process will be performed in a haphazard, unplanned way, or whether it will be guided by stated objectives and implemented through effective strategies.
This chapter introduces the concept of IMC, a framework for organizing the persuasive communication efforts of the business. Because of its visibility, many consumers feel that they already know a great deal about IMC, or at least about advertising. Most hold either a somewhat positive or negative attitude toward advertising, aggressive salespeople, coupons, and so forth. This is a case when a little bit of information can be a dangerous thing.
This chapter also provides a discussion of four of the IMC mix elements-advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and personal selling. We begin our discussion with an explanation of the role IMC plays in the marketing strategy.
The role of IMC
The heart of every transactional exchange is communication between parties. The buyer seeks certain basic information about product features, price, quality, support service, reputation of the seller, and so forth. All this information is intended to assess how close each alternative is to meeting desired needs and wants. We seek information to reduce possible risk associated with the transaction. Presumably, the more solid the information we have, the more secure we feel in our decision. The seller also desires information. The seller wants to know whether you qualify as a buyer (i.e. do you really need the product and can you pay for it), which product features are important to you, what other choices you are considering, are you ready to buy, how much do you know about my product, and so forth. Therefore, all the parties enter a transaction with a whole set of questions they want answered. Some of these questions are quite explicit: "How much does it cost?" Others are quite vague and may almost be subconscious:"Will this product make me feel better about myself?" All these decisions relate to the marketer's ability to integrate marketing communications.
The primary role of IMC is to systematically evaluate the communication needs and wants of the buyer and, based on that information, design a communication strategy that will (a) provide answers to primary questions of the target audience, (b) facilitate the custom ability to make correct decisions, and (c) increase the probability that the choice they make most often will be the brand of the information provider, i.e. the sponsor or marketer.1Marketers know that if they learn to fulfill this role, a lasting relationship with the customer can be established.
If the marketer is to consistently and effectively communicate with consumers, three preliminary tasks must be acknowledged and achieved. First, there must be a mechanism for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating relevant information. This includes information about customers (past, present, potential), competitors, the environment, trends in the industry, and so forth. The quality of communication is closely related to the quality of information. Kellogg's, for example, constantly monitors its customers through surveys and consumer panels, and keeps track of its competitors and changes in the US Food and Drug Administration in order to assess the relevance of all its communication vehicles.
Second, communication is not one-way; it is a dialogue. That is, all relevant parties are actually participating in the communication process. Marketers must provide a system that constantly allows the consumer to express desires, satisfactions, complaints, and disappointments about the product, the price, the message, or the way it is distributed. There is a real tendency in large-scale marketing to view the consumer as a faceless, nameless entity, without individual needs and wants. Effective marketing communication allows direct feedback (e.g. toll-free numbers, hotlines, service departments), and actively responds by making substantial changes to address customer requests.
Finally, there must be an acknowledgement that target customers may not be the same as target audiences. While the target market is concerned primarily with individuals who are users and potential users of the product, the target audience may encompass a much larger or smaller group of people.
IMC-harder than you think
According to IMC guru Don Schultz, the difficulty in developing an integrated marketing communication program is in the planning. He notes that most managers have tried to integrate communication elements and activities as they were developed by various functional groups. Or they have tried to bring all the elements together once the communications concept was developed to generate one voice or a unifying brand theme that will tie all the disparate elements together.
Unfortunately, managers have been approaching the problem as one of coordination or consolidation, although integration is not at the end of the process, but at the beginning. The difficulty has been that there is not a system via which managers can develop truly integrated marketing communications.
A new approach to integration is based on the planning matrix. The matrix mantra goes like this: "From consolidate and segregate, to aggregate and integrate." The meaning is simple. Traditionally, we have tried to take a market or a category and segment it. Once we segmented the market, we then tried to apply various communication disciplines-advertising, sales promotion, or direct marketing. We tried to take activities that had been developed separately and pulled them into an integrated whole. In short, we've tried to "consolidate and segregate". Take the market, segment it, and then communicate separately to the segments.
Consider a new approach. Rather than starting with total market, start with individual customers and prospects. Aggregate them based on their behavior. Let the customers and prospects create their own groups or segments. That's aggregation. Then look at the way customers and prospects experience marketing communications. Most consumers aren't familiar with the tightly defined marketing communications disciplines we have developed. To them, most everything we do is either an advertisement or an incentive. That's the second part of the new approach. Integrate, and most of all simplify.
Now, the planning process is simple. At the top, we have how consumers think about and evaluate marketing communication activities. It's either a message or an incentive. We have collapsed all the very sophisticated marketing communication disciplines into what they are supposed to do: deliver a message or an incentive.
The second part of the matrix is the impact we expect the activity to have-short-term or long-term. What will be the basis for the measurement of the impact of the planned communications program? For purposes of measurement, almost everything can be considered short-term or within the fiscal year. Long-term is anything more than one fiscal year. Building immediate sales for our product or service is short-term. Brand building is long-term. Therefore, we plan whether we'll give our target messages or incentives and the impact of those messages or incentives, either short-term or long-term.
More specifically, the target audience includes all individuals, groups, and institutions that receive the marketing message and employ this information either as a basis for making a product decision or in some way employ it to evaluate the sponsoring business. Thus, the target market for E.P.T. pregnancy tests might be women between the ages of 18-34, with a college education; the target audience might also include parents of the youngest of these women, who either approve or disapprove of this product based on advertising messages, government agencies who assess the truthfulness of the product claims, and potential stockholders who determine the future success of the firm based on the perceived quality of the messages. IMC must identify all members of the target audience and must consider how the communication strategy must change in response to this membership.
In the end, the role of IMC is to communicate with target audiences in a manner that accurately and convincingly relays the marketing strategy of the firm.
Integrated Marketing Communication
Instead of a functional approach, IMC attempts to integrate these functions into a collective strategy. If conducted properly, IMC results in a more effective achievement of an organization's communications objectives. Although it is difficult to determine exactly what prompted the move to IMC, experts speculate as to several possible interrelated causes. Historically, mass media has been characterized because of its general inability to measure its results, especially sales. Recently, the availability of consumer information (especially purchase patterns) through single-source technology such as store scanners and other related technology has meant that marketers are now able to correlate promotional activities with consumer behavior. During this same period, companies have been downsizing their operations and task expectations have been expanded. This greater expectation has carried over into the client-advertising agency relationship. Agency employees can no longer remain specialists. Rather, they must understand all the functions performed for the client, as well as their own. In reality, IMC appears to be much the same as a promotional strategy, a concept that has been around for several years. Perhaps the term "IMC" has emerged due to the confusion with the term "sales promotion" and the failure of promotion to be adopted by the advertising industry. Only time will tell whether IMC will become a salient part of marketing communication. (More was said about IMC in the previous “Integrated Marketing”.)
The meaning of marketing communication
Defining the concept of marketing communication (MC) is not an easy task, because in a real sense, everything the company does has communication potential. The price placed on a product communicates something very specific about the product. A company that chooses to distribute their products strictly through discount stores tells the consumer a great idea. Yet if all of these things are considered communication, the following definition is offered:
Marketing communication includes all the identifiable efforts on the part of the seller that are intended to help persuade buyers to accept the seller's message and store it in retrievable form.
Note that the central theme of the communication process is persuasion. Communication is most definitely goal-directed. It is not intended to be an arbitrary, haphazard activity. Each of the tools used in marketing communication has specific potentialities and complexities that justify managerial specialization and require directed efforts. Yet a company, even a very large one, typically does not have a specialist in each area, but only in those cases where the importance and usage frequency of the tool justify specialized competence. Historically, companies first made a separate function out of the personal selling function, later out of advertising, and still later out of public relations. The remaining tools (e.g. coupons, specials) were employed by the directors of these functional areas as needed. Although the definitions vary, the four components that make up marketing communication are as follows:
• Advertising: Any paid form of non-personal presentation of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor. Although some advertising is directed to specific individuals (as, for example, in the use of direct mail), most advertising messages are tailored to a group, and employ mass media such as radio, television, newspaper, and magazines.
• Personal selling: An oral presentation in a conversation with one or more prospective purchasers for the purpose of making sales. It includes several different forms, such as sales calls by a field representative (field selling), assistance by a sales clerk (retail selling), having an Avon representative call at your home (door-to door selling), and so forth.
• Public relations: A non-personal stimulation of demand for a product, service, or business unit by planting commercially significant news about it in a published medium (i.e. publicity) or obtaining favorable presentation of it through vehicles not paid for by the sponsor. Although commissions are not paid to the various media, there are salaries and other expenses that mean that public relations is not a costless form of promotion.
• Sales promotion: Those marketing activities that add to the basic value of the product for a limited time period and thus directly stimulate consumer purchasing and dealer effectiveness. These activities include displays, shows and exhibitions, demonstrations, and various nonrecurring selling efforts not in the ordinary routine. As the provision for an additional incentive to buy, these tools can be directed at consumers, the trade, or the manufacturer's own sales force.
1. Sources: Don E. Schultz, "A New IMC Mantra," The Marketing News, May 26, 1997, p. 8; Richard Linnett, "Full Court Press," Adweek, January 31, 2000, pp. 3-6; Don E. Schultz, "Structural Straight Jackets Stifle Integrated Success," The Marketing News, March 1, 1999, p. 8; Don E. Schultz, "How to Create Your Own Worst Enemy," The Marketing News, July 3, 2000, p. 10.