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8.4: Designing an IMC strategy

  • Page ID
    • John Burnett
    • Global Text Project

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    The design of an effective IMC strategy is a very difficult and time-consuming process that requires the efforts of many members of the marketing staff. Although there has been a great deal of variety in designing this process, the steps depicted in Exhibit 23 are most common.

    As is the case with most marketing activities, IMC is guided by a set of objectives. There are numerous responses that the manager may desire from his IMC effort. Although the ultimate buyer behavior desired is product purchase, several intermediate responses may prove important as well.

    If there is a marketing opportunity, there must also be a communication opportunity. Although the role of IMC is de-emphasized in certain marketing programs, there will also be some communicative, motivational, or competitive tasks to be performed. Whether or not the marketing programs should rely heavily on its communication ingredient to perform such tasks depends upon the nature and extent of the opportunity. There are several conditions which, if they exist, indicate a favorable opportunity to communicate: for example, it is always easier to communicate effectively when moving with the current consumer demand rather than against it. Companies such as IBM have been actively promoting their business computers, which are increasing in popularity, rather than home computers, which are not doing as well.

    The third consideration is selecting the target audience for the IMC. This is undoubtedly the most important factor in the IMC strategy, yet it is probably the issue that many companies slight or overlook entirely. Marketing messages must be directed at the specific target for which the overall marketing program is being designed. However, very seldom is there a single group of consumers at which to direct promotion. Many individuals affect the buying process, and the IMC program must be designed to reach all of them. In addition to the primary purchasers and users of the product, individuals who influence the purchase decision must also be considered. For example, consumers usually rely heavily upon the assistance and advice of others in purchasing such products as automobiles, interior decorating, major appliances, and physicians, to name but a few. Similarly, industrial buyers consider the advice of engineers, technicians, and even competitors. Thus it is extremely important in resolving the communication issue to identify accurately not only those who consume and buy the product but also those who influence its purchase.

    Determining exactly what to say to the relevant audience is the fourth consideration. The heart of IMC is the transmission of ideas of marketing significance to the seller. Whether these ideas are received and perceived as intended depends in large part on the skill used in developing the communication appeal. It also depends upon the vehicle used to deliver the message. Whether it is the message delivered by a salesperson, a newspaper, or a point of purchase display, the message must facilitate reaching the communication objectives.

    Money is always an important factor; a typical IMC effort is extremely expensive and is becoming more expensive every day. Keeping track of these cost elements is a full-time job. The budget for a particular IMC effort can be determined through very sophisticated computer programs or through intuitive techniques such as experience, following competition, or simply spending all you can afford. Particular budgetary approaches are summarized in Table 8.

    Once you decide how much to spend, the amounts to be spent on personal selling, advertising, publicity, and sales promotion must be decided. After determining the major allocations, each of these figures must be broken down into much finer increments. For example, the advertising budget must be reallocated by media category, then by specific media, and finally, by particular dates, times, issues, etc.

    Evaluating the effectiveness of an IMC effort is very important. Three tasks must be completed when one attempts to measure the results of IMC. First, standards for IMC effectiveness, such as retention and liking, must be established. This means that the market planner must have a clear understanding of exactly what the communication is intended to accomplish. For measurement purposes, the standards should be identified in specific, quantitative terms. Second, actual IMC performance must be monitored. To do this, it is usually necessary to conduct experiments in which the effects of other variables are either excluded or controlled. The third step in measuring IMC efficiency is to compare these performance measures against the standards. In doing so, it is theoretically possible to determine the most effective methods of marketing communication.

    Table 8: Summary of techniques: setting the IMC budget


    General description

    Arbitrary allocation

    Management bases budget on personal experience, business philosophy, and marketing intuition


    Upper limit of budget based on available company resources


    Amount budgeted is based on some portion of past or forecasted sales

    Competitive comparisons

    Budget based on amount being spent by major competitors

    Experimental approach

    Budget based on test market results

    Objective-task method

    Determine costs of reaching specific promotional objectives and sum amounts

    Finally, how a company organizes for IMC depends on the degree to which it desires to perform the communication function internally or to assign this task to outside agencies. Typically, the sales function is performed internally and the sales organization is a part of the overall, standing organizational plan. Occasionally, as when manufacturer's agents are used, outside organizations are employed to perform personal selling. Advertising services might be performed internally or externally. Sales promotion activities are usually also handled internally, although it is not uncommon for advertising agencies to be consulted in connection with sales promotion plans. The same is true for public relations.

    The promotion mix

    The manner in which the four components of IMC (i.e. advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, public relations) are combined into an effective whole is called the IMC mix. The promotion mix tends to be highly customized. While, in general, we can conclude that business-to-business marketers tend to emphasize personal selling and sales promotion over advertising and public relations, and that mass marketers are just the opposite, there are many exceptions. However, the following factors tend to have an impact on the particular IMC mix a company might select:

    Marketing/IMC objectives: Companies that desire broad market coverage or quick growth in market share, for example, must emphasize mass advertising in order to create a dramatic and simultaneous impact.

    Nature of the product: The basic characteristics of product (highly technical) suggest the need for demonstration and explanation through personal selling, or mass advertising in the case of a product with emotional appeal (perfume).

    Place in the product lifecycle: Products in the introductory stage in the life cycle often need mass advertising and sales promotion, those in maturity need personal selling, and those in decline employ sales promotion.

    Available resources: Companies with limited financial and human resources are often restricted to sales promotion and public relations while those with plenty of both opt for mass advertising and personal selling.2

    The most striking fact about IMC techniques is their cross-substitutability. They represent alternate ways to influence buyers to increase their purchases. It is possible to achieve a given sales level by increasing advertising expenditures or personal selling, or by offering a deal to the trade or a deal to customers. This substitutability calls for treating the various IMC tools in a joint-decision framework.

    The campaign

    Determining what particular devices to use and how to combine them in order to achieve IMC objectives is one of the greatest challenges facing the communication planner. Ordinarily, management just makes use of the campaign concept. A campaign is a planned, coordinated series of marketing communication efforts built around a single theme or idea and designed to reach a predetermined goal. Although the term "campaign" is probably thought of most often in connection with advertising, it seems appropriate to apply the concept of a campaign to the entire IMC program.

    Many types of IMC campaigns may be conducted by a company, and several may be run concurrently. Geographically, a firm may have a local, regional, or national campaign, depending upon the available funds, objectives, and market scope. One campaign may be aimed at consumers and another at wholesalers and retailers.

    A campaign revolves around a theme, a central idea or focal point. This theme permeates all IMC efforts and tends to unify the campaign. A theme is simply the appeals developed in a manner considered unique and effective. As such, it is related to the campaign's objectives and the customer's behavior. It expresses the product's benefits. Frequently the theme takes the form of a slogan, such as Coca-Cola's "Coke is it!" Or DeBeers' "A diamond is forever". Some companies use the same theme for several campaigns; others develop a different theme for each new campaign.

    In a successfully operated campaign, the efforts of all groups concerned will be meshed effectively. The advertising program will consist of a series of related, well-timed, carefully placed ads. The personal selling effort can be tied in by having the sales person explain and demonstrate the product benefits stressed in ads. Also, the sales force will be fully informed about the advertising part of the campaign-the theme, media used, schedule of appearance of ads, appeals used, etc. The sales force will also inform the middlemen, i.e. wholesalers and retailers, about this campaign, and convince them to incorporate it into their total marketing effort. Sales promotional devices will be coordinated with the other aspects of the campaign. For each campaign, new display materials must be prepared, reflecting the ads and appeals used in the current campaign, in order to maximize the campaign's impact at the point of sale.

    Capsule 17: Review

    • Marketing communication:

    • is intended to be persuasive

    • has internal and external flows

    • The following steps are involved in designing an IMC strategy:

    • determine objectives

    • determine IMC opportunities

    • select audience(s)

    • select message(s)

    • determine budget

    • allocate funds

    • measure results

    • organize

    • Factors that most impact the IMC mix include:

    • marketing/IMC objectives

    • nature of the product

    • place in the product lifecycle

    • available resources

    • A campaign is a planned, coordinated series of marketing communication eff0rts built around a single theme or idea and designed to reach a predetermined goal.

    Personnel responsible for the physical distribution activities must ensure that adequate stocks of the product are available in all outlets prior to the start of the campaign. Finally, people working in public relations must be constantly kept aware of new products, product demonstrations, new product applications, and so forth. Of course, it is extremely important to provide enough lead time so that the public relations effort can take advantage of optimum timing.

    This page titled 8.4: Designing an IMC strategy is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John Burnett (Global Text Project) .

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