Integrated Marketing Communications and Strategic Focus

The Oxford Dictionary of Marketing defines Integrated Marketing as:

An approach that influences transactions between an organisation and its existing or potential customers, clients and other consumers connecting all marketing channels. Integrated marketing is more of a marketing management approach than a different type of marketing. The focus of integrated marketing is to ensure that all communications, the brand’s positioning, propositions, reputation development, brand personality and brand messages are delivered coherently and with impact across every channel. This means a holistic approach to marketing communication including PR and internal marketing. This is necessary because of the fragmentation and globalisation of media channels. It may also mean a move away from mass advertising to a more targeted approach where a similar message would repeat across channels.

To achieve integrated marketing communications you need strategic focus. That means:

  1. Measuring the effectiveness of marketing communications;
  2. The growth and increased visibility of the corporate identity, status and reputation;
  3. Corporate governance and ethical behaviour.

A strategic role of the brand is required given the need to add value and differentiate your organisation in the market. You need to understand how your entire organisation communicates not just the role of the marketing department. You need to know the impact that such communication will have. Communications must be managed at all levels of an organisation and you must commit to that management function. Communication is everyone in the organisation’s concern: It isn’t a matter solely for the marketing department. You need professional communicators across your organisation not just tucked away in a management silo.

Communications can be seen at three levels:

  1. Strategic External Integrated Marketing Communications: Top level communications promoting the organisational vision and values, corporate objectives and Corporate Strategies. Strategic communications to build reputation, image and brand.
  2. Internal Marketing Communications: Communication across your organisation involving all business functions including HR, Finance, Productions, R & D, etc. Internal behaviours aligned to organisational goals.
  3. Tactical External Integrated Marketing Communications: Communications to ‘push your products through the supply chain and to increase customer demand (‘pull’ communications). Communications intended to promote goods and services provided by your organisation.

A major issue with integrated communications is that people are different. We all have different views and we perceive the world differently. Particularly in service industries these differences matter. So you need to ensure a consistency of customer experience.

What really matters is communication consistency not difference. If fact difference could be an asset. However, if your communications and customer experience of them is inconsistent you have a big problem. If a single customer can experience good, bad or indifferent communication experiences with your organisation, you may lose not just one customer but many. your customers and prospective customers talk to each other; particularly in these days of social media. Word of mouth means one customer’s perceived bad experience can be used to persuade many other potential customers to avoid your business.

Do you have an Integrated Communications Strategy?

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a BBC4 documentary on the history of the electric guitar and effects pedals in rock music.  Included in the programme was a short interview with Uli Jon Roth, the former lead guitarist with the German heavy rock band, Scorpions.

Two of Roth’s comments in the interview stood out.  The first was that he felt restricted with the five note pentatonic scale often used in rock music.  He wanted to use the seven note chromatic scale more often seen in classical music. He wanted to spread licks over two or more octaves rather than one.

Secondly Roth commented that he saw musical notes as colours. he experiences aural synaesthesia.

Roth is known as the ‘King of Shred’.  The man who created a monster that would dominate rock music in the 1980s; shredding.  Roth, like Baron Frankenstein despaired of his creation.  He feels that guitar solos became an exercise in technical proficiency and fitting as many notes in a stave as possible.  Rock music began to forget melody and metre.

So what has an interview with a Euro-rock guitarist got to do with Marketing Strategy?

Let’s take the second point.  Roth’s synaesthesia is a clear indication that people process information in different ways and they react differently to communication triggers.  Some people prefer and will react to visual stimuli, others to aural stimuli.  Some people prioritise touch, others prefer smell.  So if you are limiting your communications triggers to one of the ‘five’ senses, your message may not be getting through to those consumers who prioritise the other senses.  Much of the internet is a visual medium; like this blog; therefore when designing marketing communications, consider the other senses, use sound, smell and touch to get your message into media.

Well, Roth has a point about limiting your options.  Why limit your marketing and communications activities to a few expected promotional channels when there is a wider palette of channels available?

I see lots of tweets on social media praising the use of digital promotional channels as a panacea; a magic pill to all your promotional needs; it is nothing of the sort.

I regularly get criticised that I don’t understand how digital marketing works.  Well I do.  I just believe that digital is one channel amongst many and by restricting yourself to that channel you are ignoring communications options which may provide better return on investment to your business.

Clearly it would be unwise to totally ignore digital marketing channels and social media in your promotional mix.  However, these channels must be used with a strategic purpose which matches the expectations of your target market.  Clearly, if you are selling high street fashion to teenagers, you will need to have digital as a prominent part of your promotional mix.  However, what if you are selling mobility scooters to pensioners? Wouldn’t more traditional promotional channels make more sense?

Digital channels are not a cheap option.  To get equivalent returns to that of traditional media, you may have to spend more on digital.  Before choosing communication channels you need to carefully examine costs and press providers to the level of return on the potential investment.

For SMEs operating locally, it may well be the case that traditional communications channels are a more effective way to get your message across.

Marketing academics are still not convinced of social media as a sales promotion channel.  However, they do see it as useful for customer retention and developing ‘electronic word of mouth’.  It is also good for developing advocacy.

When it comes to digital, you also have to remember Zipf’s law; P(x)≈1/x.  You can optimise your position on search engines to your heart’s content but if you’re not within the top four links on a page your chances of picking up significant numbers of clicks are dramatically reduced.  Firms like Amazon can put huge resources into securing the top links on a search engine page, irrespective of the alterations ISPs make to search engine algorithms to compete head on against those resources may a highly inefficient use of promotional budgets.

So when developing a promotional mix do not put all your eggs into one basket. Don’t do what is ‘expected’ in your chosen segment; do something different to your competitors.

Marketing as a science is a fairly young discipline.  Academic rigour only began to be applied to it in the 1950s.  It is a developing field where theory and models are continually evolving.

For many years the presumption was that different promotional channels had to be dealt with by separate professional consultants.  You went to a direct marketing agency for printed matter, you went to an advertising agency for TV and radio advertising (in fact there were/are specific agencies for radio advertising).  If you wanted press attention, you used a PR agency and exhibitions were often the remit of your sales department.

In the 1980s, academics began to promote integrated marketing communications.  This was the delivery of a single consistent group of messages across media channels.  Prior to IMC, different communications media were used to deliver different parts of the promotional mnemonic DRIP.  Advertising was used differentiate your products from those of competitors; sales promotion was used to persuade customers to purchase.  PR was used to remind customers of your existence and print media was used to inform customers of your products attributes.

Under IMC, a single message was used to deliver all the aspects of DRIP.

IMC was seen as having significant drivers:

  • it increased the efficiency of promotional activities
  • it increased the accountability of marketing managers
  • it promoted the need for ‘cross-border’ marketing and changing communications structures
  • It coordinated brand development and the creation of competitive advantage
  • it allowed for more efficient use of management time
  • It provided direction and a sense of purpose for employees
  • It anticipated greater levels of audience communication literacy
  • It foresaw media and audience fragmentation
  • It allowed for stakeholders increasing needs for diversity of information
  • it reduced message clutter and allowed for media cost inflation
  • It accounted for competitor activity and low levels of brand diversification
  • It allowed for the creation of relationship marketing as opposed to transactional marketing
  • It allowed for network development, collaborative marketing and the creation of alliances
  • It allowed for technological advances and new communication channels e.g. social media.
  • It aimed to increase message effectiveness through consistency and the enforcement of core messages
  • It allowed for the development of more effective consumer triggers and recall of both messages and the brand identity
  • It aimed to develop consistent and less confusing brand images
  • It developed a need to build brand reputations and to provide clear identity cues.

IMC sounds wonderful doesn’t it.  Most importantly it was seen as a way to create a customer-centred promotional strategy.

IMC was seen as having the following advantages:

  • Efficient use of promotional budgets
  • A synergy to communications
  • Competitive advantage through clear positioning
  • Coordinated brand development
  • Employee participation and motivation
  • It allows for the review of communications activities
  • fewer agencies were needed to support a brand.

However, there were some downsides to the creation of integrated marketing communications strategies:

  1. It was a strategy that promoted centralisation of activities and the development of bureaucracy.
  2. It promoted the uniformity of a single message (difficult if your aim to target two or more distinct market segments)
  3. It leads to ‘Mediocrity’ as all communications activities are in the hands of a single agency.

So like Uli Jon Roth’s approach to the rock solo, IMC became a bit of a monster.  Some marketing academics felt that it lost the ‘melody and metre’ of promotional activities.

Today, most marketing academics promote a nuanced form of IMC.  Yes messages should be used to promote all aspects of DRIP and promotion is a role for all the stakeholders in an organisation, not just the advertising department.

Today it is advocated that promotional strategies is the creation of a promotional mix using tools which best fit the expectations of your target customers.


Integrated Marketing Communications

Over the past couple of years I have kept a keen eye on recruitment advertisements for marketing staff in my local area.  Many of these advertisements are wholly focused on digital marketing, in particular social media account management.  It seems that many businesses in my area see social media as the main plank of their marketing activity.  I suspect that they view social media as a cheap and easy way to market their business, often at the exclusion of more traditional marketing communications channels.

I also meet many individuals who offer services as social media account managers on a freelance basis.  Often these individuals are good at the physical operation of social media platforms.  Often however, they fail to grasp the strategic goals of social media use.

Now there is no doubt that in certain markets social media is an important marketing communications channels.  If your target audience is consumers under the age of 40, and you are selling fashion or digital gadgets, social media is a perfect channel to deliver your marketing messages.  If your target audience is pensioners or you are selling to a business audience, your use of social media has to be different.

I have also found that many of the local businesses using social media channels do not do so strategically.  They have no underlying goal as to their use of social media beyond advertising their goods and services.  They do not measure the outcomes of their social media use.

Social media has yet to be shown to be a good sales channel.  Before using social media, you need to understand why you are using it as a marketing channel and you need to measure usage against predetermined goals.

The main of social media in marketing is not to directly advertise products.  It is a two-way communications channel.  You use social media to:

  • Retain existing customers by moving them up the relationship ladder (from prospect to advocate or partner)
  • To emphasise your Brand identity (brand personality)
  • As a signpost to your website or to your physical locations
  • to develop electronic word of mouth

Recently, I have seen recruitment advertisements for marketing staff from firms operating in business to business markets.  Again, there seems to be an over-riding need to use social media.  Yet the target audiences for these businesses tend not to be individuals but discreet buying groups made up of a number of people who take purchasing decisions collectively.  Social media tends to be communication from one individual to another, not an individual seeking a group to make a collective decision.  Again, there is little evidence that social media is an effective channel in such circumstances and the use of more traditional marketing communications channels may prove more successful.

It is also misleading to think of social media channels as a cheap and easy communications route.  To use social media effectively, often takes greater physical and  financial resources than traditional marketing communications channels.

So if you are tempted by claims that social media is the answer to your marketing communications delivery, beware.  Before jumping on the social media bandwagon, examine your target audience, define the purpose of your social media use and set clear goals and don’t expect miracles.

Over recent decades marketers have focused on perfecting mass marketing; selling highly standardised products to the masses.  As a result they developed mass communications techniques to supports such strategies.

Companies would spend large quantities on mass media advertising, television or print.  A single advertisement was able to reach millions of readers or viewers.

In recent years, marketing communications have changed.  In fact the media industry has changed.  Promotion has becomes the most altered part of the marketing mix.

Marketing managers have had to face the realities of the changing promotional and media landscape.

Consumers are changing.  We live in a digital connected world where consumers are better informed and they are communications empowered.  The recent Fake News crisis shows that consumers can be targeted almost on a personal basis and messages can be designed to fit with their preconceptions and beliefs (even if those preconceptions and beliefs are not true).

Consumers no longer rely solely on information provided by retailers and manufacturers.  They can easily find other sources of information through the internet or through their peers.

Consumers can connect more easily and as a result peer pressure may form a greater element in purchase decisions.  Consumer ‘tribes are fragmenting. This has created micro-segments in markets

Marketing strategies are changing.  Mass markets have fragmented.  Firms must now use focused micro-segmentation strategies.  This has resulted in a move away from mass marketing strategies.  Products are increasingly personalised.  Henry Ford may have said of the Model T, “you can have any colour you like as long as it is black’.  Compare that to the modern mini or the Brompton bicycle where consumers can ‘build’ their car or bike from a vast range of product options.  The Mini has over 1600 product options from in-car accessories to choice of wheels.  This means virtually every Mini that comes off the production line is unique.

There has also been a move away from one-off sales of products to using marketing communications to develop a relationship between the producer and the consumer.  Customer retention and customer advocacy are key.  Often the aim is to turn consumers into brand advocates.

There have been sweeping advances in communications technologies.  From mobile smartphones to interactive televisions.  This communications revolution has had a huge impact on marketing communications.  The dominance of traditional media is collapsing.  Newspaper circulation figures are falling.  The wide range of television channels means audience numbers are declining.  A prime time television programme in the UK would often gain an audience of 12 million in the 1970s.  In 1989, the BBC cancelled Doctor Who with an audience averaging 7.5 million.  Today, such a size of audience is seen as high and the programme considered a hit.

So now the modus operandi of marketing communications professionals is to use a broad selection of more specialised and highly targeted media to reach smaller customer segments.  This involves the creation of more personalised and interactive messages.  It is less broadcasting and more narrowcasting.

Increasingly consumers are in control of media exposure.  For example some video streaming services offer the opportunity to skip advertisements.  TV advertising is still a dominant channel in terms of media spend but such spending has stagnated whilst promotional budgets have shifted to new media channels.  Advertising spend in radio and print advertising has fallen sharply.

We have moved from a position where advertising is force-fed to consumers as a mass and interrupts their activities to a position where marketing communications interact with smaller groups of consumers.

Regardless of your choice of communications channel, the key is to integrate media in a way which best communicates the brand message and which enhances consumer experience.

Marketing communications is no longer simply placing advertisements.  You are managing brand content and developing conversations with your customers over a fluid mix of communications technologies.

The result is that you need to integrate marketing communications across a range of communications channels.  Failure to do this produces a hodge podge of communications to consumers which do not provide a single marketing identity.

Consumers today are bombarded with messages.  Marketing professionals may differentiate between different channels, e.g. social media, television, print, direct mail, but consumers do not.  Your promotional activity needs to present a single consistent message. A single broad image or concept.

You cannot send out one message and signal in print media which is different from the message and signal given by electronic communications.  Mixed signals from different media blurs brand perceptions in the minds of consumers.

The challenge for communications managers is to bring together brand concepts and messages across media channels in an organised way.

This is where the concept of integrated marketing communications comes in.  IMC requires the careful blending of communications tools to create a compelling, clear brand messages.

Brand messages and concepts are no longer in the sole purview of marketing departments.  They take place at every interaction between a firm and its customer base, from sales presentations to after-sales service and complaint management.  They are the responsibility of all stakeholders in a firm.  You need to identify all the customer touch points with your organisation.  Each of these is an opportunity to convey your brand identity and message to consumers. Careful coordination of your brand message is required throughout the organisation.

You need to think not just of the message you want to convey but the best method to get that message to your target consumer.  You also need to define the unique role each function of your business has in passing on your brand message to your customer base.

SOme readers may see a contradiction between the goals of integrated marketing communications and my views on the use of social media.  I see no such contradiction.

My complaint is not that firms use social media.  It is that all too often it is seen as a magic bullet.  A simple and cheap way of meeting promotional goals.  Yet far too many businesses treat social media as a form of mass marketing communication.  They use the old rules of promotion in a new media.  They fail to take account of the changes in society and technology.  Most importantly of all, they fail to set identifiable goals for social media use and they fail to measure whether those goals have been met.

Multichannel Marketing and Integrated Marketing Communications

In the introductory chapter of Principles and Practices of Marketing, the marketing text used by 99% of UK marketing undergraduates, David Jobber compares organisational efficiency against strategic effectiveness.  He describes four states:

  1.  Organisations with efficient procedures and effective strategies will likely thrive.
  2. Organisations with inefficient procedures and ineffective strategies will die quickly.
  3. Organisations with inefficient procedures and effective strategies will survive.
  4. Organisations with efficient procedures and ineffective strategies will die slowly.

Many small businesses will fit in one of the latter three categories.  For example, only around 20% of small business start-ups will be operational after five years.  Eighty percent of catering businesses; restaurants, takeaways, etc; go out of business within 12 months.

In the last blog entry we discussed digital marketing and the long-tail statistical distribution.  The search engine optimisation strategies of many small firms will fit into state four above.  The long tail distribution makes it highly unlikely that they will achieve the prominence required to achieve a sufficiently high Page ranking.  Their procedures for search engine optimisation may be efficient but as a promotional strategy SEO will be ineffective.

Small firms pursuing SEO as their primary communications strategy may be inefficient in the use of communications budgets and that money may be more effectively spent elsewhere.

I see lots of small businesses advertising for what I would describe as a marketing all-rounder.  Someone to develop marketing strategies whilst at the same time writing copy, building websites and doing graphic design.  I am surprised that they think such people exist as web design, graphic design and copywriting are distinct skill sets.  I also see lots of small firms who appear to be putting their eggs in one basket, social media.  In many cases these are small local businesses who may be better served with more traditional marketing communications tools.

When I have expressed these views, I am treated as a Luddite with something against digital marketing.  This is a false accusation.  Digital marketing should be part of a wider communications strategy.  What part it plays in your communications strategy will depend on the needs, wants and expectations of your target customer base.  For example, a young fashion brand, such as Ugg boots, will have to be all over digital channels including social media.  I saw an advertisement the other day for an industrial lubricants company wanting someone to manage their twitter account.  I suspect this company would be better placed using their social media budget on improving their direct marketing and sales force.

Digital marketing compliments traditional marketing channels, it does not replace them.  Even digital giants, such as Amazon and Ebay use traditional television and print advertising.  They do not limit themselves to digital channels alone.

Digital should not be treated as a cheap option.  Done properly, digital marketing will cost the same as traditional marketing for a similar return on investment. Digital is not cheap and it is not easy.  it is every bit as costly and complicated as other marketing channels.

Social media marketing often relies on the creation of viral content.  As there are no guarantees as to what type of content will ‘go viral’, this means it can be a very risky strategy.

Even experts in digital marketing communications such as Dave Chaffey advocate the use of a wider multichannel communications strategy.  You must develop an appropriate mix of traditional and digital communications channels; a multichannel marketing strategy.

Stone and Shan (2002) described the goal of marketing communications as, “to manage each channel profitably whilst optimising the attributes of each channel so that value is offered to each type of customer”.

Target customers should have access to products and services in the best way to match their lifestyle and behavioural needs.

When discussing the role of promotion in the marketing mix, many marketers use the acronym DRIP.  This relates to:

  • Differentiate – make your offer distinct and different to that of your competitors
  • Remind – existing and lapsed consumers of your offer
  • Inform – Consumers of the attributes of your offer
  • Persuade – New customers to purchase your offer or to switch from your competitors. Persuade existing customers to buy more or to move up to a more expensive option.

In his book Marketing Communications, Chris Fill goes further and describes the purpose of marketing communications as:

  1.  To create a need
  2. To create, build and maintain you brand image, brand awareness and corporate reputation
  3. To educate
  4. To inform
  5. To provide a response
  6. To reinforce competitive advantage
  7. To influence decision makers
  8. to build relationships
  9. To increase profits (turnover) through up-selling and cross-selling.

Traditional retailers have struggled with the introduction of digital giants such as Amazon and in some respects have been hamstrung with large, expensive property portfolios and limited product offerings.  As a reaction many are trying to develop multichannel marketing strategies.  They are adapting their offers to create greater value.  This could be through the creation of destination stores which are as much about offering entertainment as they are about selling goods.  Customers go for the experience as much as the product or service on offer.

Mercedes have taken this concept one step further.  There is a Mercedes owned café on the Champs-Elysée in Paris.  It doesn’t sell cars.  It offers meals and drinks like any other café.  The purpose of the café is to differentiate the Mercedes brand and to put the brand into people’s’ consciousness away from its traditional frame of reference.

Many traditional retailers now offer in store click and collect facilities.  This allows goods to be ordered over the internet and when consumers come to collect their items, there are opportunities for cross-selling other products.  Click and collect is as much about store footfall as it is about providing a product delivery option.

The idea that you can reach consumers through a single communications channel has long since been rejected.  You have to use a number of channels, a multichannel approach.

Markets and audiences are fragmenting.  Take television.  In the 1980s, and audience of under ten million was seen as poor for a prime time programme.  Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 with an average audience of over seven million.  Today, with the multiplicity of channels on offer, an audience in the UK of 5 million for a particular show is seen as good.

Although this fragmentation of channels is seen as harming the advertising revenues of channel providers, it means that there are increased opportunities for a brand to touch the consciousness of consumers.  This has meant the restructuring of operations to facilitate the use of multiple channels and to target the preferred ‘touch points’ of your chosen market segments.

To make best use of multiple communication channels, you need to categorise your customer base in terms of account potential and the strength of the relationship you have with them:

  1. A customer with which you have a strong relationship and which offers high account potential should be a strategic investment using communications techniques such as social media, a personal account manager and access to an extranet.
  2. Where there is strong relationship but low account potential, you need to adjust and maintain the relationship accordingly.  This could be through the use of email, telesales or the use of sales representatives.
  3. Where there is a weak relationship but strong potential, you need to select accounts and build on the potential.  This could be through telephone contact or the use of direct mail.
  4. Where there is a weak relationship and low potential, communications should be minimised e.g. the use of email alone.

There are many barriers to effective communication:

  1. Variation of style or tone – for example, you advertising is friendly and informal but your written communications are officious or even threatening.
  2. There is a disconnection between word and deed – You do not do as promised.
  3. Distance – the further apart we are, the less we communicate.
  4. Stereotyping – making assumptions (usually negative).  This can include improperly segmenting a market e.g. categorising all millennials as a single undifferentiated mass.  The over-50s have often been treated in such a way.
  5. Information overload – Offering too much information or too many types of communication.
  6. Target consumers not listening – Being distracted by other topics so message is not heard.  This can also be caused by not listening to your customers.
  7. External ‘Noise’ – today we are bombarded by messages so you must be explicit and clear to catch consumers attention.
  8. Consumers internal filters – We all have prejudices and we filter information to suit those prejudices.

The existence of such barriers have led to many organisations following an integrated communications strategy.  With such a policy all communications an organisation makes with its customers are treated as marketing communications.  There is a consistent style and tone across all forms of communication and at all stages of the customer life cycle.

A failure to integrate communications can make your offer seem clunky and unsophisticated.  It can turn lapsed consumers into actively hostile consumers.

Integrated marketing communications strategies require a strategic focus across all parts of an organisation not just the marketing department.  You need to understand how all parts of your organisation communicate and the impact those communications have.  You must measure the effectiveness of your communications e.g. ROI for advertising or customer satisfaction for customer services.

Integrated marketing communications broadly include:

  1.  Culture and Behaviour – Brand personality, organisational values, how staff behave to each other, interpersonal skills, communication performance, integrity.
  2. Promotional tools and techniques – PR, advertising, other written communications.
  3. Personal selling – the activities of your sales force
  4. The product or service offered
  5. Customer service. (this includes the three additional Ps of the extended marketing mix, Process, people and physical evidence)

The risk of inconsistent integrated marketing communications is inconsistent promise delivery and an inconsistent customer experience.  This can lead to the loss of customers and poor word of mouth.

So, in a world where communications channels are fragmenting and where there is never-ending communications noise, You need to follow a multichannel communications strategy and integrate that strategy across your business activities.