What is Integrated Marketing Communication

The emergence of integrated marketing communication (IMC) introduced a new paradigm into the corporate sphere, promising to make marketing more effective and competitive. The development of IMC constitutes a significant evolution in the areas of corporate marketing, corporate communications and, in particular, marketing communication. While there is no specific definition or common understanding of the concept of IMC, it is widely accepted that it is based on cross-functional processes given that it aims to coordinate corporate and brand messages and communication activities across units and functions. The aim is to increase brand value and to enhance profitable brand relationships by persuading and influencing customers and other stakeholders such as employees, media, suppliers, local community, and/or prospective customers. Soon marketing and communication practitioners and academics began to recognize and apply an IMC approach to their tactics and strategies. In the 1990s, the concept of integrated marketing communication became increasingly popular. The various reasons that accounted for its relatively quick spread and acceptance included the following: (1) from the outset the notion of integrating the communication and marketing activities of an enterprise originated in and was soon supported and adopted by a wide spectrum of practitioners (advertising, direct marketing, and public relations) as well as by advertising agencies and companies alike; (2) the various academics (including Don Schultz of Northwestern University’s Medill School, who allegedly coined the phrase), who embarked upon periods of extensive research into (and subsequent publishing of) the concept, soon found an audience both inside and outside the academic world; (3) faced with the challenges (a) of an increasingly globalizing world, and (b) of the growing importance of the internet for daily life and business, the implications for marketing communication appeared stark: It was necessary now to market and communicate more effectively in increasingly fragmented and segmented markets. Simultaneously, mass advertising was renounced in favor of segmented or more personalized communication; (4) a change of focus from an internal (company)-driven to an external (consumer)-driven marketing and communication orientation, and (5) the increased popularity of integrating business functions in order to use synergies resulting in more competitiveness. A combination of the above changed the nature of competition and the process of marketing communications markedly There were even claims that the new paradigm had revolutionized the marketing discipline in its entirety.
The precise nature of integrated marketing communication (IMC) is difficult to capture. Popular definitions include Don Schultz’s emphasis on the importance of IMC to influence behavior and to address brand and company contacts with audience. Other definitions of IMC range from understanding IMC’s role as managing customer relationships to improving brand value, highlighting the cross-functionality of IMC (Tom Duncan) and the importance of aligning corporate messages (on both the corporate and individual brand level) at all contact points of the company with the customer.
Is IMC a tactic or strategy? In line with the alignment and coordination of all messages going out, a transformation from promotion to communication has taken place, i.e., communication not simply between different business units but also between consumer and company. Dialogue such as this will inevitably result in enhanced consumer participation in the processes of communication, marketing, and finally, brand value creation. Knowing more about customers’ needs and preferences allows for increased customized communication and a strengthening of the company’s relationship with the customer. Today, more than ever before, concomitant with the spread of internet technologies the customer can be treated, integrated, and involved in a more holistic manner.
Glen J. Novak and Joseph Phelps identified three forms of IMC in the body of relevant research: (a) integrated communication, (b) “one voice” communication, and (c) coordinated marketing communication campaign. Integrated communication, that is, the promotion of brand image and the influencing of direct audience behavior, employs all available communication and marketing tools. As regards “one voice” communication, the company makes it clear from the outset that it is committed to a unified and single positioning strategy. In contrast, a coordinated marketing-communication campaign is about synchronizing marketing communication activities in order to address multiple audiences and to introduce multiple brand positions if necessary.
Integrated marketing communications relevance and practice value are being debated vis a vis the applicability of both different product types and different business types. On an organizational level, two critical points affect the implementation of IMC: (1) structural barriers (a pronounced business unit mentality including business unit profit centers, functional specialization and lack of IMC budget) can hinder or restrict integrated marketing communication; and (2) the absence of (or limited) horizontal communication would be incompatible with the IMC mindset.
Critiques of the IMC concept are not necessarily limited to the questioning of the technical applicability of IMC: Postmodernists question the ability of IMC to capably address the increased complexity of todays globalizing world. IMC, with its emphasis on control, order, and predictability, is in general terms a somewhat modern concept whereas market fragmentation and consumption practices tend to display postmodern characteristics. To this end, in their discussions of the integrated marketing communication paradigm, postmodernists call for a more fluid, flexible, and open approach to change.