Effective integrated marketing communications (IMC) involves consistent branding using all the promotional tools available to you. You can do this by combining traditional marketing vehicles – advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing, public relations and personal selling – with new marketing such as Instagram, YouTube and twitter in a cohesive campaign to market your products and services. In order to understand this aspect of marketing we need to look at five related elements:

• the communication process
• the promotional mix
• product life cycle
• the buying decision process
• and the push and pull strategies used by
organizations, manufacturers and distributors

The communication process
When you communicate, a number of factors come into play. A company can be the source of that communication and a message is delivered through a channel, such as a print ad, to the receiver – you and me. The company encodes the message, shapes it, and designs it in such a way as to influence us to buy or at least consider the offer. We, in turn, decode the message according to our own thinking.

The encoding is a process that turns an idea into a symbol. If you ever took philosophy at college you studied Plato’s form theory. He asked “What is the idea of a chair”? Today, we can go to IKEA and see many interpretations. As consumers, we decode the symbol into an idea and we like to give our feedback. We like this, we don’t like that. Or we may be indifferent and the company’s message falls flat.
Successful communications between people and between manufacturers and buyers is a challenge.

It helps if we can share our experiences. That’s why interactive social media works and why noise, the last element of the communication process is important. Noise includes a poorly conceived message, an image or an idea that doesn’t come across, or even a typo. It gets in the way of the message and communication breaks down.

Marketers often use psychographic profiling to understand the target market. The profile might indicate that a market is looking for adventure and a unique and authentic experience – just the kind of offering vape shops have in abundance.

You or your creative team can add user-generated content to your message and build a campaign around short video clips that exemplify the experience. Potential vape customers probably enjoy video of cloud chasers. That kind of creative can be aired online and promoted using Internet forums and bloggers.

The effectiveness and success of an integrated marketing communications campaign tells us a few things.

First of all, we need to know the customer and we need new, creative ways to reach them through the clutter of the media landscape.

Promotion including advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, public relations and direct marketing becomes the promotional mix, and we use these tools to accomplish the tasks of:
• informing
• persuading
• reminding
• engaging
• and connecting with our audience.

Before the Internet, promotion was often separate from the customer and the communication was one-way. Sometimes it was also inconsistent – with different teams doing their own thing with sales, ads and PR.

Integrated marketing communications, on the other hand, does just what it says. It integrates advertising, public relations, sales promotion and social media. The promotion then becomes two-way and interactive. It is estimated that eighty percent of large organizations now engage in online conversations with their stakeholders. They seek to reach key influencers in the spirit of Gladwell’s Tipping Point. Direct feedback is possible and companies use this information to satisfy their customers’ needs and wants.

Hey, Do This, Buy This, Think This
Marketing communications takes the form of mass promotion when we use advertising, sales promotion and public relations. We say mass because we are reaching a lot of people, for example, the audience at the Super Bowl or the World Cup.
Personal selling and direct marketing are more targeted promotion tools.

We say that advertising is one-way, non-personal and controlled promotion. Companies pay for advertising because they can control the content of the message and its timing and the medium, such as television.

The weakness of some forms of advertising is that they are expensive and there is no direct feedback. By contrast, direct response advertising, especially online advertising, has a built in feedback mechanism, hence the attraction.

Personal selling is the most expensive promotion vehicle and some salespeople are not effective. On the other hand, there is no wasted coverage and we get instant feedback.

When organizations want to wield influence, shape opinion and manage image, public relations is the answer. Optics is a term we hear a lot these days in politics. PR is useful for lobbying and messaging. Publicity can be priceless if it is well done. Editorial coverage or a positive news story from a respectable medium has great value. However, there is limited control and there are no guarantees.

Sales promotion is a temporary inducement but it can drive traffic and generate sales using coupons and samples.

Direct mail, telemarketing, infomercials and mobile deals are all forms of direct marketing. They require database management and there are privacy issues involved, not to forget the nuisance factor.

Deciding on the right promotional mix asks us to evaluate the target market, the product and its stage in the product life cycle, the channel and the buyer decision stage.

If the target is the ultimate consumer, mass media, in one or more of its forms, is the answer. Trade is used when we are promoting to intermediaries including wholesalers and retailers.

Which promotion tool works best will depend on the stage in the product or service life cycle. The life cycle passes through four stages from

• introduction
• to growth
• maturity
• and decline.

When a new product is introduced and information is most important we use publicity, ads, our sales force and sales promotions to inform, sell and build awareness.
As the service or product grows, competitors enter the field and it’s critical to persuade customers to choose our product. Here we are brand building, advertising heavily, organizing distribution and closing large orders from intermediaries. In maturity, we need to remind them to keep buying. That’s why mature products like Coke keep advertising to us. After spending so much money on research and development and building brand, marketers want to minimize churn, or switching to competitors. That’s why discounts, coupons and special prices are so in vogue at this stage.

The customer also passes through a decision process when buying. Before purchasing, advertisements and sales promotion induces the buyer. When the consumer is ready to buy, personal selling comes into play. Post purchase behaviour demands that companies keep promoting to remind the buyer that they made the right decision. Follow up becomes important here.

Fill the Shelves & Bring in the Customers
Organizations employ two opposite strategies to move products and services.

The push strategy can take up to sixty percent of the promotion budget and involves incentives to the wholesaler and retailer to stock the product.

In contrast, advertising drives consumer demand and can be said to pull customers into the store.

Planning the promotional mix takes into account objectives and budgets of course and organizations use research to test before launching and to control the marketing promotion plan once it is implemented.

There are a few ways to budget. Percentage of gross sales is one. Matching the competition is another, as is spending what’s available. Finally, the objective task form of budgeting means matching the ‘spend’ to the cost of the task.

How much promotion is needed is a skill that marketing managers and professionals are trained in.

Designing the promotion, in industry parlance, is the creative part of marketing communications. Here we look at art and copy, news releases and publicity, sales skill and promotion design.

We use various appeals to get people to buy. Fear is a common appeal. “Aren’t you glad you use Dial, don’t you wish everyone did?” was a popular soap tagline for many years.

Everyone enjoys a humorous ad, done well and emotions are used to sell hamburgers and resting places. Sex, of course, can help sell a lot of things, and does.

Feedback & Managing the Customer Relationship
The growth in customer relationship management or CRM has heralded resurgence in direct marketing. The Internet and e-commerce enable organizations to interact one-on-one with the customer. Websites and direct mobile marketing and Internet browsing have opened up new vistas. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have altered the marketing landscape forever.

Companies now use something called common short code marketing. For example, 310 Bell and 665766 which spells Molson.

We have online shopping, toll free numbers, 24/7, couriers, last minute specials and lead generation. Companies use scanners, cookies and measure click stream behaviour. I was looking online for a small portable fireplace as a gift, and subsequently, wherever I went online I was followed by a bevy of portable fireplaces.

With this new paradigm comes a new rule such as the E-commerce Protection Act and privacy concerns. Regulators have introduced provisions to protect consumers from spam, identity theft, spyware and phishing.

New laws have been enacted with hefty fines in the millions of dollars.

So, integrated marketing communications is a multifaceted undertaking. If your plan is to use it well, you are advised to know your customers and know how to communicate with them in a language they can understand. SVBS

Source: Marketing, Crane 9th Ed., McGraw-Hill

Donald Fenton Headshot PhotoDon Fenton has directed marketing and communications campaigns around the world for corporations traded in New York, London, Tokyo, Toronto and Paris. He teaches marketing at the University of Toronto and is Vice President of Communications at Gilla Inc. You can reach him at 416-434-3681 or [email protected]