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Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) | Definition, Objectives, Importance & Barriers

Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)

What is Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)?

When all marketing practices, resources and tools are used (for an organisation) in an integrated manner to affect the minds of customers at maximum level along with maximizing the organisational profit at minimal cost, it is called Integrated marketing communication. In general, marketing begins with Marketing Mix. Marketing communication or promotion is one of the elements of Marketing Mix. Advertising using different media, personal selling, sales promotions (sales and trade promotion), sponsorship marketing, database marketing, public relation direct marketing and internet marketing are the activities included in promotion.

So, the integrated marketing communication is the integration of all these tools with other marketing mix elements in order to a get competitive advantage. Integrated Promotion Mix is the other term used broadly for Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). In conventional marketing, different professional agencies are appointed for the promotional activities. Here, the effect of marketing communications is not evenly distributed which results in contradictory communications making the customers confused. 

Therefore, money, time and effort, all are wasted. IMC, on the other hand, maximizes the marketing impact on customers as well as other end-users with minimum expense. A holistic approach to promotion is integrated marketing communication which has the purpose of ensuring uniformity of the message and the complementary use of media. Both online and offline marketing channels are included in this concept.

Definition of Integrated Marketing Communication

According to The American Marketing Association :
"Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is a planning process designed to assure that all brand contacts received by a customer or prospect for a product, service, or organisation are relevant to that person and consistent over time".

According to American Association of Advertising Agencies :
"IMC is a concept of marketing communication planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication discipline".

Factors Contributing to Integrated Marketing Communication

The role or factors contributing to IMC are as follows :

1) Fragmentation of Media : 
There has been a tremendous increase in the availability of media options for marketers, Marketers are now able to reach customers at more specific locations like metro stations, airports and supermarkets cash counters through the new offering by broadcast media known as "narrow-casting". Not only this, print media has also witnessed remarkable growth.
For example, there was a time when United States brought up 197 different sports magazines in the market. As a result of mass fragmentation marketers are now less dependent on mass media and have increased their focus on additional options for promotion such as POP (Point-of Purchase), event sponsorship etc.

2) Better Audience Assessment : 
More accurate and specific research techniques have been introduced for the marketers to recognize and target particular market segments like teenagers, old-age people, Dual-Income Households with no Kids (DINKs). Asian-Americans, Hispanics, etc. This has led the marketers to serve the specific target segments with the help of promotional tools rather than using mass media.

3) Consumer Empowerment : 
Nowadays, consumers are more aware, informed and empowered. These powerful consumers are mostly highly educated people, smaller families. single-person households, and experienced consumers. They demand for customized information just related to their needs and are usually doubtful about commercial messages. For this purpose, technological systems such as PVR/TiVo/DVR play a crucial role in controlling the empowered consumers.

4) Increased Advertising Clutter : 
Consumers we becoming bored and cynical and this is the reason they are transforming themselves as more advanced and revolutionary. The rapid increase of advertising stimuli has weakened the effect of single advertising messages. The rise in the messages has no end, they will be increasing simultaneously.

5) Database Technology : 
Various communication opportunities have been created for marketers to generate, assemble and manage databases. These databases can be used to create customer and non-customer profiles. Marketers can undertake direct-response marketing and telemarketing programmes with the help of this information. This can be enhanced more with the growth of internet.

6) Channel Power : 
In several product and market segments, there has been a transfer of power from the big manufacturers to big retailers. "Power retailers" like Big Bazaar and Spencer are charging fees and allowances from manufacturers to promote their products in special events and various other retail promotional events.

7) Accountability :
In order to attain increased accountability, companies are adopting short term promotional methods such as direct mail, sales promotion, etc., instead of using advertising methods.

Objectives of Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication has following main objectives :

Objectives of Integrated Marketing Communication

1) To Create Brand Equity : 
Creating brand equity through developing global brand as well as effective corporate image is one of the main objectives of IMC. The set of specific features associated with the brand, which is the reason behind increased demand of brand among businesses and consumers, is called 'brand equity. With the combination of integrated marketing communication and quality products, these specific features can be increased. Due to increased brand equity, more customers move towards brand, this in turn, adds distinct benefit to the organisation.

Integrated marketing communication is an important element in the process of building brand equity. Being "top of mind" and being "consumers' top choice" are the two main features of successful brands. One particular brand is always pointed out when consumers are questioned to name a brand in a given product category. This particular brand name has the feature of being top of mind.

2) To Provide Information : 
Along with having objective of creating brand equity, IMC is also focused towards other objectives. One such objective is to provide useful information to consumers as well as organisational buyers. Information provided to customers may involve store hours of a particular retailer, detailed description of a particular product, or even business location. Complete and relevant information helps in making the purchase process convenient and quite simple. It induces the consumer to select a store and complete the purchasing process.

3) To Influence Consumer Choices : 
Another objective of IMC is to influence the consumer choices. It acts like a guide or counsel for customers and makes them use their dominance power (king of the market) in the most effective; way. By providing updated and complete. information about available products and services, Integrated Marketing Communication enables the customers to purchase sensibly. It is the objective of IMC to show customers the superiority of a particular brand over another brand. It also highlights the. consequences of avoiding a particular brand. It is very difficult to modify consumer attitudes and thereafter convince them to sustain the now choice.

4) To Differentiate Product : 
Differentiating the organisational product with that of the competitors' is another important objective of integrated marketing communication. The process through which, a perceived difference between organisational products and competitors' products is developed in the mind of consumers, is called 'differentiation'. Through this definition, it is clear that consumer perception is the basis of brand differentiation. The perceived difference developed through differentiation can be tangible or sometimes intangible (based on image or style) in nature. By describing performance features or developing a unique brand image, IMC creates a perceived difference between organisational brand and competitors' brands in the minds of target customers.

5) To Position Products/Brands : 
Along with differentiating the product, positioning the product/brand is also an important objective of IMC. Process of developing a brand in such a way that it occupies a distinct and respective position (with respect to the other brands) in the minds of target consumers and then highlighting this distinctiveness through promotional efforts is called positioning. As in case of differentiation, perceived image of product features (tangible or intangible) is also an important factor here. A perceived image or perceptual space is how customers see a particular brand in comparison to other brands on the basis of number of dimensions like price, quality, taste, or social display value.

Importance of Integrated Marketing Communication

Benefits of IMC is as follows :

Importance of Integrated Marketing Communication

1) Consistent Delivery of Messages : 
When a company follows its planning process in a holistic manner, it attempts to make sure that all the communication tools are conveying the same message to the target audience. Most significantly it demands to implement same strategy for the brand instead of developing separate strategies for different tools of marketing communication. Here, the prime concern of any effective communication program is the clarity of messages.

2) Corporate Cohesion : 
IMC is considered as a strategic method of the company in communicating the corporate image and benefits of its products and services. It significantly affects the company at both external and internal levels. The intent of IMC is to portray the company's image in an effective manner as inclination of customers is usually towards the companies with whom they feel contented.
For this, the introduction of cohesive communication programme in the company is essential. It enables all the employees to understand the company's goals and motives. Whereas, cohesiveness externally helps in building good image of the company.

3) Client-Agency Relationship : 
IMC plays a major role in developing the communication programme in the agency and hence has become an important part of the relationship. Rather than performing one or more tasks, the market communicator must feel responsible for the entire communication program and its related requirements. It will aid the company to implement significant strategic position and will also provide advantages over its competitors.

4) Strategic Development : 
Integrated Marketing Communication facilitates improved communication and builds strong relationship between agencies and the client company. Due to this, information communicated freely among the participants, this helps them on focusing more on organisational goals than on their individual agendas.

5) Motivation : 
IMC acts as a motivator for agencies. It instills a sense of motivation among all the participants (mostly all the stakeholders). As a result, the employees are able to show their creativity and potential.

6) Team Spirit : 
Each of the participants owns the company's final plan. They think together. implement the strategies together, avoiding all the internal politics. This helps to resolve the issues which usually arise in individual departments.

7) Measurability : 
Measuring the reaction and responsibility for the communication programme is one of the most important benefits of IMC.

8) Technology Based :
Technology advancements are introducing new methods to reach out customers in a better way but this is adversely affecting the traditional media. The scope of radio, television, newspapers, etc., is getting fragmented and limited to the audience. The emergence of e-commerce and internet has changed the company's way of doing the business and interacting with its customers. Some of the developing trends are database marketing, online marketing etc.

9) Cost-Effective Budget : 
The new marketing communication tools are evolving which are cost-effective and more target specific compared to other traditional media. Companies are now shifting their marketing budget from advertising to other promotional methods like consumer and trade promotions. Integrated marketing communication is considered as the most appropriate method for allocation of budget.

Challenges in Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)

IMC is the most favorable way of promoting the products and services of the company, but it is relatively a slow process. The reason behind this is various challenges faced by the company during the implementation of IMC. Some of them Disadvantages or Barriers of integrated marketing communication are as follows :

Challenges in IMC

1) Top Management Support :
The implementation of IMC involves a number of changes at organisational level which is not possible without the consent of the company. Hence, top management plays a crucial role in the successful implementation of Integrated Marketing Communication. Sometimes, top management may not allow the IMC process implementation due to their ego problems or different viewpoints.

2) Organisational Barriers : 
Company's organisational structure acts as another challenge in the implementation of integrated marketing communication. Typically, companies consist of several departments having their own set of duties whereas IMC requires a hierarchical organisational structure which is flexible in nature. A flexible structure helps the company to incorporate all the communication function in a centralized manner. There are many companies which are still persuading Strategic Business Units (SBU) strategy and functional strategy, where each unit takes their own decisions. In such a situation, it becomes difficult for a company to integrate its communication program.

3) Cultural Factors : 
The organisational culture may also hinder the implementation of IMC. For successful integrated marketing communication, cooperation and coordination among the employees is important. If the organisational culture is unwilling to adopt the changes, then this may cause problem in the implementation process. Mainly. government-controlled companies are unlikely to adopt any changes.

4) Functional Specialization : 
The specialized function of employees also acts as a barrier in integrating marketing communication process. The IMC theory states that the members of top management of any organisation should be communication generalists. The concept of Integrated Marketing Communication encompasses a broader view of the marketplace, customers, competition and communication.
In reference to the IMC theory, companies are training their employees to become specialist in a specific field. But, the specialists hardly communicate with other functional groups. All the functional groups work towards their own objectives following a specific procedure within a limited budget.

5) Decentralization : 
Decentralization is the process of redistributing the power and authority of decision-making powers among the employees so that they can be responsive to the needs of consumers instantly. Various management theories also follow the concept of decentralized decision-making instead of the traditional one, where decision is taken by top management by using the top-down approach it gets conveyed at all the levels of organisation. But, despite all this, the concept of decentralized decision-making is a barrier for integrating the marketing communication program.

6) Short-Term Planning : 
One of the prime concerns of Integrated Marketing Communication is to adopt long-term planning process in order to create a positive image of itself among its customers and stakeholders. However, many organisations prefer short-term planning to achieve their financial goals rather than focusing out customer requirements. Therefore, short-term planning is also a barrier in the implementation of IMC.

7) Budget Allocation : 
Successful implementations of IMC requires cooperation among the departments and employees. But, the allocation of resources. and budget intensifies the competition between the departments, which makes the IMC implementation almost impossible. For budget allocation, performance evaluation of various departments is done but due to their long-term goals and choice of different communication tools, it becomes difficult for the organisation to compare different departments. It is not possible to assess all communication activities but sales promotion activities can be evaluated as they provide instant results of their cost and returns received.

8) Unwillingness to Change : 
Another barrier for implementation of IMC is the unwillingness to change. Fear of change may arise because of the complex nature of IMC which may affect the areas other than the territory in which it is implemented. The reasons behind unwillingness to change are uncertainty, threat to self-interest, feeling of loss, etc. Out of all the factors, uncertainty is the biggest fear.

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