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Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a fancy term that was coined a number of years ago to describe the plan for delivering a consistent message about a product or service across all media forms. In the truest sense, an IMC plan is the strategy and tactics that support the brand. Although IMC has been studied and applied for the past three decades, the method still generates a great deal of debate and misunderstanding among practitioners and clients for several important reasons:
Confusion. IMC is an audience-driven business process of strategically managing stakeholders, content, channels and communications, essentially driving the business from the outside in. Nice textbook definition, but what does that mean? Further, there is ongoing disagreement within organizations as to the role and significance of IMC and branding. In other words, should IMC drive the organization, or be just another facet of doing business?
We believe that IMC and branding should always be the driver. It means that your product or service offering is only as good as the messaging behind it. Organizations that merely focus on tactics… which ad to run which day… risk failing to brand their business and in this very difficult economy that can bite you in the behind. The real cost in most lines of business of making a market for your products and services is not just in development and launch, but rather in strategic marketing and that includes IMC strategy first and tactics second.
Market spend. A common question we get is “How much should we be spending to drive results?” In other words, what amount in dollars or percentage should be allocated to implementing marketing strategies and tactics? This question of “how much, as a percentage of sales, should we be spending?” implies that most businesses think there is some magic formula that if applied universally across all markets and industries will provide the desired results. Hint: There is no universally accepted formula, but there are ways to determine an appropriate spend for your business.
Where to spend. There are no limits on where clients can invest their precious advertising dollars. The Internet is now considered the new frontier. However, good, old-fashioned traditional strategies and tactics like targeted print, direct mail and sales promotion remain equally important. Digital communications has supplemented and often-times supplanted, traditional marketing communications strategies and tactics with a dizzying array of electronic direct marketing options. However, these should not be the only tools in the toolbox. Too often, we see clients who are dizzied by the array of advertising and promotion options and make choices based not on what’s strategic, but on the personality of the ad rep. My favorite example of this is a would-be client who told me that he was running prohibitively expensive full-page ads everywhere. When asked why, he replied “Because the rep said I should.” Nice, but given the revenue targets of the business, the overhead and the profit margin on the products he sells, he’s marketing his way to economic decline.
Customer is king. All of these factors, combined with a global economy, have put the customer in the driver’s seat. And he or she has the keys, which means customers can pretty much get what they want, when they want it, where they want it from, for a price they’re willing to pay. If customers sound like they are calling all the shots, they are. Does that mean you can’t win them over? No. You can win them over because whoever decides to give customers what they want, when they want it, where they want it from, for a price they’re willing to pay, will win their business and their loyalty. And it might as well be you! The takeaway: Tactical execution without practical IMC planning is a little like jumping out of a plane without checking that your parachute works. It probably will…the odds are with you, but you just can’t be sure.
The marketing imperative. Given all of these factors, what’s a business to do? The answer is to reassess and refresh your brand periodically, think strategically and execute tactically. Companies need to determine what means the most to their customers. They need to critically evaluate continually the messages they send out. Companies need to be astute to subtle changes in the marketplace that may impact their businesses. Organizations need to recognize that the real cost of creating or maintaining market leadership is paid for in the form of marketing and promotional spend.
Wondering where to begin? The first step is developing a blueprint to accomplish your goals—the IMC plan. Once you’ve established your competitive distinction (i.e., brand positioning) in the marketplace, you can communicate that distinction through strategies and tactics across multiple media…the right message, at the right price, at the right time to the right audience.
Paul H. Bush brings twenty-plus years of experience (and enthusiasm) to marketing communications. He is president and founder of Persuasive Communications, a full-service marketing communications firm based in Pittsford that specializes in marketing for professional service firms. His clients include professionals in healthcare, insurance and financial services, as well as real estate development, retail and dental. In addition, he is the founder and owner of RochesterResume.com, which works quietly and effectively to help candidates in job transition market themselves most effectively. Previously, he was Director of Marketing for one of the area’s largest and most successful socially entrepreneurial not-for-profit agencies. Paul has a BS degree in business from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Master’s degree from SUNY Brockport.
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