In the consumer- controlled communication environment, traditional direct marketing has lost its effectiveness and efficiency yet remained costly (Madhavaram, Badrinarayanan, & McDonald, 2005). In this situation the need of Integrated Marketing Communications arises as IMC incorporates traditional media, online channels, PR, sponsorship, in-store promotions and social networks (Reid, Luxton, & Mavondo, 2005).
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Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) can be defined as a communication concept, where all the marketing communication tools, avenues and sources in a company are coordinated and integrated into a seamless program to maximize the impact on consumer at minimum cost (Black, 2004). IMC incorporates all the promotional tools like advertising, direct marketing, public relation program, sponsorship marketing, social media marketing and database marketing. In IMC, all of these communication tools blend to send a unified message (Kitchen, Kim, & Schultz, 2008). IMC is a strategic marketing process which is built to make sure that all communication strategies are uniform across all communication channels and focused on the customers. Being customer centric or customer focused is the primary part of IMC (Kerr et al., 2008). The success of the business or company is measured by its ability to attract new customers and maintain the existing ones (Ratnatunga & Ewing, 2005). So the main aim of IMC is to reach the customers through all the available touch points and engage customers with the company’s brand (Lee & Park, 2007).
To develop an Integrated Marketing Communications model companies, build coordination among marketing resources, and then value-added information is sent to customers to engage the customer with the brand/product and build a long-term relationship (Schultz, 1992). This process can be started by having an optimal mix among four marketing resources which are Audience, Brand, Content and Delivery (Kliatchko, 2005).
Audience: to understand target audience, a large amount of data and analysis is required. The data include demographics, psychographics, and behavioral attitude of customers to optimize media targeting strategy (Mulhern, 2009; Fill, 2000).
Brand: in order to have a competitive advantage, companies build a unique selling proposition (USP) for the brand. According to Tay (2003), USP can be helpful for the organization in differentiating the offerings from competitors. The brand is required to have clearly differentiated features and benefits from the competitor's products and provides superior value to the customer. The marketer should develop such features in the product that are needed by the customer. For that the marketer requires full knowledge about the customers’ needs and wants (Mulhern, 2009; Fill, 2000).
Content: most competitors have a traditional linear marketing strategy and the same target audience, and in that situation the marketer can use content as a point of competitive differentiation. Simmons (2007) stated that content can be important in attracting and engaging the attention of the audience. Value added content engages a customer with a company’s brand (product / services). Marketers also ensure that the content is based on consumer insight to build an emotional connection between brand and customers (Mulhern, 2009; Fill, 2000).
Delivery: a company can develop a push-pull system by mixing the traditional channels with the new-digital media channels. Chopra, Meindl, Kalra, (2008) believe that organization need to use both push and pull strategy according to the situation the organization is facing. For the successful content delivery, marketers make sure that customers are engaged with the media used in the communication plan. To ensure that the company’s message is delivered to the target audience, marketers are required to have knowledge about the “hang out” of the customers (Mulhern, 2009; Fill, 2000). Some customers spend their time on the internet surfing while some are addicted to TV. Some customers listen to the radio while going to the workplace or college, and these people also get exposed to billboard ads. Through IMC strategy, marketers use communication channels that are most used by a prospective customer. Companies can also use tracking to find out about the strongest marketing channel for example: by asking customers “where did you hear about us? “(McGrath, 2005).
To develop an effective IMC plan it is important to have synergy. In order to build synergy marketers, make sure that each marketing activity has one voice and one message which harmonize with the brand identity. This means coordination is required among all the marketing communication tools like TV commercials, radio ads, PR activities, sponsorship, social media activities and the brand identity (Keller, 2009).
Keller (2001), identified two perspectives in IMC: micro perspective and macro perspective and according to this study micro and macro perspectives are interrelated. Micro perspective focuses on how consumer-related factors, communication-related factor, response-related factor and situation-related factors work to inform macro perspective in order to build and apply IMC choice criteria. In the same way, the macro perspective shows that it is important to understand IMC choice criteria like commonality and robustness of communication options. This in turn helps to conduct further micro analysis about the effectiveness and versatility of different communication options.
Many efforts are required to build an Integrated Marketing Communications plan, but it provides many benefits to the company. IMC helps in developing competitive advantage, increases sales and profits and saves money, time and stress. IMC surrounds the customers with the communication, and this helps in moving customers through various stages of buying process (Prasad & Sethi, 2009). Through IMC, a company can have dialogues with the customers that will help in building a relationship with the customers. A lifetime relationship with the customers serves as a shield against the inevitable onslaught of competition. Hence, a loyal customer base built with the help of IMC becomes a powerful competitive advantage (Wickham & Hall, 2006).
IMC increases the overall effectiveness of a simple communication plan which results in higher profits and sales. As unified message sent through IMC is more effective than multiple disjointed messages. A consistent, consolidated and crystal clear message has the power to cut the communication clutter (Prasad & Sethi, 2009). Whereas several disjointed messages weaken the impact of the message. As a result, the customer becomes confused and frustrated. A consistent and unified message is more credible which helps in reducing the risk in the mind of the consumer. This helps the consumer to skip the search process by dictating the result of brand comparison (Anantachart, 2006).
Although there are many benefits of integrated marketing communication, there are some barriers that IMC faces. These barriers include functional silos, stifled creativity, time scale conflicts and lack of management know how (Prasad & Sethi, 2009).
Marketers while devising Integrated Marketing Communications are then required to develop a plan that is able to reduce the impact of barriers in generating effectiveness of the planned Integrated Marketing Communications goals.
As it is already noted that consumer decision is affected by wide variety of factors and marketers in order to take the advantage of these factors attempt to develop an Integrated Marketing Communications. Mihart (2012), in order to test the influence of Integrated Marketing Communications on buying behavior, presented a model of research as shown below:
(Mihart, 2012, p. 129)
In this model, the first set of Integrated Marketing Communications shows that how communication is incorporated in marketing mix components like product, price, distribution (place) and marketing communication (promotion). It is also impacted is also found on market research on which the market segmentation depends. For instance, after doing market research, a company decides the segment of the market that it wants to serve. This flow or the hierarchy asserts the concept of the relationship era that evolved after 1990s in the history of marketing (Boone, & Kurtz, 2013). Next, the company develops a product that satisfies the needs of its target market, and then they price their product and make the product available through appropriate distribution channels and along with this a communication plan is developed, based on some consumer insight, in order to attract them. In order to design Integrated Marketing Communications activities, the company needs a proper communication strategy and communication plan. The integrated communication strategy is built to establish the positioning of the product and to back communication objectives (Mihart, 2012a). The main focus of the integrated communication plan is to decide what communication tools should be used to optimize the customer response (Mihart, 2012a). The second set of Consumer behavior in the model shows five dimensions of consumer behavior including perception, information/ learning, attitude, motivation and actual behavior (Mihart, 2012a). Belch & Belch, (2008) refer that consumers’ likes and dislike for the particular brand affect the decision of purchase or not to purchase. Similarly, Hawkins and Mothersbaugh, (2009) have stated that motivation is a complex process and this complex process has capability impulse, ignite or refrain customers from buying particular products or service. The last set Consumer decision-making process shows all the stages through which consumers go before buying a good or service. These stages are need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, buying decision and post purchase evaluation (Mihart, 2012a). Each component of the above model is widely discussed and the interconnectivity of the factors for developing satisfied customer base.
Boone, & Kurtz, (2013) in a book has stated that in times of the recent economic cruch of 2008, the companies adopted the strategy of downsizing. On contrary to this, successful companies were directed towards the development of products that excited customers and convinced to invest in buying products (Boone, & Kurtz, 2013). Mihart, (2012b) stated that successful integrated marketing communication goes far beyond than a mere mix of the marketing or communication mix. Instead, Integrated Marketing Communications in order to create a strengthened relationship with the customers shall adopt a holistic approach. Moreover, Mihart, (2012b) also stated that a systematic procedure of Integrated Marketing Communications shall initiate after understanding and focusing on consumer centric approach and developed the given model in the context of hierarchy of effect:
(Mihart, 2012b, p. 978)
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Social media networking websites have become an important part of marketing strategies and marketing plans. These social media websites are significantly used by marketers to not only engage with the consumers, but these websites are used to present information and knowledge about the company and its offerings as well (Szmigin, Canning, & Reppel, 2005). Social media websites are helpful in promoting the offerings of the organization as well as in engaging directly with the consumers (Rothschild, 2011). In addition to this, these social media websites are helpful for the organization in knowing about the responses of the consumers and whether they are liking the product or service and to take feedback from the consumers (Weber, 2009).
These websites are able to spread the message at a rapid pace and if the message is able to engage and attract the audience, then the message is spread from one consumer to another and thus, a chain of consumers are able to see the message. Therefore, it has a multiple impact (Fong, & Burton, 2006) and for this very reason, organizations and marketers have started formulating proper social media marketing strategies and social media is included in the Integrated Marketing Communications plan (Dunay, & Krueger, 2010). Mangold, & Faulds, (2009) stated that even large organizations formulate objectives and then devise strategies to achieve these objectives from social media websites. However, it is important for organizations to use this platform properly otherwise, it can negatively impact the organization and its brand image (Vollmer, & Precourt, 2008).
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