Last Updated 02 Aug 2020

Integrated Marketing Communication: Overview

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During the last decade of the twentieth century, the concept of integrated marketing communications (IMC) received considerable attention from practitioners and academics alike, and that interest has continued into the new millennium (e. g. , Bearden and Madden 1996; Cornelissen and Lock 2000; Duncan, Schultz, and Patti 2005; Garretson and Burton 2005; Nowak and Phelps 1994; Schultz and Kitchen 2000a; Schumann, Artis, and Rivera 2001).

As the marketplace has become more fragmented over the years, organizations have embraced IMC as a means to effectively and efficiently target and attract the splintering mass market through the transmission of a unified message across all "contact points" between organizations and their consumers. Whether the contact point is product packaging, a Web advertisement, or any other "information bearing experience that a consumer or prospect has with a brand" (Schultz, Tannenbaum, and Lauterborn 1993, p. 1), the goal is to present a message to an audience that is consistent (Duncan 1993) and/or to generate valuable customer information (Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002; Yarborough 1996). In short, utilization and coordination of various promotion and communication tools is necessary to assure optimal market coverage (Stewart 1996) and to develop a strong marketing program (Nowak and Phelps 1994).

Despite its potential contributions, debate still exists regarding the significance of IMC as a practice (e. g. , Cook 2004; Cornelissen and Lock 2000; Gould 2001). Questions pertaining to the prevalence of IMC in the marketplace (Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002) and regarding its differential applicability across product type (e. g. , Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996) remain. This study was designed to help answer these questions.

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In recent years, the concept of IMC has made its way into the mainstream of the marketing literature (Duncan and Caywood 1996; Nowak and Phelps 1994; Schultz 2003; Schultz and Kitchen 1997, 2000b; Zahay et al. 2004). This has occurred despite the fact that, in reality, there is no universally agreed upon definition of IMC (e. g. , Cornelissen and Lock 2000; Kliatchko 2005; Schultz and Kitchen 1997; Stewart 1996) and IMC appears to be an evolving concept (Duncan, Schultz, and Patti 2005).

While a "working definition of integrated marketing communication is hard to come by" (Schultz, Tannenbaum, and Lauterborn 1993, p. xv), one simple characterization of the phenomenon poses IMC as the coordination of communication tools for a brand (Krugman et al. 1994). Central to the concept of IMC is the notion that effective communication is accomplished by blending various communication forms--for example, advertising, publicity, sales promotion, and so forth--into a single, seamless entity (Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996).

Furthermore, when it is well devised, IMC can generate information that can be used to identify and target different types of consumers with customized communication (Schultz 1997) and, ultimately, help to build a strong relationship with them (Duncan 2002). In a sense, then, IMC involves a process that is circular in nature--a sort of two-way communication between organizations and consumers that gathers and stores responses to communication and uses that information to effectively target consumers in future efforts (Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002; Schultz, Tannenbaum, and Lauterborn 1993).

A review of the phenomenon in practice performed by Nowak and Phelps (1994) uncovered three broad manifestations of integrated marketing communication: IMC as "integrated communication," IMC as "'one voice' communication," and IMC as a "coordinated marketing-communication campaign. " While the distinction among the three manifestations is sometimes hazy, each one poses a slightly different approach that organizations may take to create messages that are uniform in tone and look (Duncan 1993).

The "integrated communications" approach involves promoting brand image and direct audience behavior simultaneously by coupling devices such as brand advertising and public relations communications with consumer sales promotions and direct response tools within an organization's marketing-communication materials, particularly advertisements (Peltier, Mueller, and Rosen 1992). For instance, an ad that contains a direct-response tool (e. g. , a coupon), a public relations appeal (e. g. , support of an esteemed social cause), and brand advertising (e. g. depiction and description of the offering) would reflect the integrated communication form of IMC.

A key outcome of this approach is the acquisition of consumer information that is captured when consumers respond to direct-response tools, sales promotions, and the like (Nowak and Phelps 1994). The "one voice" approach reflects a firm's focus on a single positioning strategy that emphasizes unity among brand/ image advertising, direct-response advertising, public relations, and consumer sales promotions at the outset of a promotional campaign (Reilly 1991; Snyder 1991).

In this approach, the position, message, or theme is what ultimately guides an organization's IMC decisions, which ostensibly could be rendered independently by the firm's advertising, public relations, and sales promotion agencies (Nowak and Phelps 1994). The third approach, "coordinated marketing-communication campaigns," stresses the need to integrate the activities of different marketing-communication disciplines (e. g. , sales promotions, advertising, and public relations) in order to reach multiple audiences with a synergistic effort (Rapp and Collins 1990; Schultz, Tannenbaum, and Lauterborn 1993).

The "coordinated marketing communication" approach differs from the "one voice" manifestation of IMC in that it does not simply focus on a single brand position; rather, multiple positions are the norm (Nowak and Phelps 1994), with a goal of targeting multiple audiences (Rapp and Collins 1990). A further comparison of the three forms of integrated marketing communication reveals that the "coordinated marketing-communication campaign" and "one voice" approaches to IMC involve an organization's communication activity at a broad level of application, whereas the "integrated communications" manifestation encompasses a more microlevel application.

More precisely, the first two manifestations involve integration across communication campaigns, whereas the latter one entails integration within particular communication devices, such as advertisements. For example, early indications following Super Bowl XL suggested that the ads broadcast during the event were successful not only in terms of their brand advertising, but also in terms of direct response, as evidenced by the increased traffic to the advertisers' Web sites (Horovitz 2006).

Of the three forms of IMC, it is the integrated communications" approach that appears to be the one most often utilized in practice (Phelps, Plumley, and Johnson 1994) and the one that is the focus of this study. One broad goal of our research is to discern how the "integrated communications" form of IMC is manifested in practice. Integrated Marketing Communication Research While the phenomenon of integrated marketing communications has received widespread attention over the past 15 years, there have been very few empirical investigations of its incidence and application.

The scant research findings that are available suggest that IMC is perceived to be valuable by practitioners (Duncan and Everett 1993; Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002) and that its utilization seems to be increasing. For example, one early study found that approximately two-thirds of consumer product companies employed IMC in some manner (Caywood, Schultz, and Wang 1991), while a later investigation reported that 75% of the organizations surveyed had adopted IMC in one way or another (Phelps, Plumley, and Johnson 1994).

A more recent investigation revealed that 95 % of Fortune 500 executives responding to an inquiry indicated that their company used IMC to some degree and that nearly the same percentage was at least somewhat satisfied with its results (Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002). It bears noting that most of these findings are based on respondents' perceptions and may not reflect IMC as actually practiced.

In general, most of the examination of IMC has focused on its perceived value and beliefs regarding its potential among packaged or durable-goods marketers. By comparison, there is little documentation of the actual existence or prevalence of IMC in these or other market contexts (Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996). The scant published research on the actual practice of integrated marketing communication suggests that organizations involved in green marketing have been slow to adopt IMC principles in their advertising (Carlson et al. 1996).

Meanwhile, retail and consumer service organizations appear to use media and message delivery elements associated with integrated approaches, yet lack strong coordination among these IMC components (Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996). In a further examination of IMC across different business firms (i. e. , business-to-business, retailing, services, and consumer product), it was discovered that coordination among IMC components does indeed exist, yet the selection of specific marketing communication activities differs significantly among the business types (McArthur and Griffin 1997).

Given the contradictory results and scarce empirical research, there appears to be a need for further examination of IMC and marketers' activities to plan and execute its implementation (Duncan and Everett 1993; Roznowski, Reece, and Daugherty 2002). Integrated Marketing Communication and Product Type Based on the research results discussed above, IMC appears to be a practice that is used across business contexts, but in different ways (e. g. , McArthur and Griffin 1997; Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996). McArthur and Griffin observe, "different product-market situations demand different communication tools and techniques" (1997, p. 5).

Hence, it is not surprising that a study of media usage within IMC programs revealed differential emphasis on some media when comparing services and retailing firms (Nowak, Cameron, and Delorme 1996) or comparing across services, retailing, business-to-business, and consumer product organizations (McArthur and Griffin 1997). There is even some indication that consumer product firms lag behind others in terms of the degree of attention they accord to IMC (McArthur and Griffin 1997). In addition, and as suggested by Duncan (2005), IMC may be particularly relevant within the services sector.

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that the nature of the product that an organization offers may affect the emphasis it places on IMC and its utilization of different communication materials. Further supporting the notion that the nature of the promoted product may be related to the adoption of IMC is a body of literature that indicates that the advertising of services differs substantively from the advertising of physical goods in several ways (e. g. , George and Berry 1981; Grove, Pickett, and Laband 1995; Legg and Baker 1987; Mittal 1999; Shostack 1977; Stafford and Day 1995).

For example, since services are essentially performances (Gronroos 1990; Grove and Fisk 1983) and not things that can be displayed (e. g. , insurance, health care, an airline flight), it is difficult for organizations to communicate about them and for customers to grasp what it is they are likely to receive (Lovelock and Wirtz 2004; Shostack 1977; Zeithaml 1981). Many years ago, in her seminal paper establishing the nature of service products, Shostack (1977) stressed that marketers must strive to "integrate" evidence of service offerings to compensate for their innate intangibility.

She argued that such an effort should involve controlling a broad range of potential clues to foster a concrete, "total impression" of the service. Essentially, that effort entails coordinating various communicative devices associated with a service and its delivery, including the content of service advertising. George and Berry (1981) similarly argue for the importance of presenting a uniform message as one of the six guidelines for advertising a service.

From their viewpoint, "advertising continuity," that is, continually using distinctive symbols, formats, and/or themes can reinforce a service's image and differentiate it from the competition. Ostensibly, the creation of a consistent and uniform perception of the service product might also be accomplished as one outcome of effective integrated marketing communications. Yet in a comprehensive overview of the services advertising literature several years ago, Tripp (1997) identified IMC as one of several phenomena related to service advertising's message structure and execution that needed further study.

A recent examination of advertisements across various categories of services found a high incidence of IMC portrayed within the ads (i. e. , over 60% of the ads reflected IMC), yet argued that there was room for improvement in terms of the degree of integration that was present (Grove, Carlson, and Dorsch 2002). However, a comparison of advertisements for goods versus services with respect to incidence and character of IMC has yet to be performed, despite the potential applicability of IMC in the area of services promotion (Duncan 2005).

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