Integrated marketing communications

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Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) is a term that emerged in the late 20th century regarding application of consistent brand messaging across myriad marketing channels. The term has varying definitions and the differences can play a part in how IMC is viewed and used:

  1. The first definition for integrated marketing communication came from the American Association of Advertising Agencies (also 4A's) in 1989, defining IMC as "an approach to achieving the objectives of a marketing campaign through a well-coordinated use of different promotional methods that are intended to reinforce each other."[1] The 4A's definition of IMC recognizes the strategic roles of various communication disciplines (advertising, public relations, sales promotions, etc.) to provide clarity, consistency, and increased impact when combined within a comprehensive communications plan. Basically, it is the application of consistent brand messaging across both traditional and non-traditional marketing channels.
  2. The Journal of Integrated Marketing Communication from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University refers to IMC as "a strategic marketing process specifically designed to ensure that all messaging and communication strategies are unified across all channels and are centered around the customer."[2] IMC is used practically to allow one medium's weakness to be offset by another medium's strength, with elements synergized to support each other and create greater impact.[3]
  3. A more contemporary definition states, "True IMC is the development of marketing strategies and creative campaigns that weave together multiple marketing disciplines (paid advertising, public relations, promotion, owned assets, and social media) that are selected and then executed to suit the particular goals of the brand."[4] Instead of simply using various media to help tell a brand's overall story, with IMC the marketing leverages each communication channel's intrinsic strengths to achieve a greater impact together than each channel could achieve individually. It requires the marketer to understand each medium's limitation, including the audience's ability/willingness to absorb messaging from that medium. This understanding is integrated into a campaign's strategic plan from the very beginning of planning - so that the brand no longer simply speaks with consistency, but speaks with planned efficacy.[5] This concept inherently provides added benefits that include: a singular/synchronized brand voice and experience, cost efficiencies generated through creativity and production, and opportunities for added value and bonus.

Components of Integrated Marketing Communications[edit]

IMC weaves diverse aspects of business and marketing together. These include:

When these diverse aspects of business and marketing are weaved together properly an effective campaign can be achieved. Effective campaigns are demonstrated on the Integrated Brands showcase which recognizes brands that are innovative, strategic and successfully growing their sales. [6] By effectively leveraging each communication channel greater impact can be achieved together than achieved individually. [7]


First defined by the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1989, IMC was developed mainly to address the need for businesses to offer clients more than just standard advertising. The 4As originally coined the term the "new advertising," however this title did not appropriately incorporate many other aspects included in the term "IMC" - most notably, those beyond traditional advertising process aside from simply advertising.[8]

Overall, an influx of new marketplace trends in the late 20th century spurred organizations to shift from the standard advertising approach to the IMC approach:

Model & Stages[edit]

Similar to the definition of IMC, models of the IMC approach vary according to the source cited. Frequently, models stress the importance of blending various marketing tools to maximize the customer experience and value. IMC models also often emphasize the lack of a specific hierarchy of importance in the IMC stages: all components of the model play an equally important role and a company may or may not choose to immediately implement any or all of the integration strategies.[9]

Schultz and Schultz identified four levels of IMC through which organizations appear to progress. These stages are not discrete, finite stages with well-defined boundaries Ultimately, however, to be truly integrated an organization needs to demonstrate competency in the activities and requirements of each of the four levels. [10]

The Growing Importance of Integrated Marketing Communications[edit]

Integration has become an essential concept in marketing because technological advances have changed how business stakeholders interact. Marketing theory that was established during the discipline’s formative years has been overtaken by the complexities of real-time, multimodal, multi directional communication. [15]

A few examples help illustrate the growing importance of integration:

Search marketing: When someone is considering buying a product or service they will often conduct an online search. What they find, on Google and other search engines, as well as information from news sites, review sites, directories, videos and place-based searches, are presented together, so like it or not, there is a level of integration. The online experience will affect their attitudes towards a brand and their behavior. Marketers therefore need to concern themselves with making sure their brand is found ahead of competitors' and then ensuring their audience has a positive and helpful experience.

Accessibility & convenience: Consumers expect information and services that relate to a brand to be conveniently accessible via its website. For instance when a consumer visits they are able to book a flight, manage their money, top up their mobile phone plan or find up-to-date news about the company. [16]

Aggregation of information and services: The traditional demarcation between a company, its suppliers and customers has become confused. For instance the Apple iTunes app store aggregates software and information from app makers, along with reviews provided by consumers. [17] Product promotion, delivery, service and information from many different sources are seamlessly presented together.

Social media: Traditionally businesses were largely in control of their brand communications. Now brand communications are multidirectional as consumers can easily share, comment and create content. Brands can use this to their advantage by creating appealing content. For instance Unilever’s campaign for Dove, The Dove Real Beauty Sketches went viral with over 54 million views on YouTube. [18]

Growth of mobile: The growing penetration of smartphones with fast internet connectivity means that marketers need to take into consideration integration between the online experience and place-based experiences. For instance when a consumer downloads the Target app they are able to receive coupons to their mobile phone and redeem them at the checkout by presenting the coupon barcode to the cashier. [19]


  1. ^ Business Dictionary Online
  2. ^ Journal of Integrated Marketing Communication
  3. ^ Kitchen, et al 2004, p. 20
  4. ^ Bennett, Stirology April 2013
  5. ^ Bennett, Stirology April 2013
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bennett, Stirology April 2013
  8. ^ Duncan and Caywood p.18
  9. ^ Duncan and Caywood p.24
  10. ^ Schultz and Schultz 1998 p.9-17
  11. ^ Schultz and Schultz 1998 p.9-17
  12. ^ Schultz and Schultz 1998 p.9-17
  13. ^ Schultz and Schultz 1998 p.9-17
  14. ^ Schultz and Schultz 1998 p.9-17
  15. ^ Beakbane, Tom June 2013
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^


See also[edit]