INTEGRATED MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS: ISSUES
The emergence of integrated marketing communications (IMC) has become one of the most significant examples of development in the marketing discipline (Kitchen, 2003). Because of the realities of competition in an open economy it has influenced thinking and acting among corporate organisations,
Some 20 years ago academics and professionals discussed theory and practice of business communication but without considering the idea of integration as a realistic approach to reach a competitive strategic position for the company. Some early attempts in the beginning of the 1980s initiated academic interest and articles appeared in the academic literature (Dyer, 1982; Coulson-Thomas, 1983). From the beginning of the 1990s IMC became a real hot topic in the field of marketing (Caywood et al., 1991; Miller and Rose, 1994; Kitchen and Schultz, 1997, 1998, 1999). Twenty years ago, 75 percent of marketing budgets went to advertising in the US. Today, 50 percent goes into trade promotions, 25 percent into consumer promotions and less than 25 percent into advertising (Kitchen, 2003). The allocation of communication budgets away from mass media and traditional advertising has obviously promoted IMC in recognition and importance for effective marketing. The emergence of IT has greatly changed the media landscape, contributed to an extensive deregulation of markets and individualized patterns of consumption and increased the segmentation of consumer tastes and preferences (Eagle and Kitchen, 2000; Kitchen, 2003).
Four stages of IMC have been identified by Kitchen and Schultz (2000) starting from tactical coordination of promotional elements, redefining the scope of marketing communications, application of information technology to financial and strategic integration. They found that the majority of firms are still operating in the first two stages, some are moving into stage three and very few have moved to stage four.
One fact is that there are barriers to developing IMC from tactics to strategy. If we accept that communication is the foundation of all human relationship (Duncan, 2002) we also have to accept that only strategically oriented integrated brand communications can help business to reach a sustainable competitive position.
My main purpose, thus, is to systematically review the literature of the marketing concept Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) by identifying key debates within the academic research, summarize them and propose opportunities for further research.
Communication is the process by which individuals share meaning. This means that each participant must fully understand each other otherwise no dialogue will occur. Only through knowledge and understanding of the communication process are the actors likely to achieve their objectives of influencing attitudes, knowledge and/or behaviors to persuade, which is one of the most prominent reasons why organizations need to communicate (Fill, 1999). With increasing worldwide interest in the emergent concept and field of IMC it is important to investigate its theoretical foundations.
An English exile in Paris – Thomas Hobbes – produced his major work: Leviathan in April 1651 (Hobbes, 1651, pp. 46-8). He argued that our cognizance, i.e the thinking, such as beliefs (Peter,J.P., Olson,J.C., & Gruert, K.G. 1999) of the world are really of the pressures materially exerted on us by external “motions” (or signals from the environment). Also our “passions” are influenced by material motions. Men are therefore mostly influenced by internal material perceptions of an external material world (Hobbes, 1651, p. 52). While not accepting his thesis wholeheartedly, it is evident that we live in a material world (Lansley, 1993) – one which supports the perspective that men are expected to be influenced by external motions. However, the outcomes associated with the Hobbesian metaphor suggest that conditions now are quite different from those early years – a position supported by the communications revolution taking place in the twentieth century alone.
The opinion that we are influenced by external motions gains credence when standard models of consumer behaviour are considered (Kotler, 1992, pp. 161-4). Such models describe consumer behaviour as a “black box” of consumer characteristics and decision-making processes. The black box is influenced by inputs consisting of environmental characteristics (social, economic, technological, political and cultural) and marketing characteristics (product, price, promotion, and place). These may lead to attitudinal change (i.e. brand loyalties and behavioural tendencies) and ultimately to actions in the form of product, brand, and store choice, timing, and amount.Clearly, such communications are not alone in their attempts to influence thinking or behaviour. So what is occurring within the “black box”?
Marketing communicators are aiming to progress consumers through the cognitive, affective, and behavioural stages of decision making as exemplified by, for example, the “AIDA” model (Strong, 1925) which asserts that, for advertising to work, it must be effective through four distinct stages:
- Attention. The consumer must notice the communication.
- Interest. The consumer must be drawn to take in the message which is being communicated.
- Desire. The consumer must want to acquire the product or service which is the subject of the communication.
- Action. The consumer must make the purchase.
There are many other communication models all of which describe promotional communication in terms of altered cognitions, emotional feelings, or behavioural tendencies towards a firm and/or its products or services.
Marketing communications does not and cannot operate in a vacuum of its own making. Consumers perceive social reality in a number of ways in which , the least being, by social interaction with others (Berger and Luckman, 1991). Media content and other forms of promotion, together with knowledge derived from a diversity of origins, and social interaction, form a constructed view of temporal existence within consumer minds. Consumers make use of, and are not just affected by, promotional activity. Marketing communications are limited in the effects they can have on consumer minds (Katz, 1987). But, undoubtedly, in order for marketing communications to have an effect on consumer minds, they have to reach the sense organs of the person(s) to be affected. However, what happens after is debatable.
- Most consumers are continually bombarded with communications virtually every waking moment of the day. On an average day this may amount to over 2,000 exposures (Kotler, 1988). The majority of such exposures are screened out either by lack of interest or sensory overload.
- Messages may be distorted or twisted to fit with pre-existent cognitive structures (Cartwright, 1972), i.e. recipients of communications may twist them to fit in with their existing knowledge or information base.
- Selectivity in memory retention is evident dependent on the extent to which elaboration and message rehearsal take place in receivers.
Thus communication systems are very essential in affecting consumer opinions.
By a communication system Shannon and Weaver meant a system essentially contained five parts:
- An information source which produces a message or sequence of messages to be communicated to a receiving terminal. The message may be of various types.
- A transmitter which operates on the message to produce a signal suitable for transmission over the channel.
- The channel is merely the medium used to transmit the signal from transmitter to receiver.
- The receiver, reconstructing the message from the signal.
- The destination is the person for whom the message is intended (Shannon and Weaver, 1949, p. 3).
Shannon and Weaver classified communication systems into three main categories: discrete, continuous and mixed. By a discrete system they meant one in which both the message and the signal are a sequence of discrete symbols, for instance telegraphy. A continuous system is one in which the message and signal both are treated as continuous functions, e.g. radio or television. A mixed system is one in which both discrete and continuous variables appear, e.g. transmission of speech.
Related to the broad subject or communication, Warren (1949) identified, problems at three levels.Level 1 The technical problem – how accurately the symbols of communication can be transmitted. Level 2 The semantic problem – how precisely the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning and Level 3The effectiveness problem – how effectively the received meaning does affect conduct in the desired way. Figure 1 shows a communication system, where the information source selects a desired message out of a set of possible messages. The selected messages may consist of written or spoken words, or of pictures, music, etc. The message is changed by the transmitter into the signal, which is sent over the channel to the receiver.
The kinds of questions which Shannon seeks to ask concerning such a communication system are:
- How to measure amount of information?
- How to measure the capacity of a communication channel?
- The action of the transmitter in changing the message into the signal often involves a coding process. When the coding process is as efficient as possible, at what rate can the channel convey information?
- What are the general characteristics of noise and how can undesirable effects of noise be minimized or eliminated?
- If the signal being transmitted (as in written speech, telegraphy) how does this fact affect the problem?
Shannon and Weaver developed what is now accepted as the basic model of communications. It is a sequential and linear model, which has survived for decades and appears in somewhat different shapes in common literature in the field of marketing communications. However, the model is essentially a one-step model of communication and is oversimplified since communications do not necessarily occur in a single step. The linear model of communications emphasizes the transmission of signals, ideas and information primarily through symbols. As we have seen the linear model focuses on transmission effectiveness and efficiency and emphasizes measurability. Holm (2002) found that 70-80 percent of relevant literature in the field of marketing communications during the 1990s is based on the linear, process-oriented perspective on communication theory.
We assume that communication is intentional and a deliberate effort to bring about response. We also assume that communication is a transactional process between two and more parties whereby meaning is exchanged through the intentional use of symbols. This means that all those involved in the process must share a common view of what the symbols and signs actually mean. This, then, means that a sender’s and a receiver’s field of experience, understanding and interpretation to a certain extent must overlap. This requires a somewhat different and developed theoretical approach to marketing communications, a qualitative approach, which pays attention to the reader, to the listener and the viewer since meaning can only be derived socially (Blythe, 2000). Meaning, signs, symbols, syntactic and culture become essential elements in the developing of communications. The linear, process-oriented model and its components are straightforward, but it is the quality of the linkages between the various elements in the process that determine whether the communication will be successful (Fill, 2002). However, this crucial perspective on communications is focused by only 20-30 percent of the relevant literature in the field of marketing communications.
IMC as a concept has gained recognition on an international scale during the 1990s. Thus its widespread use is comparatively recent. Let us assume that the ultimate purpose of marketing is to deliver a higher standard of living (Kotler, 2003). If we use a more limited definition we could say that marketing is a societal process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating, offering and freely exchanging products and services of value with others (Kotler, 2003, p. 9). The keyword is value, which can be defined as a ratio between benefits and costs, between what the customer gets and what he/she gives. To increase greater customer participation the marketer can use several combinations of methods, all aiming to raise benefits and reduce costs. It is then evident that the main purpose of marketing communication is to affect the consumer’s conception of value and of the relation between benefits and costs.
Defining IMC, Smith et al. (1999) distinguishes three definitions:
- Management and control of all market communications.
- Ensuring that the brand positioning, personality and messages are delivered synergistically across every element of communication and are delivered from a single consistent strategy.
- The strategic analysis, choice, implementation and control of all elements of marketing communications which efficiently (best use of resources), economically (minimum costs) and effectively (maximum results) influence transactions between an organization and its existing and potential customers, consumers and clients.
In order to reach a better understanding of the full meaning and process of IMC Smith et al. (1999) have developed a tool which is supposed to show marketing integration as occurring at one or more of seven levels. They distinguish the following levels and corresponding degrees of integration.
- Vertical objectives integration. It means that communication objectives fit with marketing objectives and the overall corporate objectives.
- Horizontal/functional integration. Marketing communications activities fit well with other business functions of manufacturing, operations and human resource management.
- Marketing mix integration. The marketing mix of product, price and place decisions is consistent with the promotion decisions, e.g. with the required communication messages.
- Communications mix integration. All the 12 communications tools are being used to guide the customer/consumer/client through each stage of the buying process and all of them portray a consistent message.
- Creative design integration. The creative design and execution is uniform and consistent with the chosen positioning of the product.
- Internal/external integration. All internal departments and all external employed agencies are working together to an agreed plan and strategy.
- Financial integration. The budget is being used in the most effective and efficient way ensuring that economies of scale are achieved and that long-term investment is optimized.
Smith et al. claim that the most important and fundamental level is that of vertical integration of objectives and activities and that no effective marketing communication objective can be formulated, which is not directly linked to specific marketing objectives and to relevant corporate objectives.
All these levels contain specific critical issues which might occur during the process and need to be solved. One of the most essential tasks is to make sure that goals on different levels and character are mutually achievable. Objectives for profitability must be consistent with objectives for growth, for gaining increasing market share and for certain social responsibilities and to broader societal concerns. Goals and strategies must deal with industry threats and take into consideration risks of competitive response. When it comes to communication and implementation it must be sure that the goals are well understood and accepted by the key implementers. The emergence of the internet and new information technology has led many companies to reconsider their key factors to competitive success. Porter (2001) states that some companies have used internet technology to shift the basis of competition away from quality, features and service toward price, making it harder for anyone in their industry to reach profitability. Porter has pointed out how internet influences industry structure. Some of his findings are:
- differences among competitors are reduced;
- competition migrates to price;
- geographic market widens increasing the number of competitors;
- new substitution threats are created by the proliferation of internet;
- standardization of products reduces differentiation;
- reduced barriers to entry shifts power to suppliers;
- traditional powerful channels are eliminated;
- end-users bargaining power is increased through reduced switching costs;
- difficult to keep internet applications from new entrants; and
- the internet can expand the market by making the industry more efficient.
Evidently, these and other factors must be taken into consideration when developing marketing communication. However, the most essential difference, from a communicative perspective, is not the changing set of tools. More important is to adjust objectives and strategies to changing marketing and communication realities. As we can see, IMC is a more complex issue. It is the art of uniting a sender’s purposes and goals with the carefully selected receiver’s prerequisites of interpretation and preunderstanding, to develop a creative strategy, where content and form of the messages are congruent and to optimize the selection of channels. The process has obvious similarities with classic methodology of rhetoric (Vossius, 1990).
Thus IMC has become a strategic issue and should, therefore, be treated in accordance with the nature of strategy and strategic decisions. The characteristics commonly associated with the concept of strategy and strategic decisions are, first, that strategy is concerned with the long-term direction of an organization or a company. Second, strategic decisions are likely about to gain some competitive advantage. Third, strategic decisions are concerned with the scope of the organization’s activities. It is to do with what owners and managements want the organization to be like and to be about. This could and should include important decisions about visions, product range, withdrawal from or entering markets. Johnson and Scholes (2002) claim that strategy can be seen as the matching or resources and activities or an organization to the environment in which it operates, sometimes known as the search for strategic fit. Besides identifying strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the business environment it would be seen as important to achieve the correct positioning of the company including the organization of the three concepts identity, profile and image. Questions concerning the connection between these concepts are of the utmost importance for the organization’s relations to its market, for its ability to develop, maintain and increase a competitive position (Holm, 1998).
There are many tactics at the marketer’s disposal when using the elements of the communications mix in order to maximize the impact of the communications activities. The basics of this is the four-way division into advertising, public relations, sales promotion and personal selling (Blythe, 2000).
Traditionally, the tools of marketing communications are around 12-20. Collectively, these are referred to as the promotional mix (Blythe, 2000; Burnett and Moriarity, 1998; Fill, 1999; Kitchen, 2003; Kotler, 2003; Pickton and Broderick, 2001; Smith et al., 1999).
In order to illustrate the complexity of the communication process, we must add a number of tools of varying importance and of different character, both personal and mass marketing communications. On a macro level, the scope of marketing should include ideologies, political as well as commercially oriented. Examples like the Nazi era in Germany (The Ministry of Propaganda systematically used sports events like the Olympic Games, as large-scale event marketing. Music, opera, art, architecture, uniforms, badges, flags, exhibitions, film, literature, education and parades were all used as communications tools in order to sell a political ideology). We find similar examples in the former Soviet Union and in today’s North Korea. However, increasing need and opportunities to reach the single individual consumer, buyer, guest, client, visitor, patient or voter, leads to the search for more sophisticated and in several situations critical tools. It is of utmost importance to widen the methodological perspective and take into consideration tools of particular interest in a one-to-one marketing perspective. The numerous tools and the uncountable possible combinations illustrate the complexity of IMC and that decisions concerning IMC is a strategic issue mainly consisting of principals and guidelines rather than instructions on a tactical level, mostly handled by advertising agencies (Schroeder, 2002; Percy et al., 2002) and account executives. Also on a macro level, we can distinguish three factors which have fundamentally changed the conditions for IMC; deregulations of markets, globalization of the economy and individualization of the consumption. The emergence of new information technology can be considered as the dominating underlying factor. Communication has always been built upon three different systems – sound, image and writing. All these systems have been depending on technological development. Up till now no technology has been able to transmit all systems, at the most two. Gutenberg produced writing and image. Sound film came 1929, based on sound technology and photography. The numeric revolution handle the three systems and has become a fourth system, the digital system which itself has had tremendous economic and social consequences. Previously, the three communication systems were separate. The IT-revolution has made a total communicative integration possible, which in its turn has changed business structures. Three large business areas are now integrated: telephony, television and the computer industry. The importance of specialization has decreased and differences between previously separate cultures as publishing, film industry and music industry have diminished. Fusions have brought the three spheres together and they have become the heavy industry of our time. The development of the industrial revolution took around 200 years. The new technology has reached practically all over the world in 20 years.
However, communication remains as one of the most human of activities. We can, again, define communication as “a transactional process between two or more parties whereby meaning is exchanged through the intentional use of symbols” (Engel et al., 1994). Notice the key elements: communication is intentional; a deliberate effort is made to bring about a response. It is a transaction and the participants are all involved in the process and it is symbolic where words, pictures, music and other stimulants are used to convey thoughts (Blythe, 2000). Computer-based systems have revolutionized communications. Computer-based communications include data based systems and web sites. We can argue that technological development has put “good old days” far behind. The competitive arena of today bears little resemblance to that of the mid-1990s (Blythe, 2000, p.10). Non-differentiated mass markets rarely exist today. A number of factors have emerged and interact in such a way that the environment for communication strategy is radically changed. Engel et al. (1994) claimed that appealing to unidentified individuals in a mass market is increasingly becoming a dead end. One fundamental consequence is that the traditional emphasis on heavyweight mass communication campaigns (so-called above-the-line), has been replaced by more direct and highly targeted promotional activities using direct marketing and other tools aimed to reach the smallest of all target groups, the single individual.
The primary goal of IMC is to affect the perception of value and behavior through directed communication. The development and diffusion of IMC is closely associated with fast technological advancement and of a rapidly globalizing and deregulations of markets and individualization of consumption patterns. This has emphasized the need to adjust objectives and strategies to changing marketing and communication realities. In the rapidly changing and highly competitive world of the twenty-first century only strategically oriented IMC can help business to move forward. However, Kitchen and Schultz (2000) have found that a majority of firms have remained on a level mainly dealing with tactical coordination of promotional elements and that very few, a handful in today’s world, have moved to financial and strategic integration.
We can assume that the theoretical and methodological perspectives and frameworks are influenced by educational background and tradition. On a tactical level marketing, communication is handled by professionally skilled account executives, art directors and copy directors with very limited competence and experience from strategic management. A study of the current educational program, specially designed for management on strategic level, shows that communication theory and methodology takes up approximately 3 percent of total time. The rest of the time is devoted to strategic planning, applied management, financial analysis, marketing, politics and economics. This educational structure has remained during at least the last two decades.
A main conclusion we can draw is that those who have strategic and tactic responsibility for IMC live in separate educational, cultural, intellectual and empirical spheres. Those responsible for strategic management decisions possess, at the best, strategic management ability but lack insight and awareness concerning communication theory and method. And those professionally skilled in communication lack relevant skills concerning strategic management, theoretically and empirically. If we imagine these two spheres as areas, we can easily notice that the intersection field is very small.
A study of relevant literature published during the 1990s shows that a simplified theoretical perspective on communication as process oriented, sequential and linear is dominating 70-80 percent of the books, thereby overlooking the complexity of communication.
Different educational cultures might be an essential obstacle to move IMC from tactics to strategy. A study of leading Swedish schools and institutes in the fields of management shows that approximately only 3 percent of total time is devoted to communication theory and methodology. The study also shows that the education programs of the leading marketing communications schools contain less than 10 percent of leadership and strategic management while more 90 percent is aimed at communication theory, various techniques, advertising, art, copy and account executive training.
A concluding remark is that the concept of IMC is dominated by a simplified and insufficient theoretical perspective and handled by professionals with skills on a technical and tactical level. This indicates that there is a gap between two cultural, intellectual and empirical spheres.
Opportunities for further research.
Based on various researches by scholars in the field, I would encourage more research to be carried out in this aspect of marketing. It is a matter of common interest for academics, professional schools and practitioners on strategic and tactical levels to close the gap in order to move IMC from tactics to strategy. This can be achieved by international research and reconsidering educational programs regarding management, marketing and marketing communications.
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