Marketing communications

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• Brand Positioning

• Media Fragmentation

• Customer Acquisition and retention

• Digital and interactive communications

• Communications integration

In a search of for survival during a tough recession many marketers and communicators are under significant pressure to streamline costs and squeeze maximum impact from their budgets. The solution according to increasing numbers of advertising executives is integrated marketing communications or IMC (Kitchen and Schultz 2001). But what evidence is there that IMC actually delivers the competitive advantage that has been suggested? This literature review will seek to answer this question. It will begin with a review of the literature that discusses the performance advantages gained by implementing IMC before continuing to look at whether these claims can be validated research that measure IMC in practice. The review will conclude by suggesting that a concrete link between IMC and performance is still yet to be proven and that academics need to further explore and test this aspect of IMC to give the concept true legitimacy.

Before I begin to explore the benefits of IMC on performance, it is important to draw some boundaries. IMC is a huge topic and, it is useful to state now that this review is only concerned with the concept of IMC in the context of marketing communications mix and its components and only in connection with the customer stakeholder group. Pickton and Hartley,1998; Stewart, 1996 and Kitchen, Brignell, Li and Spickettjones, 2004); Fill, 2005; Tench and Yeoman's, 2009 ) argue the wider field of marketing needs to be included in discussions on IMC and while this author can see the benefit of this, it is felt that such a wide topic would make this particular review unmanageable. With these clear boundaries set we can begin by reviewing the literature that discusses what competitive advantage organisations can harness by practising of IMC. Let us star with the work of Schultz (1993), who proposed one of the first definitions of the subject. Schultz suggested that IMC was the practice of marketing communications planning which "recognises the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communications disciplines and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communications impact" (Schultz, 1993, p.10). His message was clear; by using IMC an organisation would have greater influence or more directly affect the behaviour of selected communications audiences. But what Schultz (1993) failed to fully is explore is how this would improve the performance of the organisation. This aside examples of his definition in practice suggest how this 'one look' approach to integration can work. The Energizer bunny advert was a huge success making the pink bunny memorable, but it failed to make Energizer memorable. It wasn't until the company put the bunny on all its packing and point of sale displays, maintaining a consistent look across all its marketing communications tools that sales increased in the US (Hines 1999).

From this foundation Duncan and Everett (1993) developed the idea of IMC to include the strategic co-ordination of all messages as well as tools/ media which they suggested would have an influence on perceived brand value. This pair was the first to link IMC directly to brand value but again the impact of this on the performance of organisation is not fully explored. However practical examples of this type of IMC in practice can help. Children's doll brand Bratz integrated the tools, media and the message to get coverage of their ugly dolls in magazines targeted to the young teenage market, advertorials, in-store displays and gondola positions- even securing a sponsorship deal and related competition with children's TV channel, Nickelodeon, which brought their market share up to over 45%.( Fill, 2005).

Duncan (2002) continued developing IMC in relation to the communications mix by suggesting a new definition which described the concept as "a cross functional process for creating and nourishing profitable relationships with customers and other stakeholders by strategically controlling all messages sent to these groups and encouraging data-driven, purposeful dialogue with them".

This approach begins to change the way IMC strategies are developed, from an n organisationally centric view where a campaign is developed by assessing the strengths of the mix and media to one where the customer needs determine the type of strategy pursued.

Duncan (2002) developed an IMC process model where communications was at the heart of a circular marketing process used to target customers, and which created brand value by increasing sales, profits and brand equity (Duncan 2002). This was the first true tangible expression of the performance advantages of implementing IMC programmes.

This interpretation of IMC is also unique because it introduced the use of database as part of the IMC process, claiming they could play a vital role in building close relationships with the customer therefore generating better results i.e. an increases in sales. Using databases in IMC would allow organisations to profile customers, gauge responses to communication tools, thus helping to determine which medium is more effective in reaching consumer benefit of this would be to increase the selective reach of marketing communications ( Lee and Park, 2007). A good example of this is Tesco's Clubcard scheme. Every time a customer uses their card the company records every item purchased and records the date and time of the purchase and how the shopper decided to pay. This information is then used to segment audiences and send out tailored integrated communication to members with promotional offers linked their purchase behaviour, among other things, therefore inducing the likelihood of favourable behavioural responses over the long term (Tench and Yeomans , 2009).

What this example also highlights is how IMC can help improve performance by retaining existing customers and solidifying relationships through such programmes. Although Duncan (2002) and Schultz (1993) made reference to the building of relationships with customers by using IMC it isn't until Lee and Park (2007) that this is suggested as a separate aspect of IMC and linked to the field of customer relationship management (Lee and Park, 2007).

From this review it is suggested that you can pull out five different areas where writers believe IMC can improve performance.

  • Maximise communications impact through integration of the communication tools and media
  • Increase brand value through consistent messaging and positioning
  • Maximising the reach of communications by developing strategy according to audience need
  • Increase sales and profitability inducing favourable behaviour from customers through the use of database techniques
  • Enhance long term profitability by using IMC to develop long- term relationships with existing customers

It important that this stage, before moving on the discuss whether any studies have proven the claims made above, to highlight that although there are many writers to consider the rewards of implementing IMC to be significant there are also those who question the relevance and impact of IMC practice( Kitchen, Brignell, Li and Spickettones, 2004; Cornelisson and Lock, 2000 ).

So what literature is there to prove any of the claims the IMC gives businesses a competitive advantage? The majority of studies that have included the measurement of the benefits associated with the practice of IMC have been part of research quantifying the perceptions held by agency executives or client practitioners on the subject. Schultz and Kitchen (1997); Gould, Lerman and Grein(1999) and Kitchen and Schultz (1999) have all conducted studies with advertising executives while (Kitchen, Schultz, Kim, Han, and Li (2004), Kitchen and Li, (2005); Duncan and Everett (1993); Eagle and Kitchen, 2000) have contrasted the views of advertising and public relations executives.

These studies are difficult to compare as they don't use consistent measurement tools however this author feels it is fair to conclude that the majority practitioners surveyed in these studies believed IMC increased communications impact, made creative ideas more effective and provided greater communications consistency, which supports the view suggested in the literature review at the beginning of this document that IMC can improve client returns from their marketing communications investment.

Some studies have also concentrated on clients perspectives of IMC (Low, 2000; McArthur and Griffin, 1997; Caywood, Schultz and Wang, 1991). Although the same issues regarding the use of different measurement tools and the inability to compare results this author thinks it is also reasonable to conclude that, where asked, client practitioners agreed with their agency colleagues that the concept was valuable. In an investigation 95 % of Fortune 500 executives indicated that their company used IMC in some form and nearly the same percentage were at least somewhat satisfied with its results ( Roznowswki, Reece and Daugherty, 2002). A truly broad and indeed vague assessment of the perceived value of IMC.

A more recent study combines the perceptions of both practitioners for PR agencies, advertising agencies and other communications agencies and client practitioners from private and public organisations, shows that these attitudes are not changing over time. Participants in this study described increased communications effectiveness, delivered greater communications consistency and increased competitive advantage as the main benefits of IMC (Celebi, 2009)

This study also asked participants about how they measured IMC but the authors concluded that IMC measurement systems remained unclear and needed further research( Celebi, 2009), which brings this essay to an important point. Although the literature may show that the majority of agency and client practitioners think the concept is valuable, these perceptions may not reflect actual IMC practice. This author could find scant documentation that measured IMC in practice. Some research has been conducted on how IMC has been implemented within different market places (Carlson, L., Grove, S.J., Laczniak, R.N. and Kangun, N.,1996; Nowak, Cameron and Delorme, 1996; McArthur and Griffin, 1997) but none these concentrated on measuring IMC benefits. The difficulty of evaluating the results of IMC programmes is considered a serious obstacle for the future development of IMC concept (Eagle and Kitchen, 2000; Schultz and Kitchen, 2000; Kitchen Brignell, Li and Spickettjones, 2004; Kitchen, Schultz, Kim, Han and Li, 2004). Schultz and Kitchen (2000) suggested the IGMC Communications Planning Matrix that divided the purpose marketing communications into two categories, business building and brand building. They suggested contacts with customers and prospects were measured in the short term, which could then be turned into marginal returns and incremental revenue, while the return on investment for brand building could be measured by testing brand the return on investment on brand building will be measured based on the brand equity amongst customers and prospects.

Semenick (2002) also suggested other approaches, such as the measurement of each of the promotional tools used in the campaign, the single source tracking measures, or measuring media exposures, product brand impression and personal contacts. But Semenik admitted that measuring the interaction between the elements of the promotional mix elements was very complicated and perhaps beyond the methodological tools available at that time. In addition anecdotal reports in trade publications, such as Marketing and PR Week show evidence of the implementation of IMC and the results but do not tend to deal the measurement of performance advantages associated with IMC.

This review leads the author to agree with Swain (2004) who said that because no evaluation system had been proposed or yet implemented the claims made about IMC delivering superior returns simply could not be validated.

Although this author acknowledges the methological difficulties associated with measuring IMC, and the fact that this prevents the people from accurately determining the impact of IMC on performance. It is also important to stress that this leaves a huge gap in the literature. The field needs research that concentrates of bringing together and analysing the different areas where IMC is claimed to give competitive advantage as well as studies that test out these claims, in a bid to give a true picture of the performance impact of IMC programmes.

In 2005 Fill wrote that it was "somewhat surprising that so few organisations have been either willing or able to embrace the approach (p 305)." But as a marketing communications manager myself, after reviewing the literature, I don't find this surprising at all. Both industry leaders and practitioners have claimed that there are significant benefits to using IMC but the validity of these are yet to be reliably or confidently measured. Researchers have focussed on measuring the agency and client practitioners' perceptions of the concept or the measuring the levels of implementation of IMC within organisations or agencies. This leaves a great gap in the growing literature on IMC in relation to the measurement of the benefits of practicing IMC, something that must be addressed if the concept is to further develop and convince more organisations to implement such programmes.


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