How to Create an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan

Integrated Marketing Communications 300x246 How to Create an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan

Without a doubt, promotion and marketing communications are the most ubiquitous elements of any firm’s marketing strategy. This is not surprising because promotional activities are necessary to communicate the features and benefits of a product to the firm’s intended target markets. Marketing communications includes conveying and sharing meaning between buyers and sellers, either as individuals and firms, or between individuals and firms.


What is Integrated Marketing Communications?

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is defined as customer centric, data driven method of communicating with the customer. IMC is the coordination and integration of all marketing communication tools, avenues, functions and sources within a company into a seamless program that maximizes the impact on consumers and other end users at a minimal cost. This management concept is designed to make all aspects of marketing communication such as advertising, sales promotion, public relations, and direct marketing work together as a unified force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation.

Integrated marketing communications is the strategic, coordinated use of promotion to create one consistent message across multiple channels to ensure maximum persuasive impact on the firm’s current and potential customers. IMC takes a 360-degree view of the customer that considers each and every contact that a customer or potential customer may have in his or her relationship with the firm. The key to IMC is consistency and uniformity of message across all elements of promotion.

Integrated marketing communications is also process for managing customer relationships that drive brand value primarily through communication efforts. Such efforts often include cross-functional processes that create and nourish profitable relationships with customers and other stakeholders by strategically controlling or influencing all messages sent to these groups and encouraging data-driven, purposeful dialog with them. IMC includes the coordination and integration of all marketing communication tools, avenues, and sources within a company into a seamless program in order to maximize the impact on end users at a minimal cost. This integration affects all firms’ business-to-business, marketing channel, customer-focused, and internally directed communications. Integrated Marketing Communications is a simple concept. It ensures that all forms of communications and messages are carefully linked together.

Due to the many advantages associated with IMC, most marketers have adopted integrated marketing as the basis for their communication and promotion strategies. By coordinating all communication ‘‘touch points,’’ firms using IMC convey an image of truly knowing and caring about their customers that can translate into long-term customer relationships. Likewise, Integrated marketing communications reduces costs and increases efficiency because it can reduce or eliminate redundancies and waste in the overall promotional program. Many firms have embraced IMC because mass-media advertising has become more expensive and less predictable than in the past. Marketers are being forced to adopt new marketing strategies as advancing technology and customer preferences are threatening to make traditional forms of promotion obsolete.

Many firms are also embracing technology in order to target customers directly through product placement and online promotion. This increased focus on individual customers requires that the overall promotional program be integrated and focused as well.

components of integrated marketing communications strategy 300x225 How to Create an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan


Strategic Issues in Integrated Marketing Communications

When selecting elements to include in the IMC program, it is important to take a holistic perspective that coordinates not only all promotional elements but also the IMC program with the rest of the marketing program (product, price, and supply chain strategy). Taking this approach allows a firm to communicate a consistent message to target customers from every possible angle, thereby maximizing the total impact on those customers. For example, if the advertising campaign stresses quality, the sales force talks about low price, the supply chain pushes intensive distribution, and the website stresses product innovation, then what is the customer to believe? Not readily seeing that a product can deliver all these benefits, the customer is likely to become confused and go to a competitor with a more consistent message.

All too frequently, firms rush to launch an intensive IMC campaign that has no clear promotional objectives. The vast majority of promotion activities do not create results in the short term, so firms must focus on long-term promotional objectives and have the patience to continue the program long enough to gauge true success. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and resources to build a solid market position. Promotion based on creativity alone, unlinked to the rest of the marketing strategy, can waste limited and valuable marketing resources.

Ultimately, the goals and objectives of any promotional campaign culminate in the purchase of goods or services by the target market. The classic model for outlining promotional goals and achieving this ultimate outcome is the AIDA model—attention, interest, desire, and action:

_ Attention- Firms cannot sell products if the members of the target market do not know they exist. As a result, the first major goal of any promotional campaign is to attract the attention of potential customers.

_ Interest- Attracting attention seldom sells products. Therefore, the firm must spark interest in the product by demonstrating its features, uses, and benefits.

_ Desire- To be successful, firms must move potential customers beyond mere interest in the product. Good promotion will stimulate desire by convincing potential customers of the product’s superiority and its ability to satisfy specific needs.

_ Action- After convincing potential customers to buy the product, promotion must then push them toward the actual purchase.

The role and importance of specific promotional elements vary across the steps in the AIDA model. Mass-communication elements, such as advertising and public relations, tend to be used more heavily to stimulate awareness and interest due to their efficiency in reaching large numbers of potential customers. For example, a mix of Super Bowl ads, social and digital media, and event marketing were utilized to launch Gatorade’s G2, a low-calorie version of the popular Gatorade sports drink. Pulling in sales of approximately $160 million in its first year, G2 succeeded, whereas 75 percent of new products fail to earn even $7.5 million in their first year. Along with advertising, sales promotion activities, such as product samples or demonstrations, are vital to stimulating interest in the product. The enhanced communication effectiveness of personal selling makes it ideally suited to moving potential customers through internal desire and into action. Other sales promotion activities, such as product displays, coupons, and trial-size packaging, are well suited to pushing customers toward the final act of making a purchase.

Alongside the issue of promotional goals and objectives, the firm must also consider its promotional goals with respect to the supply chain. In essence, the firm must decide whether it will use a pull strategy, a push strategy, or some combination of the two. When firms use a pull strategy, they focus their promotional efforts toward stimulating demand among final customers, who then exert pressure on the supply chain to carry the product. The coordinated use of heavy advertising, public relations, and consumer sales promotion has the effect of pulling products through the supply chain, hence its name. In a push strategy, promotional efforts focus on members of the supply chain, such as wholesalers and retailers, to motivate them to spend extra time and effort on selling the product. This strategy relies heavily on personal selling and trade sales promotion to push products through the supply chain toward final customers.

The role and importance of specific promotional elements also vary depending on the nature of the product. Industrial products, such as heavy equipment, rely more heavily on personal selling; consumer products require greater use of advertising, sales promotion, and public relations. This variability also occurs across stages in a product’s life cycle. Early in a product’s life cycle, even before its introduction, the heavy expenditures on promotional activities are often a significant drain on the firm’s resources. At this stage, it is important to consider these expenditures as investments for the long term because the true impact of the promotional program may not be felt for some time. By the time a product has moved into the maturity phase of its life cycle, the firm can reduce promotional expenditures somewhat, thereby enjoying lower costs and higher profits.

Coordinating promotional elements within the context of the entire marketing program requires a complete understanding of the role, function, and benefits of each element. The advantages and disadvantages of each element must be carefully balanced against the promotional budget and the firm’s IMC goals and objectives. To ensure a constant and synergistic message to targeted customers, the firm must ultimately decide how to weigh each promotional element in the overall IMC strategy. In the remainder of this chapter, we discuss the important issues associated with advertising, public relations, personal selling, and sales promotion.


Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Components

The Foundation – corporate image and brand management; buyer behavior; promotions opportunity analysis.

Advertising Tools – advertising management, advertising design: theoretical frameworks and types of appeals; advertising design: message strategies and executional frameworks; advertising media selection. Advertising also reinforces brand and firm image.

Promotional Tools – trade promotions; consumer promotions; personal selling, database marketing, and customer relations management; public relations and sponsorship programs.

Integration Tools – Internet Marketing; IMC for small business and entrepreneurial ventures; evaluating and integrated marketing program.


Marketing Mix Component

The Internet has changed the way business is done in the current world. The variables of segmentation, targeting and positioning are addressed differently. The way new products and services are marketed have changed even though the aim of business in bringing economic and social values remain unchanged. Indeed, the bottom line of increasing revenue and profit are still the same. Marketing has evolved to more of connectedness, due to the new characteristics brought in by the Internet. Marketing was once seen as a one way, with firms broadcasting their offerings and value proposition. Now it is seen more and more as a conversation between marketers and customers. Marketing efforts incorporate the “marketing mix“. Promotion is one element of marketing mix. Promotional activities include advertising (by using different media), sales promotion (sales and trades promotion), and personal selling activities. It also includes Internet marketing, sponsorship marketing, direct marketing, database marketing and public relations. Integration of all these promotional tools, along with other components of marketing mix, is a way to gain an edge over a competitor.

The starting point of the IMC process is the marketing mix that includes different types of marketing, advertising, and sales efforts. Without a complete IMC plan there is no integration or harmony between client and customers. The goal of an organization is to create and maintain communication throughout its own employees and throughout its customers.

Integrated marketing is based on a master marketing plan. This plan should coordinate efforts in all components of the marketing mix. A marketing plan consists of the following six steps:

1. Situation analysis

2. Marketing objectives

3. Marketing budget

4. Marketing strategies

5. Marketing tactics

6. Evaluation of performance

Integrated marketing communications aims to ensure consistency of message and the complementary use of media. The concept includes online and offline marketing channels. Online marketing channels include any e-marketing campaigns or programs, from search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, affiliate, email, banner to latest web related channels for webinar, blog, micro-blogging, RSS, podcast, Internet Radio, and Internet TV. Offline marketing channels are traditional print (newspaper, magazine), mail order, public relations, industry relations, billboard, traditional radio, and television. A company develops its integrated marketing communication program using all the elements of the marketing mix (product, price, place, and promotion). Integrated marketing communications plans are vital to achieving success. The reasons for their importance begin with the explosion of information technologies. Channel power has shifted from manufacturers to retailers to consumers.

Using outside-in thinking, Integrated Marketing Communications is a data-driven approach that focuses on identifying consumer insights and developing a strategy with the right (online and offline combination) channels to forge a stronger brand-consumer relationship. This involves knowing the right touch points to use to reach consumers and understanding how and where they consume different types of media. Regression analysis and customer lifetime value are key data elements in this approach.


Importance of Integrated Marketing Communications

Several shifts in the advertising and media industry have caused IMC to develop into a primary strategy for marketers:

1. From media advertising to multiple forms of communication.

2. From mass media to more specialized (niche) media, which are centered on specific target audiences.

3. From a manufacturer-dominated market to a retailer-dominated, consumer-controlled market.

4. From general-focus advertising and marketing to data-based marketing.

5. From low agency accountability to greater agency accountability, particularly in advertising.

6. From traditional compensation to performance-based compensation (increased sales or benefits to the company).

7. From limited Internet access to 24/7 Internet availability and access to goods and services.


A. It can create competitive advantage, boost sales and profits, while saving money, time and stress.

B. IMC wraps communications around customers and helps them move through the various stages of the buying process. The organization simultaneously consolidates its image, develops a dialogue and nurtures its relationship with customers.

C. This ‘Relationship Marketing’ cements a bond of loyalty with customers which can protect them from the inevitable onslaught of competition. The ability to keep a customer for life is a powerful competitive advantage.

D. IMC also increases profits through increased effectiveness

E. Carefully linked messages also help buyers by giving timely reminders, updated information and special offers which, when presented in a planned sequence, help them move comfortably through the stages of their buying process

F. Finally, IMC saves money as it eliminates duplication in areas such as graphics and photography since they can be shared and used in say, advertising, exhibitions and sales literature.

G. IMC also makes messages more consistent and therefore more credible. This reduces risk in the mind of the buyer which, in turn, shortens the search process and helps to dictate the outcome of brand comparisons.


4 P’s vs. 4 C’s


You have to understand what the consumers’ wants and needs are. Times have changed and you can no longer sell whatever you can make. The product characteristics have to match the specifics of what someone wants to buy. And part of what the consumer is buying is the personal “buying experience.”


Understand the consumer’s cost to satisfy the want or need. The product price may be only one part of the consumer’s cost structure. Often it is the cost of time to drive somewhere, the cost of conscience of what you buy, the cost of guilt for not treating the kids, the investment a consumer is willing to make to avoid risk, etc.


As above, turn the standard logic around. Think convenience of the buying experience and then relate that to a delivery mechanism. Consider all possible definitions of “convenience” as it relates to satisfying the consumer’s wants and needs. Convenience may include aspects of the physical or virtual location, access ease, transaction service time, and hours of availability.


Communicate, many mediums working together to present a unified message with a feedback mechanism to make the communication two-way. And be sure to include an understanding of non-traditional mediums, such as word of mouth and how it can influence your position in the consumer’s mind. How many ways can a customer hear (or see) the same message through the course of the day, each message reinforcing the earlier images?


Effective Communications Elements

The goal of selecting the elements of proposed integrated marketing communications is to create a campaign that is effective and consistent across media platforms. Some marketers may want only ads with greatest breadth of appeal: the executions that, when combined, provide the greatest number of attention-getting, branded, and motivational moments. Others may only want ads with the greatest depth of appeal: the ads with the greatest number of attention-getting, branded, and motivational points within each.

Although integrated marketing communications is more than just an advertising campaign, the bulk of marketing dollars is spent on the creation and distribution of advertisements. Hence, the bulk of the research budget is also spent on these elements of the campaign. Once the key marketing pieces have been tested, the researched elements can then be applied to other contact points: letterhead, packaging, logistics, customer service training, and more, to complete the IMC cycle.

One common type of integrated marketing communication is personal selling. Personal selling can be defined as “face to face selling in which a seller attempts to persuade a buyer to make a purchase.”

Personal selling is occasionally called the “last 3 feet” of the marketing functions. It is called the “last 3 feet” because this is usually the distance between a salesperson and his customer on the retail sales floor. The “last 3 feet” also applies to the distance across the desk from a sales representative to his prospective business customer. Personal selling occurs in two main categories:

1. Retail sales

2. Business-to-business selling


Promotions Opportunity Analysis

A major task that guides the way in creating an effective Integrated Marketing Communications plan is the promotions opportunity analysis. “A promotions opportunity analysis is the process marketers use to identify target audiences for a company’s goods and services and the communication strategies needed to reach these audiences.” A message sent by a marketer has a greater likelihood of achieving the intended results if the marketer has performed a good analysis and possesses accurate information pertaining to the target audience. There are five steps in developing a promotions opportunity analysis:

Conduct a communication market analysis

• Competitors

• Opportunities

• Target markets

• Customers

• Product positioning


Establish communication objectives

• Develop brand awareness

• Increase category demand

• Change customer belief or attitude

• Enhance purchase actions

• Encourage repeat purchases

• Build customer traffic

• Enhance firm image

• Increase market share

• Increase sales

• Reinforce purchase decisions


Create communications budget

Several factors influence the relationship between expenditures on promotions and sales:

• The goal of the promotion

• Threshold effects

• Carryover effects

• Wear-out effects

• Decay effects

• Random events


Prepare promotional strategies

The fourth step of a promotions opportunity analysis program is to prepare a general communication strategy for the company and its products. Strategies are sweeping guidelines concerning the essence of the company’s marketing efforts. Strategies provide the long term direction for all marketing activities.

It is critical that the company’s communication strategy mesh with the overall message and be carefully linked to the opportunities identified by a communication market analysis. Communications strategies should be directly related to a firm’s marketing objectives. Strategies must be achievable using the allocations available in the marketing and communications budgets. Once strategies have been implemented, they are not changed unless major new events occur. Only changes in the marketplace, new competitive forces, or new promotional opportunities should cause companies to alter strategies.


Match tactics with strategies

• Advertisements based on the major theme or a subtheme

• Personal selling enticements (bonuses and prizes for sales reps)

• Sales promotions (posters, point-of-purchase displays, end-of-aisle displays, freestanding displays)

• Special product packaging and labeling

• Price changes

Other enticements companies may include in their tactical efforts includes: Coupons, gift certificates, bonus packs (a second product attached to a first), special containers (e.g., holiday decanters or soft-drink glasses), contests and prizes, rebates and volume discounts (large-size packages, “buy two, get one free” promotions, etc.)

Throughout these steps, marketers should consistently review and analyze the actions and tools that major competitors are utilizing.



Accountability in marketing is increasing a result of tight economic restraints and an ever evolving society. Companies realize that they cannot spend large amounts of money on unproductive marketing campaigns. Companies look for programs that will have a measurable impact on business at minimal cost. Marketing agencies must be able to provide companies with desired and effective results.


Barriers to Integrated Marketing Communications

Despite its many benefits, Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC, has many barriers.

In addition to the usual resistance to change and the special problems of communicating with a wide variety of target audiences, there are many other obstacles which restrict IMC. These include: Functional Silos; Stifled Creativity; Time Scale Conflicts and a lack of Management know-how.

Take functional silos. Rigid organizational structures are infested with managers who protect both their budgets and their power base.

Sadly, some organizational structures isolate communications, data, and even managers from each other. For example the PR department often doesn’t report to marketing. The sales force rarely meets the advertising or sales promotion people and so on. Imagine what can happen when sales reps are not told about a new promotional offer!

And all of this can be aggravated by turf wars or internal power battles where specific managers resist having some of their decisions (and budgets) determined or even influenced by someone from another department.

Here are two difficult questions – What should a truly integrated marketing department look like? And how will it affect creativity?

It shouldn’t matter whose creative idea it is, but often, it does. An advertising agency may not be so enthusiastic about developing a creative idea generated by, say, a PR or a direct marketing consultant.

IMC can restrict creativity. No more wild and wacky sales promotions unless they fit into the overall marketing communications strategy. The joy of rampant creativity may be stifled, but the creative challenge may be greater and ultimately more satisfying when operating within a tighter, integrated, creative brief.

Add different time scales into a creative brief and you’ll see Time Horizons provide one more barrier to IMC. For example, image advertising, designed to nurture the brand over the longer term, may conflict with shorter term advertising or sales promotions designed to boost quarterly sales. However the two objectives can be accommodated within an overall IMC if carefully planned.

But this kind of planning is not common. A survey in 1995, revealed that most managers lack expertise in IMC. But it’s not just managers, but also agencies. There is a proliferation of single discipline agencies. There appear to be very few people who have real experience of all the marketing communications disciplines. This lack of know how is then compounded by a lack of commitment. For now, understanding the barriers is the first step in successfully implementing integrated marketing communication.

If you are a visual-stimulated person, you can watch this video to have a better understanding.

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