Key Features of Integrated Marketing Communications Plan

key features integrated communications plan Key Features of Integrated Marketing Communications Plan


Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach to brand communications where the different modes work together to create a seamless experience for the customer and are presented with a similar tone and style that reinforces the brand’s core message. Its goal is to make all aspects of marketing communication such as advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing, online communications and social media work together as a unified force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation, which maximizes their cost effectiveness.

“Integrated marketing communication” is becoming more significant in marketing practice because of the reduced cost effectiveness of mass media and media fragmentation. As consumers spend more time online and on mobile devices all exposures of the brand need to tie together so they are more likely to be remembered. Increasingly the strategies of brands cannot be understood by looking solely at their advertising. Instead they can be understood by seeing how all aspects of their communications ecosystem work together and in particular how communications are personalized for each customer and react in real time, as in a conversation.

Though the preceding definition of IMC is long-winded and certainly not worth committing to memory, inherent in the definition are several essential features that provide the philosophical foundation for this practice. These features are listed below and require detailed discussion hereafter. It is important to note before proceeding that these elements are interdependent and that there is no particular order of importance suggested by the listing. It also is essential that students recognize that all five (5) features are critical to both understanding the philosophy of IMC and appreciating what must be accomplished to implement this philosophy into practice. These 5 features do merit commitment to memory.

1. The Customer Represents the Starting Point for All Marketing Communications Activities. An initial key feature of Integrated Marketing Communication is that the process should start with the customer or prospect and then work back to the brand communicator in determining the most appropriate messages and media for informing, persuading, and inducing customers and prospects to act favorably toward the communicator’s brand. The IMC approach avoids an “inside-out” approach (from company to customer) in identifying communication vehicles and instead starts with the customer (“outside-in”) to determine those communication methods that will best serve the customers’ information needs and motivate them to purchase the brand.

2. Brand Managers and Their Agencies Should Be Amenable to Using Various Marketing Communication Tools. This second element naturally extends from the first and its emphasis on starting with the customer. To fully appreciate this second key feature of IMC, it will be useful to draw an analogy between the tools available to marketing communicators (advertising, sales promotions, sponsorships, etc.) and those used by people in craft industries such as carpentry, plumbing, and automobile repair. Each of these craftsmen possesses a toolbox that is filled with a variety of tools. Consider, for example, car- drills, sanding equipment, and so on. When given a new construction or repair job, carpenters turn to those tools that are most appropriate for the task at hand. In other words, some tools are more appropriate for particular purposes than are others. A carpenter can pound a nail with the blunt end of a screwdriver, but a hammer can do the job more efficiently.

Such is the case with marketing communications: not all tools (again, advertising, sales promotions, sponsorships, etc.) are equally effective for all jobs. Rather, a truly professional marketing communicator selects those tools that are best for the job. The toolbox metaphor is a good way of thinking about what a professional marketing communicator must do— namely, carefully select those tools that are most appropriate for the communications objective at hand

3. Multiple Messages Must Speak with a Single Voice. Inherent in the philosophy and practice of IMC is the demand that a brand’s assorted communication elements (advertisements, point-of-purchase signage, sales promotions, event sponsorships, etc.) must all strive to present the same message and convey that message consistently across diverse message channels, or points of contact. Marketing communications must, in other words, speak with a single voice. Coordination of messages and media is absolutely critical to achieving a strong and unified brand image and moving consumers to action.

The failure to closely coordinate all communication elements can result in duplicated efforts or—worse yet—contradictory brand messages. A vice president of marketing at Apple Inc. fully recognized the value of speaking with a single voice when describing his intention to integrate all the marketing communication contacts for Apple’s brand of smart phones, Macs and tablets. This executive captured the essential quality of “single voicing” when stating that, under her leadership, “whenever consumers see an iPhone, they’ll be seeing the same message.” A general manager at Samsung, Inc., maker of consumer electronic products, expressed a similar sentiment when stating, “We used to look at advertising, PR, promotion plans, each piece as separate. Now every piece of communication from package to Internet has to reflect the same message.”

4. Build Relationships Rather Than Engage in Flings. A fourth characteristic of IMC is the belief that successful marketing communication requires building relationships between brands and their consumers/customers. A relationship is an enduring link between a brand and its customers. It can be argued, in fact, that relationship building is the key to modern marketing and that IMC is one of the keys to relationship building. Successful relationships between customers and brands lead to repeat purchasing and perhaps even to loyalty toward a brand.

The importance of relationship building has spawned the growth of an entire industry of consultants and software suppliers who are involved in the practice of customer relationship management, or CRM. Companies that hire these consultants and use their software programs have learned that it is more profitable to build and maintain relationships than it is to continuously search for new customers. The value of customer retention has been compared to a “leaky bucket,” the logic of which is nicely captured in the following quote:

As a company loses customers out of the leak in the bottom of the bucket, they have to continue to add new customers to the top of the bucket. If the company can even partially plug the leak, the bucket stays fuller. It then takes fewer new customers added to the top of the bucket to achieve the same level of profitability. It’s less expensive and more profitable to keep those customers already in the bucket. Smart business people realize that it costs five to 10 times more to land a new customer than to keep a customer they already have. They also recognize that increasing the number of customers they keep by a small percentage can double profits.

5. Don’t Lose Focus of the Ultimate Objective: Affect Behavior. A final IMC feature is the goal to affect the behavior of the target audience or target market. This means that marketing communications must do more than just influence brand awareness or enhance consumer attitudes toward the brand. Instead, successful IMC requires that communication efforts be directed at encouraging some form of behavioral response. The objective, in other words, is to move people to action. We must be careful not to misconstrue this point. An IMC program must be judged, ultimately, in terms of whether it influences behavior; but it would be simplistic and unrealistic to expect an action to result from every communication effort. Prior to purchasing a new brand, consumers generally must be made aware of the brand and its benefits and be influenced to have a favorable attitude toward it.

Communication efforts directed at accomplishing these intermediate, or pre-behavioral, goals are fully justified. Yet eventually—and preferably sooner than later—a successful marketing communications program must accomplish more than encouraging consumers to like a brand or, worse yet, merely familiarizing them with its existence. This partially explains why sales promotions and direct-to-consumer advertising are used so extensively—both practices typically yield quicker results than other forms of marketing communications such as advertising.

Creating an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan

The best marketing strategy in the world will ultimately fail if you are unable to get the right message to your potential customers at the right place and the right time. An integrated marketing communications plan matches your available budget of time and money to the most effective means for distributing your message. No matter how great your product or service, if your potential customers don’t know it exists; there will never be a sale.

What Does Integrated Mean?

An integrated marketing communications plan has all parts of your tactics working together. For example, if your marketing communications plan calls for print advertising, the same theme of your print ads should be reflected on your web site. If your customer gets the same message and visual clues in both places, they are much more likely to comprehend your marketing message. By doing this, you will build your brand with that customer who will remember you when they are ready to buy.

Elements of the Integrated Marketing Communications Plan

Your plan should include consideration of marketing methods such as:

1. Web site: What does your web site say about your company? Is it informative, easy to use, ecommerce ready? Your web site is available at all times, is it ready to speak for you when you are not available.

2. Advertising: print, online, radio, or television. Choose the advertising medium(s) that gets your message to your target audience where they are likely to be ready to receive it. Use a consistent, repetitive approach to build awareness and recall.

3. Marketing Collateral: brochures, case studies, white papers. Your materials build and define your brand and provide the customer with an important look at your positioning and messages.

4. Online Marketing: advertising, opt-in email marketing and links from other sites. Your customers are online and you should use the appropriate methods to reach and retain them.

5. Trade shows: How many individual meetings would you need to setup to equal the number you can have at a trade show. No other opportunity affords you the ability to meet directly with so many customers in a condensed time frame.

Direct mail, personal selling, networking and many more methods allow you to get your message to the customer.

Budget and Allocate Resources

Your “integrated marketing communications plan” must have a target budget and resources assigned to each element of the plan. Depending on the size of your budget, you will probably need to make trade-offs between methods to achieve your goals. In addition, you need to have the internal or external resources aligned to carry out the plan.

A good integrated marketing communications plan can take your marketing efforts to the next level. Test what works and feed the information back into the plan. If you want to learn more, you can download and read free high-quality digital marketing ebook PDF. Don’t forget to add me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter at, and

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