Creative Strategy in Integrated Marketing Communications

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Creative Strategy in Integrated Marketing Communications
By Susan K. Jones, Professor of Marketing at Ferris State University Principal, Susan K. Jones & Associates

The concept of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) makes absolute sense – so much so that novices in the field may wonder what all the commotion is about. IMC suggests that marketers look at the customer first – his or her preferences, buying patterns, media exposure, and other factors – and then expose that customer to products and services that fit the customer’s needs via a mix of communication methods he or she finds attractive and credible. As Don E. Schultz, the late Stanley I. Tannenbaum, and Robert F. Lauterborn asserted in their book, The New Marketing Paradigm, IMC challenges marketers to “start with the customer and work back to the brand.”

Why was this revolutionary? Not because it was a new or controversial concept, but because a whole culture of agencies, in-house departments, and consultants had grown up around the notion of separation for advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion, and public relations efforts, rather than the harmonious, customer-centered planning process that IMC requires.

At its worst, this old-style culture leads to arguments among professionals as to how a media budget will be split: how much for general advertising, how much for direct marketing, and so on. Such “turf wars” have very little to do with what the customer wants or needs. They rely on chauvinistic notions that “my method is better” – that direct marketing is inherently superior to sales promotion, for example, or that general advertising is more refined, and therefore more appropriate, than “pushier” direct marketing techniques.

Because of the paradigm shift required in order to implement IMC, advertising professionals and their counterparts in direct marketing, sales promotion and public relations continue to work to come to grips with this concept. As with other deep cultural changes, intellectual acceptance may long precede the ability to embrace the gains and losses inherent in this new way of doing things. While the evolution continues, this conceptual framework may help creative people to understand IMC and use its tenets to their advantage.

The Four Elements of IMC

Integrated Marketing Communications encompasses general advertising, direct marketing, sales promotion and public relations. Some IMC campaigns feature aspects of all four elements, while others may eliminate one or more elements for strategic reasons. The American Association of Advertising Agencies defines IMC as follows:

Integrated Marketing Communications is a concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value in a program that integrates a variety of strategic disciplines, e.g., general advertising, direct response, sales promotion and public relations and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communications impact.

In an integrated campaign, general advertising shines at strengthening brands and brand equity while direct marketing builds relationships and dialogue, and provides the means to close sales. Sales promotion provides short-term buying incentives for both consumers and the trade. Public relations – mainly publicity in this case – offers third-party endorsements and extra reinforcement for the paid advertising messages. None of the four elements is inherently superior or inferior; they all have important functions in an integrated campaign. The campaign should focus on a “big idea” and a graphic look that threads through all four elements. This maximizes the chances that consumers will get the message and then have the message reinforced and layered in their memories without the “cognitive dissonance” that arises from mixed messages or incongruous graphic elements.

The Creative Process in Integrated Marketing Communications

The best integrated marketing campaigns begin with the...
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