Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a process that helps companies to manage customer relationships through the use of various communication tools to increase brand value and boost sales. This process usually combines the efforts of many departments, which target the achievement of good and profitable relations with customers and shareholders. Such relations could be achieved through control of messages and stimulation of deliberate dialog with them.
IMC is the coordinated and integrated use and implementation of various communication tools and sources within a company, with the aim to optimize the influence on consumers or end users at the lowest possible cost, as defined by Clow, Kenneth E & Donald Baack in "Integrated Advertising Promotion and Marketing Communications" (2007). IMC has four components: foundation, advertising tools, promotional tools and integration tools.
The foundation involves the corporate image, brand management, buyer behavior and promotions opportunity analysis. The advertising tools include advertising design and management, theoretical frameworks of appeals, message strategies and advertising media selection. Promotional tools are trade and consumer promotions, personal selling, database marketing and customer relations management as well as public relations and sponsorship programs. Integration tools, in turn, comprise Internet marketing, IMC for small businesses and integrated marketing programs.
Given the growing use of Internet in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, companies have been trying to adapt to the changing marketing environment and the totally different way in which consumers are choosing and buying products. Experts started addressing segmentation and targeting with new methods. Such method is the so called "marketing mix".
Marketing mix includes promotional activities like advertising, sales promotion and personal selling activities. It also combines Internet, sponsorship, direct and database marketing with public relations. The implementation of marketing mix helps companies gain priority over rivals.
Whatever type of integrated marketing communications strategy is chosen by a company it has to be strictly planned and maintained among employees and customers. Marketing plans usually contain three basic elements, namely situation analysis, marketing objectives and marketing budget.
IMC could use both offline and online marketing channels to guarantee the smooth delivery of its message. Offline marketing channels include newspapers, magazines, mail order, public relations, industry relations, billboard, radio and TV.
Among the online channels are e-marketing campaigns or programs like search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, affiliate, email, banner, webinar, blog, micro-blogging, RSS, podcast, Internet radio and Internet TV.
An IMC program is developed with the use of all marketing mix elements: the four Ps, product, price, place and promotion, which correlate to the four Cs, consumer, cost, convenience and communication.
To sell a product a company has to understand consumer needs and try to meet them. It also must be able to understand consumer's cost as price is not always critical for consumers, but the time they have spent in driving, for instance, can lead them in their decision-making process. Convenience is more important for consumers than the place and delivery mechanism for a product, while communication with feedback also gains privilege over promotion.
Communication elements have to be selected very carefully in order to achieve the targets of the planned integrated marketing communications program. Marketing experts can choose whatever elements they like for their marketing campaign, although most of them mainly use advertising methods. The bulk of the marketing budget is spent on the creation and distribution of advertisements as well.
Developing a promotions opportunity analysis is a crucial part of the process of setting-up an integrated marketing communications plan. Promotions opportunity analysis is a process that helps marketing experts to define a target audience for specific products and services. The quality analysis leads to the more effective achievement of the set targets. This process consists of five stages.
The first step of the promotions opportunity analysis is the accomplishment of a communication market analysis of competitors, opportunities, target markets, customers and product positioning. What follows is the establishment of communication objectives. These objectives include developing brand awareness, increasing category demand, changing customer attitude, encouraging purchases, bolstering market share and sales.
During the third stage marketers should create communications budget, while the next step is the preparation of promotional strategies. Last but not least in the process is the coordination of tactics and strategies. The whole analysis process should enable marketers to review the actions of their competitors.
The idea of the integrated marketing communications is to communicate the essence of a message in such a way that the audience gets it without doubt and confusion.