Cutting-Edge Companies Use Integrated Marketing Communication

Article excerpt

Have you ever responded by phone to a company's earnest plea on television imploring how it can't wait to have you as a valued customer, only to be shuffled to a disaffected employee who seems genuinely bored with helping you?

Well, if you've had such an experience--and wondered, "Don't they watch their own TV ads?"--you're acutely aware of the impetus for Integrated Marketing Communication. It begins with the "one-sight, one-sound" objective of marketing communication, and while that's only a part of the IMC concept, it's the part that shows most to consumers and the general public. And it's the problem that communicators who don't work directly with marketing frequently have to reconcile in their programs.

If you're not familiar with the IMC concept, here is an official definition: "...a strategic business process used to plan, develop, execute and evaluate coordinated and measurable persuasive brand communication programs over time with consumers, customers, prospects and other targeted, relevant external and internal audiences."

The topic of IMC is discussed at length in a best practices report of the same name produced by the American Productivity Quality Center (APQC), Houston, Texas. Report editor is Susan Elliott. Chief subject matter expert is Don Schultz, professor of integrated marketing communication at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The report is based on a study of 22 companies that practice varying degrees of IMC. Eight of the companies studied were termed "partners." Essentially these leading edge representatives are well along the road to IMC; 14 other companies were termed "sponsors," and also are well on the road to IMC but not as far along as the partners.

IMC development stages

The four degrees (or stages) of IMC development determined by the study are:

1) Tactical coordination of marketing communication. This is where most organizations seeking IMC begin, and focus is on functional areas including advertising, promotion, direct response, public relations and special events. Emphasis is on developing "one-sight, one-sound" policies and programs.

2) Redefining the scope of marketing communication. Here the organization begins to examine communication from the customer's viewpoint, looking at all contact and entry points of customers with the company. The critical question changes from "How do we reach the customer?" to "How does the customer reach us?" Outside in instead of inside out. Also, the scope of communication activities broadens to include internal marketing to employees, suppliers and other business partners.

3) Application of Information Technology. Here the organization uses data gained through IT to provide a basis to identify value and monitor the impact of integrated internal and external communication programs to key customer segments over time.

4) Financial and strategic integration. At this top level of integration, emphasis shifts from skills and data to driving corporate strategic planning using customer information and insight. Financial measures of marketing are adopted based on return-on-customer investment measures.

The study was built on the concept that corporate enterprises do not simply decide to "become integrated," but in fact, evolved as integrated organizations over a period of several years.

The study resulted in 12 key findings which are grouped under the four stages of IMC evolution. Following are those key findings with corporate examples to illustrate how the findings actually work in daily corporate reality.

Key Findings, Stage One

1. Integration requires a high degree of interpersonal and cross-functional communication within the organization, across business units, and with outside suppliers. It cannot be driven by formal policies and procedures alone.

For example, at Federal Express, within the marketing department activities are centered around customer segments. …