An integrated marketing communications, or IMC approach, involves "coordinating the various promotional elements and other marketing activities that communicate with a firm's customers" (Belch & Belch 1999, p. 8). The most significant point is that all communication and promotional activities should be integrated so that a clear and consistent message is communicated to customers. This involves clearly defining the message, considering the various ways that it will be communicated, and considering the promotional activities that will help to communicate the message.
Before the communication and promotional strategies can be considered, it is first necessary to define the actual message. The first consideration is that the business environment is rapidly changing and is increasingly competitive. With this in mind, organizations need to ensure the best use of every dollar spent, including money spent on promotional efforts. For these promotional dollars to achieve the most value, they need to be aimed at long-term success, rather than short-term sales. A related consideration is that rapid change means that even the latest products and benefits can quickly become dated. Therefore, if a company selects this strategy and focuses on promoting specific benefits of a certain product, this benefits highlighted may only be significant to consumers for a short time. The company will then constantly be trying to find new ways to benefit the consumer, with this an ongoing exercise that will be costly both in terms of the money spent advertising, as well as time and resources utilized in constant research. The alternative to this approach is to focus on communicating a message that represents the organization overall and will expand to cover more than one product and will be expansive enough to cover products as they evolve. This strategy will be one of branding, where the company name will be promoted as a brand that represents general qualities important to consumers. King (1991, p. 4) describes the effectiveness of this strategy where he notes that it is becoming especially difficult for organizations to gain a real and sustainable advantage over competitors, with the best way to gain a long-term advantage being to position the company as a positive brand in the minds of consumers. For these reasons, the IMC approach will be designed to provide a consistent message about the company, rather than a message about a specific product.
The specific message that will be communicated to consumers is that the company understands consumers and is there specifically for the consumer. This message has been selected based on the observation that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding. This message has also been selected based on the observation that consumers have more and more options in the marketplace and so can often afford to be selective and only purchase products that meet their specific needs. This makes it necessary for the company to focus on customer needs when developing products. The strategy communicating loyalty to the customer will help to ensure that the efforts have ongoing positive results by creating a strong link between the company and the consumer. This is intended to create a high level of customer equity. One source states that "marketing strategy should focus on extending loyal customer lifetime value," with brand management serving as a major marketing tool" (Kotler, Armstrong, Brown, & Adam, p. 359). This is the approach that will be taken, with the message intended to build the brand name and produce loyal customers. As customers remain loyal, the company will be able to understand their needs even better and continue to adapt products to meet their needs. This will create an effective long-term strategy and provide an ongoing competitive advantage that competitors will find difficult to duplicate.
The next consideration is how the message will be communicated. One of the most important points in this case is that the message will be communicated by what is done as much as by what is said. For example, there is little point advertising that the organization cares about its customers and wants to be there for them if it is difficult for customers to contact the organization. This is especially true in cases where the customer has problems or complaints. This makes it important for the organization to consider its policies and ensure that they are consistent with the message being delivered to customers. Kotler, Chandler, Gibbs, & McColl (1999, p. 507) note the importance of consistency between how an organization acts and what it claims about itself, emphasizing that the consumer will generally develop perceptions based on actions rather than claims. For this reason, the organization will need to consider all interactions with consumers and work to make sure they are consistent with what consumers want. This will involve considering all aspects of the marketing mix including product, pricing, and place. For example, the product should be available at the place most convenient for consumers, have pricing terms best suited to consumers, and have features suited to consumers.
The next consideration is the promotion strategy for the product, taking into account that it needs to support the message that the company understands consumers and is there specifically for the consumer. One method that will be used is personal selling because it promotes the message being communicated and will also help ensure that the company can continue to meet consumer needs. Personal selling promotes the message because a one-on-one relationship between the company and the consumer reinforces that the company is there for the consumer. This is preferred to other methods where the consumer is not able to develop a personal relationship with the company. Perreault & McCarthy (2000, p. 297) note that this method allows salespeople to adapt because they receive immediate feedback from consumers. This ability to adapt to the consumers needs will help to communicate the message. In addition, salespeople will gain feedback and develop an understanding of customers. This information can then be used to develop products and services to meet the consumer needs and preferences identified.
While personal selling has many benefits, it must also be noted that it is an expensive promotional method. Perreault & McCarthy (2000, p. 297) note that for this reason, personal selling is typically combined with other promotional methods, especially mass selling. This approach will be used in the promotional strategy, with the information gained in personal selling used to develop advertising strategies that appeal to specific segments of the market. To promote the idea that the company is there for consumers, it is important that the advertisements are not mass advertisements designed to appeal to a wide, but non-specific section of the population. Instead, the advertisements should be targeted to appeal directly to targeted consumers. This will involve promoting the benefits specific to the targeted consumers, while showing that the company understands the needs of the targeted market. Another important consideration is the media used for advertising. This will utilize direct-mail advertising since this is the most effective way to reach small, defined target markets. This approach will also help to create a relationship between the consumer and the company. Even though this is not a person-to-person relationship, it is a one-on-one relationship in that the consumer is receiving advertising specifically to them.
Public relations will be another important component of the promotions plan. Belch & Belch (1999, p. 516) describe the functions of public relations as including: raising awareness; informing and educating; gaining understanding; and building trust. These will all be important aspects in communicating the overall message. Raising awareness can help to establish that the company is one that cares for its customers. Informing and educating will play an important role because it is a way that the company can add value for consumers. This can occur because the company can offer its knowledge to consumers. This will provide a benefit to consumers, while…