Orchestrate Your Communications

Orchestrate Your Communications

From marketing oriented to market driven
The incredible explosion of technology in the last two decades has, for all practical purposes, shattered the mass market and made many of the traditional techniques of mass marketing obsolete. The era of companies determining the dynamics of selling their products is history. In the marketplace of the 21st century, the driving force is not companies with products to sell but customers controlling what, where, and how they want to buy. Think Internet. Think 24-hour toll-free phone numbers, credit cards, and express delivery services – Consumers are now able to access information on demand and seek out the products and services that interest them.

Not only has technology changed the way consumers make their purchasing decisions, it has also revolutionised how companies market their products to consumers. The customer’s role has become so dominant that companies are shifting their focus from being marketing oriented to being market driven. To successfully communicate with the modern consumer, outdated mass-marketing tactics ought to be replaced with a targeted, customer-focused approach.

Mass Media was for Mass Markets
Mass media (read broadcast) primarily serves the purpose of large advertisers who want to reach the greatest number of eyeballs. In his book Gonzo Marketing, Christopher Locke writes, “Mass media are mass because they are huge. And the way such hugeness is achieved is by appealing to the lowest-common-denominator tastes in terms of programming content. The program, the content is merely a bait to draw the audience. The real show, the real message is the advertising. And advertisers want to lower to common denominator so that they can get everyone possible into the audience.” This, Locke says, is the broadcast model, which worked very well for mass producers wanting to reach out to mass markets.

But as mass markets are increasingly paving way for a multitude of mini-markets, marketing communications is becoming a complex affair. Most marketers know that mass media does not work for micro markets and therefore they are resorting to using other forms of media, in addition to mass media.

In one proprietary study conducted by Leo Burnett a few years ago, consumers identified 102 different media as “advertising” – everything from TV to shopping bags to sponsored community events. The explosive popularity of the Internet has made things even more intricate. Although the Internet reaches an enormous number of people, mass marketing tactics have miserably failed to work on it.

Consistency is the key
Fairfax Cone, Advertising Guru and co-founder of Foote, Cone and Belding once said, “There is no such thing as a Mass Mind. The Mass Audience is made up of individuals, and good advertising is written always from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.”

His words apply now more than ever before. The sophistication of consumers, proliferation of media vehicles and fragmentation of mass markets has made it extremely difficult for marketers and advertisers to establish and maintain a consistent voice across multiple media. The key words here are “consistent voice across multiple media”.

Inconsistency in communicating marketing messages can, and often does, lead to ineffective and wasted marketing efforts. Adrian Mendonza, VP and Executive Creative Director, Rediffusion DY&R concurs, “I believe that in recent times and in times to come, the increased media choices will crowd, and in fact throttle, the mind. This battering barrage of information is numbing the consumer so much that you can only reach him and create an impact if your message has both these ingredients: a) It is simple b) It is consistent. The message has to be interesting, simple and single-minded in the first place.”

To this, M G Parameshwaran, Executive Director of FCB Ulka, adds, “Having one face, one look and one identity is not all that new as a concept, but with fragmentation of media, proliferation of media vehicles and increased competition, the task to get into mind space of consumers is getting increasingly difficult. Hence the need to have one voice is all the more important today.”

Integrated Marketing Communications
To maintain consistency in fragmented markets and multiple media, marketers need to adopt new and better ways of understanding, reaching and connecting with consumers. Many leading marketing theorists and practitioners now feel hat integrated marketing communications offers the ways and means to achieve these ends.

In the last few years, the concept of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) has been gaining a lot of ground. It has been discussed and debated throughout the world by leading marketing and advertising experts, marketing gurus and academicians. A study of top management and marketing executives in large consumer companies indicated that over 70 percent favoured the concept of integrated marketing communications.

IMC: Definition, Nature and Scope
As defined by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, IMC is a concept of marketing communications planning that recognises the added value of a comprehensive plan. Such a plan evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines – for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion and public relations – and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum impact through seamless integration of discrete messages.

According to Philip Kotler, “Integrated Marketing Communications is a way of looking at the whole marketing process from the viewpoint of the customer.”

A Cohesive Approach
Moving away from definitions, the concept of IMC contends that each component of the marketing mix should work in unison, leveraging the strengths of other components and presenting a consistent set of benefits and images to the customer. This means that IMC requires that all the 4 Ps of marketing, namely Product, Price, Place and Promotion must be planned together to achieve the goal of consistency.

Obviously, such an approach necessitates total coordination of above-the-line and below-the-line communication channels, as well as all other means that may be used to communicate and connect with target audiences. Planning of communication messages must therefore be horizontal and cohesive. Planning, developing, and delivering communication messages need to be interrelated and coordinated, not planned independently and separately from each other. The key to an IMC approach is to be able to select an appropriate combination of marketing communication tools that will achieve the marketing communication objectives set out for a brand. The consequent clarity and consistency of communication maximises the impact of the marketing communications effort.

Internal Mindset
IMC, more than anything is a strategic communications model. It is not just a simple one-look, one-message campaign – rather, IMC is a completely different way of marketing communications. IMC acknowledges that every aspect of a business communicates something to its customers; thus, every action of an organisation is a marketing action as well. Therefore IMC, as a business process, must ingrain itself in every facet of a corporation – it must set right what can be termed as internal mindset. This implies that IMC is not limited solely to the marketing and promotional arms of companies but rather concerns itself with every facet of the business, from top management down to secretarial and support staff. The people in an organisation, along with the products and services offered, project a strong identity of who they are, why they are there, and whose interests they seek to serve. Every aspect of a business communicates something and these indirect messages are among those that IMC seeks to integrate.

Client versus Agency
When it comes to traditional marketing, many clients attempt to integrate the external communications effort themselves. But such clients are left with the significant overhead of running a number of disparate agencies. With a view to becoming IMC-equipped, many large advertising agencies have acquired specialists in other marketing communications disciplines. By working with such agencies, clients need to only brief, manage and monitor one agency as opposed to running a portfolio of different specialists.

But even if an agency is capable of implementing an IMC programme, is it really possible to “integrate” the various media and channels this way?

Sorab Mistry, Chairman of McCann Erickson India, believes that such integration is possible, provided IMC is made an integral part of the initial brand communication strategy. He says, “While an effort to do this is made by some clients, most often than not advertising gets the most attention. All other IMC disciplines are initiated tactically – often on an ad-hoc basis. To add to the problem, due to cost considerations, activities like promotions, merchandising and database marketing are often outsourced to smaller outfits by the client at a much lesser cost – thereby, sacrificing the ‘integration’ aspect of the effort.”

Advocates of IMC claim that integrating marketing communications helps clients get efficiencies and economies of scale with design, production and implementation of their communications programme. But practitioners differ somewhat.

Parameshwaran says, “There may not be economies of scale in conceptualising and designing an integrated campaign. In fact we need to not just look at economies of scale but look at what is right for the medium and spend the requisite time and effort to make sure that the message is suitably adapted to the medium concerned.”

Mistry echoes the similar sentiments, “While some economies of scale can be gained, it is important to note that the evaluation of IMC programs should not be on the same parameters as advertising. For example, cost per contact is often significantly higher in IMC programs when compared to advertising. Very often, both client and agency consider IMC as the “cheaper option” to advertising. This obscures the key role that IMC plays in brand communication.”

A Collaborative Strategy
Effective IMC requires coordination on strategy as well as tactics. It is not simply a question of coordinating implementation. Collaboration at the research and planning stage is essential. To be effective, this collaboration requires an understanding of the different roles that different techniques play in the marketing communications process (e.g. promotion might prompt trial but only once public relations has raised awareness).

Mendonza clarifies, “No integrated marketing is possible without a complete bonding of client-agency thinking. And this does not mean just the policy-makers and managers at the client’s end, but also the salesman in the field. Eventually he is the man who is going to clinch the deal. He has to speak the same language. Only then will there be magic in the integrated message.”

Customer-Oriented Approach
The importance of consumer orientation in IMC cannot be sufficiently emphasised. For any marketing communication campaign to be able to produce effective results, it must solidly be anchored on a deep understanding of the consumer.

A key shift that must take place in client organisations is the shift from inside-out thinking to outside-in. Outside-in thinking is integral to IMC for it zooms into the consumer or the publics that are the objectives of any marketing campaign, thinking of the needs and wants of these markets and producing products and services that meet these needs. This is in contrast to inside-out thinking wherein strategic processes are grounded on financial analysis of sales, marketing and profit goals instead of the consumer where they should be based on. In such scenario, first priority is given to manufacturing a product and then finding a market to sell it in. Such outmoded pattern of thinking may not survive in today’s modern world.

To effectively direct messages to, and affect the behaviour of consumers, brand communications programs should incorporate segmentation/aggregation, customer valuation, and database management. An IMC programme uses sophisticated tools for customer management and data mining to:
– Segment and target audiences or individuals and,
– Monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the campaign.

Technology is playing a key role in enabling this. For example, new media channels allow greater targeting (e.g. One-to-one real time marketing) and interactivity so that a return path of information may be established with customers.

A recent example is the launch campaign of TATA Indigo, the new car from Telco. The launch integrated all the elements of IMC to give one message of ‘Comfort and Luxury’. This message and the visual of the ‘Arm Chair’ was used in a variety of media vehicles, including newspapers, magazines, TV, outdoor, merchandising, mailers, website, event design, brochures and even invitation card to the launch event. Parameshwaran, whose agency was behind the IMC campaign, emphasises, “Coordinating the entire campaign called for a lot of effort, since you had to use the key elements of the message and adapt it to the medium concerned. The arm chair may look very nice in press ad, but how will look on stage, or on a banner ad on the website? But overall the integration has had a tremendous effect on the brand Tata Indigo. No one got a message from any source that was not aligned to the strategy of comfort and luxury.”
McCann Erickson India has used IMC for General Motors and the launch of Virgin Atlantic. Philips Similarly, Rediffusion DY&R’s campaign for Daikin Air-conditioners is also on the lines of IMC. Mendonza explains, “The message of ‘complete silence’ has been taken across not only press, TV, outdoor, retail and website advertising, it is even used by dealers and sales personnel in the field. They sell the Air-conditioners on a technology platform which single-mindedly translates into it being more silent than other Air-conditioners.” And the result has been very encouraging – the IMC campaign is doing wonders for the product on the sales front – this despite of Daikin being about 20% more expensive than other air-conditioners in its class and not once resorting to promotions, discounts etc.
So what are the ingredients of a successful IMC programme? Mendonza thinks the answer lies in simplicity. He says, “The message has to be interesting, simple and single-minded in the first place. This is easier said than done. (That is why there are such few really good campaigns doing the rounds.) Most products and services today, have the same offering. So you can only occupy the consumer’s mind-space if you offer that same thing in a totally refreshing way. Getting to that ‘refreshing way’ itself takes tremendous common sense, hard work and smart thinking. So it only follows that once you find that way, you own it. And you can only own it if you are focussed and integrated with your message across all media. Otherwise, there is too much noise and clutter happening out there to get even halfway across to the consumer’s mind.”

Resistance to IMC
While the logic of IMC appeals to most marketing practitioners, there are many who resist integrating their communications efforts.

The first and foremost reason for resistance is inertia or refusal to change – any attempt to change the so called “tried and tested” recipe tends to encounter resistance. IMC requires a complete re-structuring of the mindset towards marketing communications – both at the client side and the agency side. For most managers, this is a difficult task to embark upon.

Nothing New
Most clients and agencies think that IMC is simply old wine in a new bottle – that the use of multiple communications tactics, coordinated campaign themes, and consistent graphic or corporate identity has always been employed. But Mistry is quick to point out the flaw with this kind of thinking, “This may be true to some extent. But as I mentioned above, more often than not, IMC plans are worked out more on an ad hoc basis and not as an integral part of brand communication. Mere use of the communication discipline does not make a campaign integrated.”

According to Parameshwaran, brands for have attempted to integrate the look and feel across media for a long time. But the last five years has seen the emergence of many new media opportunities, Internet, Events, Product-placements, etc. So the task has become a lot more complex. It is this increasing complexity that calls for a holistic and synergistic approach towards marketing communications.

Complex Planning
Complex planning is another deterrent. The integrated marketer can select from more than 20 tools, from advertising to in-store merchandising to promotion to public relations to database marketing to the Internet. This often requires detailed and long-term planning at both the client and agency levels.

Marketing is often viewed as cost, rather than investment. This tactical – rather than strategic – perspective works against planning and preparation, which is the foundation of IMC. Planning helps in deciding the communications strategy that ultimately helps in optimising the marketing spends. Parameshwaran says, “A marketer who wants to use the various tools of IMC has to be clear what is needed to reach the target consumer and what is the time and money available to do the job. There is no point in doing what we call a ‘GangaJal’ IMC, a little bit of everything. It is better to focus efforts, if the target audience can be reached through one or two media and the budget is limited.”

Lack of Initiative
Many clients blame the agencies for not initiating IMC. Kotler writes, “Most agencies have not done a good job of putting together all the different teams and organisations involved with a communications campaign.” To this Mistry adds, “Agencies themselves have not given adequate focus to IMC. It is often treated as an appendage to the mainline agency. While agencies need to invest more into IMC – in terms of people, tools & research – it is also necessary to educate clients on IMC thinking. Even if agencies do not have the wherewithal to handle the entire gamut of media involved – they could outsource the implementation to specialist outfits – it is important for the dominant agency to be involved in developing the IMC programme.

Accountability or the problem of accurately measuring the effectiveness of the various disciplines used also discourages clients from using IMC. The client always wants the highest possible ROI on every buck he spends. Lack of guidelines to evaluate the IMC programme is also an impediment to IMC programmes.

Parameshwaran feels, “A marketer needs to have some form of measuring the impact of each of the IMC tools and also factor in that they always work in tandem. Like: What is the number of unique visitors to the website, how many people came to the event etc. need to be tracked? But the metrics need to be different from the classic, cost per thousand. At an overall level the marketer needs to see the value of an IMC programme and the synergistic effect of the various media on the brand. And that calls for a ‘gestalt’ view of the role of marketing communication, a view that is a lot more than just numbers and figures.”

But Mistry disagrees. “The issue of accountability is often misunderstood due to a lack of guidelines to evaluate an IMC program. Agencies need to develop tools for this. Given the fact that clients have started investing in IMC tools to measure effectiveness will follow”, he says.

Wrapping up
IMC is not a management fad, but is a fundamental and marked shift in thinking and practice of marketing communications by clients and advertising agencies. A quick market scan proves that IMC is being taken seriously and is being practised by a significant group of marketing communications practitioners. The primary value that agencies see with IMC is the consistency, impact, and continuity which an integrated programme provides.

The critical issue concerning IMC is that of evaluation and measurement of integrated programmes. Part of the difficulty is that traditionally advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing, and the public relations disciplines have developed separate and distinct measurement approaches. The measurement of integrated programs which can estimate the synergy between elements is a totally new field which remains relatively undeveloped.

IMC is a new approach to marketing communications planning being driven by technology, customers, consumers, and by organisational desire to efficiently allocate finite marketing resources. IMC is still an emerging discipline. We are living in a period of transition between the historical product-driven outbound marketing systems and the new information-driven, interactive, consumer focused marketplace of the twenty-first century.


1. B&W Paper: Integrated Marketing Communications – Back to the Future? by Paul Noble; Noble Ink, July 20022. Re-intermediating the Media Plan by Michael Goldberg; Brandchannel.com

3. What is Integrated Marketing Communications, Currents, Volume 17; Tucker-Knapp Inc

4. Revisiting the Concept of Integrated Marketing Communications: Contrasting Perceptions between Marketers and Advertising Agency Executive; Department of Commerce, Massey University, Auckland WORKING PAPER SERIES No. 98.08

5. Integrated Marketing Communications: Pulling it Together and Making it Work by Schultz, D.E., Tannenbaum, S.I., & Lauterborn, R.F. (1992). NTC Business Books

6. IMC and the Future of Marketing by Jerome Kliatchko, European Association of Communication Agencies, 2001

7. Contemporary Advertising, Arens and Bovee, IRVIN, 1994

8. Marketing Management (11th Edition), Kotler Philip, Pearson Education, 2002

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