The way your organization communicates with your customers affects your bottom line. Your marketing communications strategy can help your target audience to trust you and want to learn more. However, if your marketing communications strategy is poorly constructed and misaligned, your prospects may be turned off and not want to do business with your company.

Review the advantages and disadvantages of integrated marketing communication to see how this strategy can help your business to build brand awareness, establish credibility, create a consistent customer experience and stay relevant for your audience.

Understanding Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is an effective business strategy that focuses on aligning all forms of marketing messages and communication. In order to achieve the goals of their marketing campaign, companies that use integrated marketing communications utilize several different promotional mediums to spread their message. However, the key is that all mediums share a consistent company message and reinforce one another through their integrated strategy.

In order to maximize the communication impact, the company needs to carefully plan its marketing communications activities and decide on which key messages it will consistently promote. This helps the business to clearly resonate with its audience and create a memorable experience.

Integrated marketing communications examples include a buy-one-get-one campaign for a local shoe store. The business can promote its sales deal through print advertising in the local newspaper, online in the local town Facebook group and on the local radio station. The message that it will share through each of those mediums will be carefully aligned, reinforcing the benefits for the customers and incentivizing them to make a purchase.

Looking at IMC as Part of the Marketing Mix

Integrated marketing communications plays an important role in the overall marketing mix. This is the foundational strategy that businesses use to market their products to their consumers. The four elements of the marketing mix are:

  • Product: This is the offering the business sells to its consumers. In addition to ensuring its product meets customer needs, it has to package it in a way that appeals to its target market.

  • Place: This is the location the business will make the sale, which can include a retail store, online marketplace, farmers' market or pop-up shop. It’s important to sell products where you can reach your target market.

  • Price: This refers to the monetary amount that customers are willing to pay for the product. Businesses need to frame their price based on the perceived value of the product to the consumer.

  • Promotion: This is the method that businesses use to communicate with their audience about their products. It includes advertising, sales promotions, personal selling, direct marketing and public relations.

The integrated marketing communications approach applies to the promotion element of the marketing mix. In order to ensure their promotions are effective, businesses need to carefully align their messages in each promotional medium to hook the consumer with a consistent message.

While it’s important for the promotional messages to be consistent, it’s also critical for all four elements of the marketing mix to work together. For example, a business should not offer a high-priced item in a bargain-basement store, as that sends a conflicting message about the product’s value to consumers. In order to create a successful product strategy, all four marketing mix elements need to reinforce one another.

Creating Brand Awareness and Visibility

One of the key benefits of using the integrated marketing communications approach is that it helps businesses to build brand awareness and increase brand visibility. In order to resonate with their consumers, businesses first need to get noticed. With IMC, businesses can reach consumers with a consistent brand message through several different promotional mediums. By catching consumers’ eyes in different places, businesses can become more present through their consistent messaging.

For example, if a new hardware store is opening and wants to build awareness with its target market, it can launch an integrated marketing campaign using search engine marketing and pay-per-click advertising to target its consumer base. By establishing some key messaging points that resonate with its audience and sharing them consistently through its website, blog, social media and ads, it can build brand awareness and increase brand visibility.

Establishing Expertise and Thought Leadership

In order to stand out from a sea of competitors, businesses can use integrated marketing communications to establish their expertise in the industry. By offering guidance, advice, how-to tips and new tactics, businesses can show their target market that they are a thought leader in their industry. When done consistently with an integrated marketing communications strategy, this builds trust with the consumer base.

For example, consider a retail store that sells products to help consumers reduce waste in their daily lives. It can share tips on how to reuse and recycle materials so they don’t end up in the landfill. Through social media outreach and how-to articles on its blog and in key publications, the company can showcase its knowledge in the zero-waste market with its consumers.

Creating a Consistent Customer Experience

When it comes to great customer experiences, consistency is front and center. Through an integrated marketing communications strategy, businesses can ensure that no matter where a prospect interacts with their business, they receive a reliable and steady message. This kind of consistency reduces confusion about the benefits for consumers and helps them to make the purchasing decision sooner.

For example, a local mechanic can share his unique value proposition through his integrated marketing communications messaging. On flyers at the gas station, in print in the local newspaper and on the company’s website, the customers can see that the mechanic is professional and experienced, offering personalized service that the leading chains can’t match.

Staying Relevant for Your Audience

A key benefit of IMC is that it helps businesses to stay top of mind for their target market. Consumers are constantly bombarded with marketing messages from all different kinds of companies. It’s difficult for them to remember a particular brand or product. With careful repetition of brand messaging through an integrated marketing communications approach, however, businesses can stay relevant to their prospects.

For example, if a new bakery has just opened in town, the best way to remind prospects of what it offers is through consistent messaging. Whether it’s on its social media or through pay-per-click advertising, television ads or grocery store flyers, the bakery can stay relevant in the minds of prospects by sharing a steady message of the benefits of visiting its store. Prospects have more chances of remembering the name of the bakery if they have seen its promotions in several places.

Avoiding Obstacles in Integrated Marketing Communications

In order to take advantage of the benefits of integrated marketing communications, it’s critical for businesses to actively avoid the barriers that can restrict success. By taking initiative and putting processes in place to avoid the obstacles, businesses can reap the full benefits of the integrated marketing communications approach.

Some key obstacles to avoid include:

  • Operational inefficiencies: If a business works in silos, there may not be any processes in place for the public relations department to collaborate with the communications department, for example. As a result, they may not be able to align their marketing communications messages in a timely and effective way.

  • Poor communication: In order for an integrated marketing communications strategy to work effectively, the business needs to have communication processes and tools in place. Sales, marketing, public relations, design, product and several other departments need to work together and share messaging ideas. They need the infrastructure to be able to communicate easily and readily with one another.

  • Restriction of creativity: Business units may feel that their hands are tied in some cases. If they want to try a new catchy message, they may not be able to do so unless it aligns with the integrated marketing communications strategy. This can restrict creative ideas that may lead to success. The business needs to have a plan in place to handle new ideas and find a way to test them in small markets before integrating them into the overall strategy.

By being aware of the obstacles that can get in the way of a successful integrated marketing communications strategy, businesses can create plans and processes to mitigate those difficulties. This enables companies to resolve issues before they arise and cause problems with their promotional plans.

Establishing an Integrated Marketing Communication Process

Creating an integrated marketing communications strategy for your small business requires careful planning. Consider these steps to help you establish your IMC plan:

  1. Identify your customers and their needs: Pinpoint your target market and understand their demographics and behavioral characteristics. What problems are they facing with which your business can help? What are the results your customers seek?

  2. Establish your unique value proposition: Identify three to five key points that set you apart from your competition. How can your business help your consumers in a way that no one else can? Why should your consumers care about doing business with you?

  3. Create a brand voice and style guide: Decide how you want to communicate with your customers. Will you use a fun and quirky voice, or are you more formal and elegant? What are your brand colors, and what are the guidelines for using your logo?

  4. Go where your customers are: Decide which promotional mediums you will use based on where your target market is. For example, if you’re targeting seniors who are not computer savvy, then online ads and social media campaigns will not be effective for your business.

  5. Test your messaging and mediums and re-evaluate your plan: Integrated marketing communications is not a one-time plan. It’s an ongoing strategy that needs to be constantly re-evaluated based on the changing market and consumer desires. Create a plan to review your IMC strategy every six months and rework your messaging to meet the needs of the market.

Following IMC Best Practices in Your Small Business

In order to ensure your integrated marketing communications plan is successful, be sure to follow best practices in your organization. Communicate the benefits of integrated marketing communications to your management team and ensure all business leaders understand the value of this strategy. It’s imperative that all managers are on board with the strategy, as it requires different business units to work together.

Create a content strategy for your business in addition to a brand style guide. Share these resources widely with all employees regardless of whether they are responsible for creating marketing messages or not. It’s important for all employees to be familiar with the marketing communication messages so they can apply them to their specific roles.

Create processes within the company that enable different employees, departments and business units to share marketing communication assets. If a marketing employee is creating a graphic for a product, she should have an easy way to share it with the sales representative and the public relations employee. This helps create efficiencies and also ensures consistency throughout the organization.