If the marketer is to consistently and effectively communicate with consumers, three preliminary tasks must be acknowledged and achieved. First, there must be a mechanism for collecting, storing, analyzing, and disseminating relevant information. This includes information about customers (past, present, potential), competitors, the environment, trends in the industry, and so forth. The quality of communication is closely related to the quality of information. Kellogg's, for example, constantly monitors its customers through surveys and consumer panels, and keeps track of its competitors and changes in the US Food and Drug Administration in order to assess the relevance of all its communication vehicles.
Second, communication is not one-way; it is a dialogue. That is, all relevant parties are actually participating in the communication process. Marketers must provide a system that constantly allows the consumer to express desires, satisfactions, complaints, and disappointments about the product, the price, the message, or the way it is distributed. There is a real tendency in large-scale marketing to view the consumer as a faceless, nameless entity, without individual needs and wants. Effective marketing communication allows direct feedback (e.g. toll-free numbers, hotlines, service departments), and actively responds by making substantial changes to address customer requests.
Finally, there must be an acknowledgement that target customers may not be the same as target audiences. While the target market is concerned primarily with individuals who are users and potential users of the product, the target audience may encompass a much larger or smaller group of people. More specifically, the target audience includes all individuals, groups, and institutions that receive the marketing message and employ this information either as a basis for making a product decision or in some way employ it to evaluate the sponsoring business. Thus, the target market for E.P.T. pregnancy tests might be women between the ages of 18-34, with a college education; the target audience might also include parents of the youngest of these women, who either approve or disapprove of this product based on advertising messages, government agencies who assess the truthfulness of the product claims, and potential stockholders who determine the future success of the firm based on the perceived quality of the messages. IMC must identify all members of the target audience and must consider how the communication strategy must change in response to this membership.
In the end, the role of IMC is to communicate with target audiences in a manner that accurately and convincingly relays the marketing strategy of the firm.
IMC-harder than you think
According to IMC guru Don Schultz, the difficulty in developing an integrated marketing communication program is in the planning. He notes that most managers have tried to integrate communication elements and activities as they were developed by various functional groups. Or they have tried to bring all the elements together once the communications concept was developed to generate one voice or a unifying brand theme that will tie all the disparate elements together.
Unfortunately, managers have been approaching the problem as one of coordination or consolidation, although integration is not at the end of the process, but at the beginning. The difficulty has been that there is not a system via which managers can develop truly integrated marketing communications.
A new approach to integration is based on the planning matrix. The matrix mantra goes like this: "From consolidate and segregate, to aggregate and integrate." The meaning is simple. Traditionally, we have tried to take a market or a category and segment it. Once we segmented the market, we then tried to apply various communication disciplines—advertising, sales promotion, or direct marketing. We tried to take activities that had been developed separately and pulled them into an integrated whole. In short, we've tried to "consolidate and segregate". Take the market, segment it, and then communicate separately to the segments.
Consider a new approach. Rather than starting with total market, start with individual customers and prospects. Aggregate them based on their behavior. Let the customers and prospects create their own groups or segments. That's aggregation. Then look at the way customers and prospects experience marketing communications. Most consumers aren't familiar with the tightly defined marketing communications disciplines we have developed. To them, most everything we do is either an advertisement or an incentive. That's the second part of the new approach. Integrate, and most of all simplify.
Now, the planning process is simple. At the top, we have how consumers think about and evaluate marketing communication activities. It's either a message or an incentive. We have collapsed all the very sophisticated marketing communication disciplines into what they are supposed to do: deliver a message or an incentive.
The second part of the matrix is the impact we expect the activity to have—short-term or long-term. What will be the basis for the measurement of the impact of the planned communications program? For purposes of measurement, almost everything can be considered short-term or within the fiscal year. Long-term is anything more than one fiscal year. Building immediate sales for our product or service is short-term. Brand building is long-term. Therefore, we plan whether we'll give our target messages or incentives and the impact of those messages or incentives, either short-term or long-term. 1