The essence of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is one of synergy and strategic coordination (Duncan and Everett 1993); attributes desirable for any organisational function to possess. IMC is a fledgling concept, one that offers the premise of extracting greater effectiveness and productivity from marketing communications. Kitchen and Brignall (2004) put forward a damming argument that IMC in a global sense is still at an early stage, therefore inhibiting the realisation of actual integration.
Despite the fact the general notion of IMC was formed over two decades ago there continues to be considerable discussion as to the definition, scope and usefulness of the practice (Christensen et al. , 2009; Percy, 2008, p14). Clow et al. , (2001, p24) defines IMC as “the coordination and integration of all marketing communication tools into a seamless program designed to maximise the impact on consumers and other stakeholders”. Another element of IMC is the notion that implementing the function casts the foundations and builds the necessary steps required for an organisation to fully carry out relationship marketing.
(Percy 2008). This and many other definitions of IMC are ambiguous, seamlessly broad and there is an apparent lack of an agreed explicit delineation (Phelps and Johnson, 1996; Kitchen et al. , 2008; Torp 2009). Kitchen et al. , (2004) even state “IMC is passing through a conjectural storm as to its meaning and purpose”. There is a consensus of definitions that elude to the idea of synergy (Eagle and Kitchen, 2000; Fill, 2009; Pelsmacker et al. , 2010; Pickton and Broderick, 2005; Torp 2009).
Whilst academics are searching for a robust and well-defined definition, the logical conclusion of IMC is the idea of synergy, which does carry a weighted argument to a clear and purposeful outcome. The foundation of IMC should, in theory, be based upon a clear structure. The ambiguity surrounding IMC is somewhat the major obstacle for organisations wishing to implement the practice. Whilst integrating communications to create a streamlined coherent message seems obvious, its implementation is a barrier to achieving the fanciful outcomes IMC promises to deliver. The development of IMC does appear to have some major benefits.
Linton and Morley (1995 cited in Pickton and Broderick, 2005) lists ten potential benefits; from the evident ability to deliver consistent messages to the uncovering of easier working relations. Christensen et al. , (2009) believes IMC promotes consistency and coherency within marketing communications. Uniformity of messages appears to be the shining beacon in that IMC is a coherent set of messages is delivered to all target audiences (Pelsmacker et al, 2010). Modest as is it is, combing communications methods and driving a unified and synchronised marketing campaign makes a huge amount of sense.
Duncan and Everett (1993) describe IMC as creating an orchestra with all instruments together in one symphony. This orchestration of communication elements in turn creates “clarity and simplicity” for consumers (Fill, 2009, p. 267). This is imperative with an ever increasingly competitive and crowded space with “greater amounts of message clutter” (Fill, 2009, p. 268; Pelsmacker et al, 2010). In fact the application of IMC is a great method of building a brand and strengthening brand awareness (Fill, 2009).
Moreover the objective of IMC can be seen to increase positive brand attitude and brand preference, which in turn leads to increased purchase intention (Swain 2004; Rossiter and Bellman 2005, cited in Reid 2005). Consumers are fickle and brand loyalty along with heightened awareness of a products and brands requires marketing messages to be concise but more importantly constantly reiterated; providing they are in synergy they can capture attention of the target and lead to recollection of the marketing message. All in all the combinations of communication disciplines can provide clarity and maximum impact (Pelsmacker et al, 2010).
“Consistency or lack thereof, in other? words, is always in the eye of the beholder” (Christensen et al. 2009). In effect IMC is not necessarily the driver behind consistency in fact companies were increasingly aware that everything they do acts as communication (Gronstedt 1996 cited in Christensen et al. 2009). It is even conceivable that IMC is simply a take on what was already happening before (Cornelissen and Lock 2001). It can also be argued that consistency is difficult to achieve especially because of the magnitude of IMC (Pickton and Broderick, 2005).
To break down a task and simplify it is an effective way to ensure each element is successfully performed. IMC is the reverse of this and in turn it can product what Liecth (1997 cited in Christen et al. , 2009) describes as a “resource-hungry monster unable to adapt to new situations”. Because of the extent of integrated, it if the united message is wrong there is no scope for one element to take the slack from the failure of another. If not managed effectively this seamless message can create a blemish on the organisations’ reputation (Kitchen et al. , 2004).
Cost effectiveness is seen to be one of the foremost bedrocks of an IMC approach (Schultz, Tannen- baum, and Lauterborn, 1993 cited in Kitchen et al 2008). The rational of combining resources of the varying communication functions can produce efficiency and increase productivity, which creates cost savings (Schultz and Kitchen 1997). Pickton and Broderick (2005 p28) in their 4 E’s and C’s analysis see IMC as economical, indeed through economies of scale a combined integrated function can reduce costs through the possibility of a smaller workforce and only working with one creative agency.
Tortorici (1991) believes implementing IMC is one of the most effectual and simplest ways an organisation can maximise it’s return on investment. Decreasing costs is a visible way of increasing profits, providing the savings are not mitigated from the drawbacks of IMC. Concern is raised when attempting attain a method to measure the success of IMC , this then impacts on an organisation being able to weigh up the cost savings with the benefits. Ratnatunga and Ewing (2005) question how IMC can be measured; there is complaint from marketers about this lack of ability to obtain a concise reading as to the benefits of IMC.
Shoebrige (2004, cited in Ratnatunga and Ewing 2005) affronts marketers to “stop complaining and start quantifying”. The increased emphasis on the effort to measure the success of IMC increases agencies accountability (Reid 2005). If IMC is disregarded and if outstretched expectations are unfulfilled the expenses of implementation are unsurpassed by the promised returns (Drobis, 1997-1998, cited in Cornelissen and Lock 2001). If IMC is to meet its expectations the benefit of greater working relations with agencies and the organisation is critical (Beard 1996). The greater integration of communications leads agencies to integrate.
Whilst historically organisations may have relied upon varying agencies for different communications tasks, IMC was seen as assumed an excuse for advertising agencies to engulf public relations to deal with reductions in client budgets (Wightman 1999, cited in Kitchen et al 2004). Advertising agencies have attempted to reposition themselves to offer more than just advertising expertise, applying their creative intellect to construct a consistent message (Duncan and Everett 1993). Now that firms are so reliant on an agency they tend to adapt their behavior to fit the agency, which in turn breads the oracle of synergy (Beard 1997).
Because the organisation and the agency are mutually dependent each one has a vested interest in each other’s success, the agency is guaranteed payment and the organization can exploit the creativity of the agency whilst being able to hold them solely accountable should a plan fail. Shultz and Kitchen (1997) found through research that agency executives do appear to believe through support of their client they can create effective marketing communications programs with use of the different communications elements.