Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communications

Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is an approach to creating a unified and seamless brand experience for consumers across channels.

Learning Objectives

Discuss factors that have prompted the shift from mass communications to integrated marketing communications

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Integrated marketing communications is an approach used by organizations to brand and coordinate their marketing efforts across multiple communication channels.
  • As marketing efforts have shifted from mass advertising to niche marketing, companies have increasingly used IMC to develop more cost-effective campaigns that still deliver consumer value.
  • Typically, communication tools for IMC encompass both traditional and digital media, such as blogs, webinars, search engine optimization, radio, television, billboards, and magazines.

Key Terms

  • search engine optimization: The use of various techniques to improve a website’s ranking in search engines in the hopes of attracting more visitors.
  • touch point: Any way a consumer can interact with a business, whether it be person-to-person, through a website, an app, or other form of communication.
  • value proposition: The benefit offered by an organization’s product or service.

Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is an approach used by organizations to brand and coordinate their communication efforts. The American Association of Advertising Agencies defines IMC as “a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communication impact.” The primary idea behind an IMC strategy is to create a seamless experience for consumers across different aspects of the marketing mix. The brand’s core image and messaging are reinforced as each marketing communication channel works together as parts of a unified whole rather than in isolation.

A freezer shelf with different boxes of Blue Bell ice cream bars. Each type of dessert has its own box design.

Promotional Tools: IMC unifies promotional tools across all marketing communication channels.

The Shift from Fragmented to Integrated Marketing Communications

Prior to the emergence of integrated marketing communications during the 1990s, mass communications—the practice of relaying information to large segments of the population through television, radio, and other media—dominated marketing. Marketing was a one-way feed. Advertisers broadcasted their offerings and value propositions with little regard for the diverse needs, tastes, and values of consumers.

Often, this “one size fits all” approach was costly and uninformative due to the lack of tools for measuring results in terms of sales. But as methods for collecting and analyzing consumer data through single-source technology such as store scanners improved, marketers were increasingly able to correlate promotional activities with consumer purchasing patterns. Companies also began to downsize their operations and expand marketing tasks within their organizations. Advertising agencies were also expected to understand and provide all marketing functions, not just advertising, for their clients.

Today, corporate marketing budgets are allocated toward trade promotions, consumer promotions, branding, public relations, and advertising. The allocation of communication budgets away from mass media and traditional advertising has raised the importance of IMC importance for effective marketing. Now, marketing is viewed more as a two-way conversation between marketers and consumers. This transition in the advertising and media industries can be summarized by the following market trends:

  • a shift from mass media advertising to multiple forms of communication
  • the growing popularity of more specialized (niche) media, which considers individualized patterns of consumption and increased segmentation of consumer tastes and preferences
  • the move from a manufacturer-dominated market to a retailer-dominated, consumer-controlled market
  • the growing use of data-based marketing as opposed to general-focus advertising and marketing
  • greater business accountability, particularly in advertising
  • performance-based compensation within organizations, which helps increase sales and benefits in companies
  • unlimited Internet access and greater online availability of goods and services
  • a larger focus on developing marketing communications activities that produce value for target audiences while increasing benefits and reducing costs

The Tools of Integrated Marketing Communications

The IMC process generally begins with an integrated marketing communications plan that describes the different types of marketing, advertising, and sales tools that will be used during campaigns. These are largely promotional tools, which include everything from search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and banner advertisements to webinars and blogs. Traditional marketing communication elements such as newspapers, billboards, and magazines may also be used to inform and persuade consumers. Marketers must also decide on the appropriate combination of traditional and digital communications for their target audience to build a strong brand-consumer relationship. Regardless of the brand’s promotional mix, it is important that marketers ensure their messaging is consistent and credible across all communication channels.

Benefits of Integrated Marketing Communications

With so many products and services to choose from, consumers are often overwhelmed by the vast number of advertisements flooding both online and offline communication channels. Marketing messages run the risk of being overlooked and ignored if they are not relevant to consumers’ needs and wants.

One of the major benefits of integrated marketing communications is that marketers can clearly and effectively communicate their brand’s story and messaging across several communication channels to create brand awareness. IMC is also more cost-effective than mass media since consumers are likely to interact with brands across various forums and digital interfaces. As consumers spend more time on computers and mobile devices, marketers seek to weave together multiple exposures to their brands using different touch points. Companies can then view the performance of their communication tactics as a whole instead of as fragmented pieces.

The other benefit of integrated marketing communications is that it creates a competitive advantage for companies looking to boost their sales and profits. This is especially useful for small- or mid-sized firms with limited staff and marketing budgets. IMC immerses customers in communications and helps them move through the various stages of the buying process. The organization simultaneously consolidates its image, develops a dialogue, and nurtures its relationship with customers throughout the exchange. IMC can be instrumental in creating a seamless purchasing experience that spurs customers to become loyal, lifelong customers.

The Communication Process

Organizations must keep in mind the internal and external factors that influence audience perception during the communications process.

Learning Objectives

Explain how communication theory impacts integrated marketing communications

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The communications process involves two or more persons attempting to consciously or unconsciously influence each other through the use of symbols or words.
  • Our ability to receive, communicate, and process information and external stimuli all play a part in the way we perceive advertising and promotional messages.
  • The nature of a person’s role and their environment and personal characteristics both affect the way he or she perceives marketing messages and company brands.

Key Terms

  • stimuli: Something external that influences an activity.
  • communication: the concept or state of exchanging data or information between entities

The Communications Process

The most basic form of communication is a process in which two or more persons attempt to consciously or unconsciously influence each other through the use of symbols or words to satisfy their respective needs. Likewise, integrated marketing communications uses this communications process to persuade target audiences to listen and act on marketing messages. Our ability to receive, communicate, and process information from other communicators and outside stimuli enables us to perceive the advertising and promotional messages central to integrated marketing communications.


Two-way Communication: The communications process involves two or more persons exchanging words or symbols.

Audience Roles

People play different roles – friend, parent, boss, client, customer, or employee – depending on the exchange during the communications process. The nature of the role directly affects the nature of communication. Communication theory points to the fact that each communicator is composed of a series of subsystems. The input subsystem permits the communicator to receive messages and stimulus from external sources as well as from other communicators. It involves the reception of light, temperature, touch, sound, and odors via our immediate senses. These stimuli are evaluated and recognized using our ears, eyes, skin, nose, and taste buds. Thus, we input and perceive advertising messages – a television commercial or a salesperson’s pitch – using this process of perception.

Thus, organizations must keep in mind the different subsystems of their target audiences when devising integrated marketing communications strategies. Companies must also consider other consumer stimuli such as past experiences, education, health, and genetics when developing communications for certain target markets. Some people may process the humor in a company advertisement more quickly than others due to factors such as age or culture.

Communication systems also exist within an environment such as a corporate office or school. The environment is everything internal and external to the communication system that can affect the system (family, school, competing advertisements, and so on). Each of the factors within the environment interacts with the communication system to a different degree. As a result, where and when consumers interact with company advertisements and promotional tools will also affect their perception of the brand.

Consumer Perception of Communication

Consumer perceptions are a key component of success or failure, so organizations must strive to align communications into clear, concise, and customer-oriented messages.

Learning Objectives

Explore the concepts of integrated marketing communications from the perspective of the consumer

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Marketing has changed significantly in recent times. With more channels, touchpoints, and global markets than ever before, organizations must integrate various marketing communications into one unified strategy.
  • Integrating various facets of marketing communications starts with understanding the consumers themselves, including their perception of the brand.
  • By actively listening to consumer needs, and restructuring the organization to promote two-way communication between the firm and the consumer, organizations can refine their marketing message for their market.
  • The objective of creating a positive, clear, and accurate perception of the organization by consumers is to empower loyalty and engagement between the firm and their customers.

Key Terms

  • Integrated marketing communications (IMC): The science of aligning a variety of touchpoints between an organization and their consumers in terms of unified and clear messaging.

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)

Marketing has evolved significantly, particularly in the recent, technology-driven social media economy. As a marketer in the globally connected economy, integrating marketing communications and branding strategies to deliver a consistent, clear, and concise message to prospective consumers is more important than ever.

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) pursues this, expanding upon traditional marketing strategies to incorporate broader storytelling across a wider variety (and consistently expanding) series of communication channels between the organization and it’s various stakeholders. From a technical view, this is all about identifying and aligning the vast array of tools in a marketer’s kit (i.e. advertising, blogs, social media, PR, direct selling, etc.). However, another key piece to this puzzle is how the consumer feels about the organization, and how receptive they are to the values and operations of the company.

A diagram of the Touch Point Wheel which includes the pre-purchase experience (website, advertising, collateral), the purchase (product/service assortment, point of purchase displays, product performance, parts delivery), and post-purchase (product quality, loyalty programs, billing, customer service).

Touch Point Wheel: Integrated marketing communications revolve around touchpoints, which are places where the potential consumer and the organization have an opportunity to communicate or interact.

Consumer Perceptions

Marketing faces a number of challenges in the modern world, mostly revolving around trust, ad blindness, and the assumption by consumers that businesses are “just trying to sell them something.” Consumers are apt to naturally dismiss ads as bias, which traditionally they often were (and are). This is one of the great mistakes of marketing that integrated and iterative communication seeks to solve.

The Outside-in Approach

Through integrating communication strategies and listening carefully to consumer values and perspectives, organizations can evolve to fit their markets and provide users with the type of communication, products, services, and values that are being demanded. This is not about creating ad materials, at least not at first. At this stage, the organization must actively listen to the needs, wants, opinions, beliefs, and perceptions of their core communities (i.e. stakeholders), and strive to become what it is that these stakeholders expect them to be. This is an iterative process, where consumer perceptions are constantly being measured and built back into the organizations operations, products, services, and values.

The Inside-out Approach

Generally speaking, this approach is inferior to the outside-in approach for the simple reason that outside-in is intrinsically consumer-oriented. The inside-out approach, however, is used by firms with strong values to which they are deeply committed. This approach focuses on identifying and communicating one, single, clear,and perfectly unified message, and displaying that as the integral brand all consumers encounter. It works best when it is honest, clear, and aligned with the opinions and values of consumers.

Cross-functional Strategic Approach

As IMC continues to evolve, the most common perspective has become the cross-functional strategic approach to consumer perceptions. In this approach, organizations focus on building a customer-centric organization, where all that matters is creating touchpoints and engagement with prospective users. In this model, the entire organization is often restructured to build interconnected and agile channels between the firm and the consumers. Two-way communication and constant iteration is the central dynamic of this model.


The ultimate objective in identifying and building consumer perceptions into an integrated marketing strategy is engagement and loyalty. This means that consumers will identify positively with the brand, and prefer to buy habitually from the organization (as opposed to the competition). This is accomplished through truly integrating a customer-centric strategy.

A grid that shows loyalty where relative attitude and repeat patronage are rated as high or low based on spurious loyalty, no loyalty, loyalty, and latent loyalty.

Loyalty Grid: Customer loyalty encompasses both perception and behavior, represented here in a small grid where relative attitude and patronage are assessed at higher and lower levels.

AIDA Model

The AIDA model is an approach used by advertisers to describe the different phases of consumer engagement with an advertisement.

Learning Objectives

Define the AIDA model and how the system is used to guide integrated marketing communications

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action.
  • The AIDA model can be used by organizations to guide marketers to target a market effectively.
  • American advertising and sales pioneer, Elias St. Elmo Lewis, is credited for developing the AIDA model.

Key Terms

  • target market: a group of people whose needs and preferences match the product range of a company and to whom those products are marketed
  • advertisement: A commercial solicitation designed to sell some commodity or service.
  • pique: To excite someone to action; to stimulate a feeling or emotion.

AIDA Model

AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. It is an acronym used in marketing and advertising, which helps marketing managers develop effective communication strategies and communicate with customers in a way that better responds to their needs and desires. AIDA describes a common list of events that occur when a consumer views an advertisement. Each letter in the acronym stands for the following:

  • The “A” represents attention or awareness, and the ability to attract the attention of the consumers.
  • The “I” is interest and points to the ability to raise the interest of consumers by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits (instead of focusing on features, as in traditional advertising).
  • The “D” represents desire. The advertisement convinces consumers that they want and desire the product or service because it will satisfy their needs.
  • The “A” is action, which leads consumers toward taking action by purchasing the product or service.

The system is used to guide marketers to target a market effectively. Naturally, as organizations move through each step of the AIDA model, a percentage of initial prospects are lost throughout the sales cycle.

Car advertisements are prime examples of results stemming from the use of the AIDA model to narrow the target market. Marketers in the automotive industry know their advertisements must grab the attention of consumers, so they use colors, backgrounds, and themes that would appeal to them. Next, automotive marketers pique interest by showing the advantages of owning the car. In the case of the Mini-Cooper, for instance, marketers imply that a small car can get the consumer to open spaces and to fun.


Car Advertisement: Car advertisements are made to grab attention, pique interest, meet desires, and evoke action in consumers.

Third, automotive marketers find what their consumers desire. For Mini-Cooper drivers, it’s the “fun” of driving, while for Prius consumers it may be the fuel economy or the environmentally friendliness. Only after evaluating consumer desires are marketers able to create effective campaigns. Lastly, marketers encourage consumers to take action by purchasing the product or service.

History Of the AIDA Model

American advertising and sales pioneer, Elias St. Elmo Lewis, is largely credited for developing the AIDA model. In one of his publications on advertising, Lewis identified at least three principles that should be present in an advertisement:

  • The mission of an advertisement is to attract a reader, so that he will look at the advertisement and start to read it.
  • The advertisement must then interest him, so that he will continue to read it.
  • Finally, the advertisement must convince him, so that when reads it, he will believe it.

Lewis believed that if an advertisement contained these three qualities, then it was an effective advertisement.

Improvements to the AIDA Model

New phases such as satisfaction (AIDAS) and confidence (AIDCAS) have been added to the original AIDA model. These later models acknowledge the need to satisfy the customer so as to encourage repeat purchases and generate product referrals. Other modifications include the model’s reduction to the three steps known as the CAB model. The steps include cognition (awareness or learning), affect (feeling, interest, or desire) and behavior (action).

Later developments also introduced more flexible uses of the AIDA model such as the reordering of steps for different consumer-to-product relationships. Additionally, as experts have examined the AIDA Model, more defined practices and theories have been developed. These practices include the TIREA scale, which focuses on breaking down the decision-making process into more defined components. The TIREA represents thought, interest (desire), risk (evaluation), engagement, and action.