Introduction to Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)
Defining Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)
Integrated marketing communications (or will be referred to as the IMC in the rest of this writing), is widely regarded as the marketing communication system that considers the business environment and communication mix in an holistic manner – in order to manage a particular organization brand or images. In theories, IMC strategies can be implemented by crafting the various elements in communication or marketing mix so that all of these elements are internally consistent and mutually supportive in terms of their influences to the marketplace or stakeholders (Barbara, 2009). This is also well-understood and acknowledged by various practitioners or managers in the real business world.
However, a review of the various literatures on the subject of IMC indicates that there is no shared or widely accepted definition of the terms (although the importance of IMC is understood and acknowledged). Equally important, there is also no shared theoretical model or framework concerning the subject of IMC. Different researchers and academicians apparently have their respective model, interpretations and subjective judgments on the topic of IMC (David & Bob, 1998). In the following sections, some of the definitions employed or suggested by various academicians or researchers are discussed.
Nonetheless, there are common themes usually mentioned by researchers on the topic of IMC. Specifically, IMC can be regarded as the system that employs all sorts of communication mix and the crafting of the company’s brands as the message delivery channel to the marketplace or to stakeholders (Kerr et. al., 2008). The objective of having an effective IMC system is actually enhance the brand equity and reputation of a company, and with that, the company may directly or indirectly realize the increment of company’s market share, growth, profitability and values delivered to the society. It is similar to the concepts of holistic marketing, whereby marketers are urged to pay various attentions to all elements or dimensions of marketing communication channels – so that consistent messages are delivered to the society (Dong & Chan, 2007). In fact, it is well known that IMC is a management concept popularized in the United States as a practical operational tool or theory – by considering the consumer behaviors and market behaviors, in integrating and coordinating the uses of all forms of communication means, to deliver a unified, consistent, and two-way communication with the marketplace. The end results is to build up superior branding among the consumers’ minds – so that the entire marketing efforts can become much more effective and powerful (David & Bob, 1998).
The Importance of Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)
The importance and positive effects from an effective IMC system is widely accepted and recognized. Essentially, people understand the power of branding – and many successful entrepreneurs and business persons have been stressing that your reputation is more important than your profit – in the long run (John, 2001; Olof, 2006). It is the reputation that can ensure continuous growth and sustainability in terms of financial profitability for any organization in the market place. In fact, it is not unreasonable to mention that it is the branding that can lead an organization to achieve competitive advantages in the marketplace. With a strong brand name, such a competitive advantage is hardly duplicated by competitors. This is often equal to a higher margin or above average price premium a company can charge on its products or services offerings (George, 2000).
The rise and increasingly importance of IMC cannot be denied, or should not be taken for granted by marketers. The emerging and changes in business environment and technological advances, particularly on the field of information and communication technologies, has bring much changes to how the consumers can obtain immediate and relevant information about products or services offered in a marketplace (Olof, 2006; Saravudh, 2004). The various widely available communication channels are indeed pressing the companies in various industries to focus on its communication mix – to ensure that constant and proper messages are delivered to the society. Not only that, the increasing sophistication of consumers knowledge and every demanding consumers’ attitudes and preferences are also pressing the company to carefully plan its marketing communication strategies – as any misunderstanding can cause great consumers dissatisfaction – where in such a high speed society, the proliferation of bad news regarding any company will definitely undesirable (David & Bob, 1998). Apart from these, there are also views that companies have been discovering that the corporate communication efforts should not only target to the customers or the particular market segment the company is serving; rather, their target audience include other stakeholders group as well (Barbara, 2009). This is consistent with the assertion that stakeholders’ analysis and framework is the better management philosophy to be followed by an organization, instead of purely focusing on a customer-oriented strategy (Ilchul & Don, 2004).
The Schultz and Kitchen (2000) IMC Development Model
There are several IMC framework developed by various researchers. One of the famous one that is more popular is the model or framework developed by Schultz and Kitchen (2000). In the framework developed by Schultz and Kitchen (2000), it is illustrated that the various barriers or hurdles an organization may face in the process of implementing an effective and consistent IMC system. For this, they suggested four IMC development stages in real life. According to them, for most of the companies that are currently implementing (or in the process of implementing) an IMC system, only very few companies able to reach the third or the fourth stages of development. Most of the organizations that are implementing an IMC system are actually achieving only the first or the second stages of development process.
The four stages in IMC development by Schultz and Kitchen (2000) are as follow: (1) tactical coordination of marketing communications, (2) redefining the scope of marketing communications, (3) application of information technology, and (4) financial and strategic integration. These stages will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Stage #1: tactical coordination of marketing communications. In this stage, the development of IMC system requires the organization to have high degree of interpersonal and cross-functional communication within and without the business. The efforts of development of IMC are led by the business, but not by external agencies. In this first stage, all the departments are to speak with only one voice. The goal of this first stage of development actually is to allow high-degree and meaningful communication at the inter-personal, cross functional and external environment level.
Stage #2: redefining the scope of marketing communications. In this stage, the organization is actively involved in redefining the scope of marketing communications by collecting and acquiring information on the customers or consumers – in order to evaluate the feedbacks from them. In this stage, external consultants may be involved, as their services may be required in collecting, acquiring and compiling the market related data and information. The authors argued that the usage of external consultants in this context may be more effective and efficient, from the perspective of costs savings and shorter time required in implementation process. Nonetheless, the core system of IMC is still placed under the responsibilities of the organization (instead of delegating it fully to the external consultants).
Stage #3: application of information technology. In the third stage, the authors argued that the organization involved in IMC development system will maintain accessible data sources and to build up globally segmented databases. The company has the experience to effectively incorporate data in communication planning and implementation to turn customers’ data into useful customers’ knowledge. In this stage, the availability of creative, knowledgeable and smart people in the organization is needed. Intelligent human resources are required to manage the capabilities of technology in order to identify relevant relationship building strategies for a particular market segment served by the organization. The reason is that the data concerning customers may not be meaningful until proper relationship building strategies between the organization and the customers (or market segment) are found and established. By turning the customers’ data into powerful market or consumer related knowledge, the organization can then formulate effective and successful marketing communication system that enable the firm to achieve competitive advantages in the competitive business landscape.
Stage #4: financial and strategic integration. At the final stage, the authors envision that the IMC system will be able to integrate both the financial and strategic functions with marketing communication system or plan. At such stage, the firm will be able, and has the knowledge to measure the performance of the firm from a return on investment perspective. This is never an easy task – and many organizations are not able to achieve this – mainly because to establish the relationships between marketing communication strategies and organizational performance is complex, complicated and challenging. There can be too many interfering and mutually dependent variables affecting each others in influencing the organizational success.
Implementation of IMC System/ Program in Various Industries
Many companies from various industries have been adopting IMC programs. One of the example and success stories of IMC program implementation can be traced to the pharmaceutical market. Due to the complexity and intense competition in the industry, many of the pharmaceutical firms are actually adopting an IMC approach to promote their products in both local and foreign markets.
Not only that, service related industries are also starting to adopt the IMC system in crafting their marketing communication strategies (Barbara, 2009). Researchers and observers have been arguing that the adoption of IMC in services related firms are necessary – primarily because the intangible nature of the value offerings by services related firms. In order to provide confidence and tangibility to the value propositions, it is necessary for these firms to adopt the IMC system.
Apart from that, the companies in financial related industry are also fast to follow and ride on the trend. Previously, the finance retailing firms are not focusing much on advertising and communicating to the marketplace. However, the increase of competitive pressure in the industry, domestically and globally, has forces these firms to adopt IMC approach to communicate with the customers, and the society (Veronica & Bernardo, 2010).
There are many other industries that are aggressively or begin to adopt the IMC philosophy or approach to communicate with the community, consumers, and marketplace. It is noted that commonly, the industry competitive pressure is the main factors pressing these firms at these industries to adopt such a strategy or program. Besides, the globalization process and the face pace of technological advance that leads to information era are also the contributing factors pressuring various firms to adopt the IMC system and strategies in the design of their marketing communication mix (Ilchul & Don, 2004).
IMC and its Application in Universities
Negative Macro-Environmental Trends Affecting Institutions of Higher Education
There are various negative forces facing the field of institutions of higher education around the world. Traditionally, institutions of higher education enjoy favorable treatment and lowly competitive industry landscape. These institutions have been operating from a seller market mindset – where their operations and activities are primarily determined by the management intentions, beliefs and motives – without much considerations being paid to fulfilled the students’ needs. The students have not much choices – they either have to take it or leave it – they can choose to pursue higher education or not to. However, such a trend is no longer valid and present in this new era (Ben. 1999). Several factors are adversely affecting the institutions of higher education and they are discussed as follow:
Technological change is affecting the students’ information search pattern and speed. The rise and increasingly usage of information technology and the internet is making the various institutions of higher education to become more visible to the public. Any wrong doings will be spread to the community and the society in a very fast pace. The standards, students’ satisfaction and lecturer quality, for examples, are quick to spread to informed students and parents who are looking for potential places to further higher education. This has two impacts. Firstly, the universities or colleges must behave better and taking great care in its action as compared to the past – as any mistakes may harm the reputation of the university seriously. Secondly, the competition between universities has increase, because most of the institutions of higher education aware of such a fact and have been constantly increasing their services level to the students.
Public funding is contracting. Many of the governments around the world is running huge budget deficit and are implementing a restrictive fiscal policy. The fund allocated to the institutions of higher education is often either insufficient or unable to keep up with the high inflationary pressure. Thus, the universities previously supported by governments are now forced to face the reality of the marketplace. They have to earn the funding for the universities by themselves. As a result, the various universities become more competitive and implement more policies to attract the students to involve in the programs offered by these universities (Ben. 1999).
Changes in demographics. The populations in the world, particularly in the developed countries, are changing. The many countries are facing population aging issues, where the percentages of youngsters are decreasing. All these means the students for the universities are actually decreasing, or simply cannot catch up with the growth in the numbers of institutions of higher education.
Potential students are more demanding and knowledgeable. In the new information era, it is undeniable that people are becoming smarter and more demanding consumers. That is same with the students (or the parents of these students) scouting for a relevant institutions of higher education. They understand the ranking of the various universities – and this is made easy by the usage of internet or the widely popular published magazine on the topic of institutions of higher education. The students and parents decision making process is becoming more complex, and they often incorporate a wide array of factors into the decision making process. This is truly challenging for any university or college to gain reputation or consistent goodwill in the perceptions from these students.
Increase of competitions – domestically and abroad. The amounts of institutions of higher education are increasing. The industry has been suffering from hyper-competition among the various universities, colleges or any other form of institution of higher education. It is now becoming necessary for these universities or colleges to gain sufficient market share, or to attract the best students in order to survive and prosper in such a competitive industry landscape (Ben. 1999).
Many of these factors mentioned above are directly or indirectly causing the universities to look at methods to survive and prosper in the competitive marketplace. Marketing management is one of the key topic cannot be ignored by the institutions of higher education. They currently are forced to employ effective marketing communication strategies, plans, programs or techniques to enhance their reputation, competitiveness, profitability and sustainability in the marketplace (George, 2000).
Resistance against Marketing Management in Institutions of Higher Education
However, traditionally, the various institutions of higher education are seemed to be reluctant to employ marketing management or marketing relate concepts in managing the universities or colleges. Perhaps the many of the management in these institutions of higher education have severe misunderstanding on the marketing relate concepts – and they perceive selling or marketing as unethical business practices (Dong & Chan, 2007). Perhaps more probably, the industry landscape previously is not competitive and all of these institutions are enjoying highly favorable industry structure that does not need them to think further on how to survive in a real marketplace.
Many resistances can be found when marketing management or applications of marketing concepts are introduced to the various institutions of higher education. This is the reason that many of the marketing concepts, such as the IMC system, which is currently powerful and urgently required, is not yet being implemented in many of the institutions of higher education. There are various rationales quoted by the academicians on the reasons marketing related concepts are not suitable to be applied in the context of education.
Traditionally, many educators believe that the field of education is too noble and should not be managed by common business industry technique. The academicians that oppose the usage of marketing concepts believe that universities are not involve in selling business, and salesmanship can degrade the status or prestige of the university. They believe that high pressure selling can reduce the credibility of the universities. Some more, they also tend to believe that many technique in the marketing management concepts are not fully ethical – as the approaches is to tackle the needs of the customers. These academicians tend to believe that to fulfill customers’ requirement may not be always relevant, particularly in the context of education (Teri, 2001).
Anyway, it is common that any changes will face some sort of resistance to change (Michael & Sandra, 2005). There are many reasons cited by oppositions to change, but the realities simply never allow the various institutions of higher education to stay constant and passive anymore. Changes are actually inevitable, for the survivability of the institution of higher education. Of this, branding is particularly important to institutions of higher education. The marketing management is crucial for any institutions of higher education that intends to obtain competitive advantages in the industry. Marketing is important in the sense that it will allow the institutions to position themselves in three dimensions, namely, (a) to develop reputation or brand equity in the marketplace, (b) the be specific on the market segment the university or college intends to serve, and lastly (c) to design, develop and formulate a marketing communication strategy that enable the institutions to deliver such value proposition to the marketplace and society.
Researches on Marketing Communications related to Institutions of Higher Education
There are some researches on the context of marketing management or marketing communication strategies for the institutions of higher education. This section will present some of the studies found in this context.
There are researchers addressing that the institutions of higher education as some sort of total institutions. The term total institution is a big term, usually used in sociology studies – where it indicates that it is not only an institutions dealing with the customers or clients, but instead, have several impacts towards the constituents. A constituents involved in many activities that can affect the society, such as in housing, education, protection, feeding, and etc.
From the other perspectives, the consistency of marketing messages is also a topic frequently studied by researchers. Experts are arguing that institutions of higher education should develop consistent communication messages throughout their campuses in order to reflect the institution’s spirit, philosophy and mission (Kerr et. al., 2008). It is important for all the campuses to deliver the consistent messages, so that the brands of the institutions can be enhanced. This is crucial because eth public may associate a particular image on the institutions of higher education which they know. Such a branding strategy will definitely affect how the university stand out in the society and will attract the different students to the institutions (Dong & Chan, 2007).
However, it is not necessary that all the campuses in a particular university to have the same communication messages. It is reasonable to expect some degree of variability to present among the different faculties, as each faculty may employ a communication techniques that is particularly suited to the field that the faculty is involved in. Thus, it is also pointed out that a marketing communication program should also consider how to execute the designed institutional standards in terms of communication efforts while allowing for individual faculty to create their distinctive identity, under the guidelines or influence of an institutional umbrella. Such a system is crucial to enable truly integrated marketing communications techniques and plans to flourish and reach its maximum effectiveness.
There are also researches comparing the differences and similarities among institutions of higher education to the profit-oriented organizations. Many researchers consider the institutions of higher education are indeed a non-profit education. The management of non-profit organizations is argued to be much more complex and challenging, as the management of profit-oriented organization mostly have clear guidelines and direction – which is to maximize the profit to shareholders. In contrast, non-profit organization – such as the various institutions of higher education, have a larger stakeholders to serve, and is facing a much more complicated decision making process in the formulation of a strategic direction. The duties and responsibilities born by the various institutions of higher education are also higher – they simply are required to meet various expectations from the society. In such instances, stakeholders’ analysis is critical in managing institutions of higher education.
Marketing management or marketing related concepts is widely accepted and applied in the context of business world. However, there is not such a case for the institutions of higher education. The institutions of higher education are and should be considered pretty different types of institutions if compared to the profit-oriented organizations. Some researchers even argued that institutions of higher education can be more easily considered as some sort of non-profit organization (Kerr et. al., 2008).
The complexity of the business and industry environment in the context of higher education is affecting the implementations of marketing management by the various universities or colleges. There are arguments against to adoption of marketing concepts in managing the institutions of higher education. However, such arguments may not stand ground, considering the recent changes in the business or industry environment adversely affecting the field higher education. These negative trends are forcing the various institutions of higher education to consider or forced to apply some techniques of marketing management to stay reputable, competitive and profitable in the new business environment.
In fact, applications of marketing concepts and the increase competition in the field of higher education should be considered as a favorable trend for the society as a whole – as the universities and colleges will now look more seriously to deliver what is required by the society and students (Kerr et. al., 2008). The increase of competition is always good for the society, provided some relevant regulations and rules are put in place to govern the process. It is not hard to predict that the trend will persist and more and more universities or colleges need to change in order to survive in the new business environment (Michael & Sandra, 2005). Adoption of marketing management will then be essential to these institutions of higher education.
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