Get on the IMC bandwagon!

What’s old is new again!

Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – is talking about marketing communications. Not just any old marketing communications, but integrated marketing communications or IMC.

IMC is all the rage, and rightly so. According to e-tailing group, 72 percent of consumers prefer an integrated approach. In other words, they want to see a branded experience delivering a consistent message across ALL communication channels.

If your company’s marketing communications are not integrated, you are wasting money, effort and time that could be spent on building your brand, generating revenue and improving profitability. And, it works – companies with well-integrated marketing reported more than a 15 percent increase in revenue attributed to marketing programs and a 10 percent return on marketing investment (per Forrester’s research study, The Multichannel Maturity Mandate).

One and all seem to be jumping on the IMC bandwagon. But, it’s really nothing new. I came of age in business during the era when the Four P’s – price, place, promotion and product – were tightly managed. Of course, marketing communications was the promotion part of the mix.

Back then, a company’s marketing communications team was tasked with delivering a consistent, integrated message about a product or brand to customers, potential buyers, media, employees, key influencers, investors, partners and the community. Every function of a company’s marketing effort – advertising, branding, graphic design, packaging, direct marketing, online marketing public relations, sales, promotion, investor relations and employee communications—worked together as a team.

It wasn’t easy. For example, at Hewlett-Packard this meant getting more than 10,000 people aligned globally. But, it was expected by our leadership, and we made it happen. Having clearly defined, measureable and strategic goals helped. We knew our competition well and we wanted to win.

Now, I realize that I floated about in a huge IMC bubble for most of my career, oblivious to the idea that most companies don’t work that way. The bubble burst when I moved into consulting and took on communication roles outside of the high technology industry. I know. I was naïve. And, yes. I can hear you laughing at me!

What the heck happened to my IMC dream? I discovered these four things.

  1. Some companies don’t have clearly defined strategies. I know this is shocking (well perhaps not!), but there are plenty of companies that struggle with articulating a strategy beyond a few financial goals. Or, if they have a strategy, they don’t bother telling their employees, customers or communities in a compelling manner, if at all. In the worst cases, they simply do not have a strategy. It’s not easy to create an effective IMC strategy in a vacuum.
  2. Leadership must demand IMC or it won’t happen. Even when a great IMC plan is created and approved, someone gets a wild hair and decides to go “mavericky” on you. Everybody thinks they are a marketing communications expert, including some leaders. Instead of helping rein in the mavericks and driving an integrated plan, some allow chaos to continue.
  3. Internal competition and lack of trust make effective integration impossible. Given that environment created by the above, functional silos, internal rivalries and egos prevail. Individual success is prized over shared results and balanced performance. It’s rough going to create a shared strategic communications vision in such an environment. People simply forget to coordinate and leverage their work. Or they give up because it’s too hard.
  4. Social media happened and traditional marketing communications imploded. Around 2006, digital media began to take off. Many traditional marketing communicators didn’t immediately embrace social. They laughed at the guy using Twitter. Sure, company internets, intranets and extranets were important. Email marketing was familiar territory as well. You could at least pretend you were controlling the message. Not so with social. It’s always on and all access, all the time. Now a brand’s message is built by its community. And that brand image can change in a heartbeat.

What’s the solution? Ideally, marketing and company leadership ensure a compelling strategy exists, get employees behind that strategy and expect marketing communications to support that strategy in a fully integrated manner. If an executive-level leader isn’t in place to drive IMC, appoint one.

I know. In many companies, this takes time. Or, the senior leadership isn’t up to the task. What can you do in the meantime?

You can set a good example and create robust integrated marketing campaigns for products or programs you own. Build your skills and your team’s skills. Supplement your team with talent from external agencies for fresh and creative perspectives. Talk to the other internal teams (such as sales, advertising or employee communications) that own the relationship with the impacted audiences and control that communication channel. Work to reach an agreed upon plan with each team. Even if only a few of the communications are in sync, the improved results will still be a win for the company or client.

Make sure you measure, document and discuss integration successes and failures with your peers and leadership in a constructive manner. Measuring and demonstrating success will get the ball rolling, help obtain executive support and support budget for future programs. Others will want to be part of your success on future campaigns.

What’s worked for you? I’d love to hear your stories and IMC successes!

Useful Links: