Unveiling the secrets of Integrated Marketing Communications: what works, what doesn’t, and how to do it right to grow your business.
Why Integrated Marketing Communications?
Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) are simple in concept, complex in execution, and a huge competitive advantage if done right. Keep reading to discover why integrated marketing communications work and how to get started on the right foot with your own integrated marketing campaigns.
We all understand the value of teamwork, and what can be accomplished with a united effort focused on achieving a single goal. We’ve also all experienced how dysfunctional teams can undermine all that effort right from the start.
This is essentially what integrated marketing communications are all about. But with so much effort required to do it right, many marketers (especially those with limited resources) are forced to ask themselves:
Well, because in a world where digital presence puts the power in the hands of buyers you need to be where your audience is shopping.
Today that’s not just online, it’s across multiple devices. And if words aren’t enough to convince you, these numbers should help put things into perspective:
- Over 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research
- 70% of consumers use 3 or more channels for purchase research
- 3X higher effectiveness rates are reported by companies using integrated marketing campaigns vs. non-integrated campaigns
The buying process, whether in the Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C), has evolved into an exercise that should seem familiar:
Most purchases will be made online, but it’s more than just a single search on Google and Amazon. Product and brand research is done via relevant social media, in-depth details found on blogs and review aggregators, and even some brick-and-mortar in-store window shopping. Savvy shoppers will sign-up for emails or newsletters to get discounts or coupons.
And none of this is done in one sitting, or from a single device.
You’re probably perusing weekly promos and sales from your phone in the morning, doing some detailed product research from a desk computer during the day, and contemplating reviews and comparisons from a tablet at home in the evenings. You might even be screaming at Alexa or Google to help you place that last minute order, too.
Today, there is no single platform, channel, or timeslot to target for your marketing initiatives. Instead, you need to reach out across the spectrum with a variety of marketing and eCommerce tactics to be effective.
The ubiquitous nature of our digital environment makes it absolutely essential to develop an integrated approach to marketing as the foundation of any B2B or B2C strategy.
To get started the first thing we need is to define integration in terms of marketing strategy.
Marketing Integration Definition
While the best integration definition from a marketing sense is with examples, we’ll start with the “textbook” definition to set some parameters.
While the exact specifications of the term Integrated Marketing can be debated, in general,
“Integrated Marketing is an approach to creating a unified and seamless experience for consumers to interact with the brand/enterprise; it attempts to meld all aspects of marketing communication such as advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and social media, through their respective mix of tactics, methods, channels, media, and activities, so that all work together as a unified force. It is a process designed to ensure that all messaging and communications strategies are consistent across all channels and are centered on the customer.”
The concept of Integrated Marketing Communications accepts the value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines and combines them to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communication impact.
Integrated marketing campaigns take a holistic approach to communication in marketing. It is all about making sure that you are being consistent in your marketing both online and offline.
Consistent communications are key to ensuring that consumers understand your marketing message. This in turn leads to greater results and return on your investment. Integrated marketing helps by optimizing the spend whether online or offline and putting the right number of dollars towards the most effective approach.
How effective is “the most effective approach”?
According to a Cross-Media Ad Effectiveness Study by The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) consumers viewing a constant message across a variety of channels can improve purchase intent by 90% and brand perception by 68%.
Anna Bager, SVP and GM for Mobile and Video at IAB, said the study noted the importance of "mixing traditional and digital in order for brands to get the most out of their advertising dollars."
To back up those claims, we can see some corroborating statistics from other major players:
From Demand Gen Report’s 2019 Content Preference Survey:
The majority of people, 42%, consume 3-5 pieces of content before reaching out to a salesperson.
There is just a little more foundation to build here before we jump into the nitty-gritty of integrated marketing, and that’s to understand the difference between integrated marketing communications and an integrated marketing campaign.
IMC: Integrated Marketing Communications vs Integrated Marketing Campaign
What is IMC (and which one is right for me)?
The “textbook” answer is that Integrated Marketing Communications is the “planning process designed to assure that all brand contacts received by a customer or prospect for a product, service, or organization are relevant to that person and consistent over time”, as discussed above.
While an Integrated Marketing Campaign is the actual process of implementing and executing those cross-channel communication tactics.
Okay, statistics, studies, and definitions are great, but the best way to understand what integrated marketing is with practical real-world examples.
When looking at successful integrated marketing campaigns, what you’ll find is that they all have three essential communication alignments:
1. Brand Alignment
Pick the marketing channels that align with your product, service, and branding.
For example: If you’re selling Business-to-Business it would make sense to target business-centric channels such as LinkedIn, industry-specific trade publications, and trade-shows/conferences.
In a business-to-consumer context, utilizing communications across social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter would likely be more appropriate to combine with industry-specific influencer promotions alongside more traditional print and television advertising campaigns for mass audiences.
2. Customer Alignment
Pick the channels where your consumers are already active, or as the old Marketing adage goes - ‘be where your customers already are’.
For example: Understand the demographics you’re going after, and pick your communication channels accordingly.
- Gen Z or Millennial audience? Try Instagram and TikTok.
- Gen X Working professionals? LinkedIn
- Older generations? Stick to more traditional platforms such as print, television, and, (this should be enough to make many of us feel rather dated) Facebook.
3. Budget Alignment
Not all channels are created equal, and advertising and promotional prices reflect that. Always choose the right channel for your budget, and even if money isn’t (as big of) an issue, don’t shy away from the effectiveness of many “free” digital marketing strategies.
For example: A large company will have the budget for multiple campaigns across multiple channels at the same time. This mix-and-match approach of combining consistent brand messaging across Pay-Per-Click advertising, social media promotion, TV, print, and radio (digital and traditional) is incredibly effective and expensive.
Small businesses, on the other hand, are required to pick and choose the most effective and cost-effective channels to focus on. Trying to utilize too many channels with not enough budget risks watering down the effectiveness of any given campaign while not seeing the required return on investment.
Integrated Marketing Campaign Examples
We aren’t the first to use Compare the Market's classic 'Compare the Meerkat' campaign as the golden example to follow. But that’s because, well it’s great! And the fact that the campaign has been running for more than a decade is a testament to its quality (the campaign began in 2009 and is still running).
Starting with a compelling (clever, cute, and funny in this case) campaign concept 'Compare the Meerkat' utilizes social media, search engines, TV and more. Creating a mascot and related slogan has consistently kept Compare’s brand awareness high. And the sale of physical Meerkat dolls has even turned the campaign assets into revenue generators!
Looking at their advertisements across various mediums, the integrated communication strategy becomes apparent:
Consistency is the key with Compare’s campaign. The same character, same brand colours, and the same basic message equals one incredibly successful campaign.
While successful examples make this process seem obvious, examining some unsuccessful integrated marketing campaigns can highlight where these strategies can go awry.
Let’s take a look at a gigantic brand at the forefront of innovation that, it feels like anyway, should have known better. Below are assets from Intel’s 'Experience What's Inside' campaign.
Notice anything missing from this example of Intel’s website from the time when the campaign was running? ‘Experience What’s Inside’ is noticeable only for its absence.
Branding is also inconsistent between Intel’s social media and their website. This can very easily lead to your audience wondering, “Am I in the right place, or did I click on the wrong thing?” which takes them right out of the buying process.
The same branding inconsistencies plague theses print and billboard ads as well: even when the slogan appears, logo design and brand colours vary between mediums.
Well implemented integrated marketing campaigns work, but the truth is many aren’t - so they don’t.
According to Kantar’s 2018 Global Report AdReaction: The Art Of Integration, more than half of integrated marketing campaigns are not hitting the mark. And the consumers would argue with marketers about the quality of those campaigns.
Only 46% of integrated marketing campaigns are well integrated, but while 89% of Marketers believe of their strategies are well integrated only 58% of consumers would agree.
Now that we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, let’s get into the process of making sure your integrated marketing campaign works before you launch!
5 Steps for Developing Your Integrated Marketing Communications Strategy
Step 1: Plan
Proper planning and research are absolutely essential to getting your integrated marketing campaigns right.
After conducting your market and audience research, make sure that you plan for each potential touch-point a customer can have with your brand across their buying journey.
This way you can create a full list of channels that you will need to integrate and align with consistent branding and messaging.
Step 2: Determine Your Reach
Now it’s time for action! Pick your best, most practical and cost-effective channels of communication, and start creating content and promoting.
If you want a bit of a shortcut for determining what kind of content is best suited for a specific platform, take a peek at the diagram below:
Step 3: Interaction
Once your audience has made it to your site, you need to move them to the next stage in the buying journey via interaction (and thus, decision making). This takes the form of creating accounts on your website, entering information into on-site forms (such as email addresses and contact information).
Step 4: Convert
In the Interaction stage, you created a “lead” for your brand, the act of conversion from Lead to paying customer involves tactics for reducing anxiety, providing additional value, and pushing for action/purchase.
Step 5: Engage
The work isn’t over when a conversion is complete, however! Long-term brand engagement is an incredibly powerful marketing asset that builds brand loyalty, repeat purchases, reach, along with grassroots social proof and endorsements via ‘word-of-mouth’.
The real key is to focus on consistent messaging and branding across all channels, all stages of the buyer’s journey, and all stages of your campaign. This seems like easy common sense, but remember: if a multimillion-dollar enterprise like Intel can mess this up, anybody can!
How to Kickstart Your Integrated Marketing Communications Campaign
1. Identify Different Content Marketing Opportunities
Part of the Planning and Reach steps listed above, content marketing is imperative for catching your audience when they’re looking to gather facts and compare options during their own research stage in the buyer’s journey.
Consider who your target audience is and where/how they like to receive information. Then, determine which channels will be the most effective and relevant for your campaign.
Types of content marketing include, but certainly are not limited to, blog articles, video content, premium gated content (behind an information-gathering lead generation form), and website pop-ups.
Two of the most popular (and effective) types of content marketing are covered in more detail below.
Email Marketing: Email is still a powerful medium for communication, so put it to good use! We might all be members of different social media platforms, but all of us have email addresses.
Utilize emails to keep your existing leads engaged, re-engage older leads with a continuous flow of relevant and compelling content. Getting new leads is important, but delivering the right message at the right time to warm, receptive audiences is the real key to boosting conversions.
Social Media Marketing: Relationships, that’s what social media is all about. Building relationships, brand awareness, and consistent website traffic are the key benefits that social media marketing can bring to your integrated marketing campaign.
Social Media is particularly powerful when working in tandem with other content marketing campaigns to build brand awareness by being everywhere your audience is.
2. Create an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan
Now that you know which channels you’ll be utilizing, the next step is to set down a roadmap that will let you be consistent in the execution and delivery of your campaign communications.
This can be done by focusing on the following communication trifecta:
- Audience - Have an ideal audience/buyer persona. This should be what informs your channel decisions and fundamental message of your marketing campaign.
- Content - Determine what kind of content will speak to your audience, both in general and for each specific channel. Articles won’t perform nearly as well as video content on certain platforms, regardless of demographic. Try and keep the decision-making process and buyer’s journey in mind when deciding what content to create.
- Cadence - Understand how frequently your audience wants to receive information from you. It’s a fine line between keeping your leads engaged, and spamming them into unsubscribing and tuning out your communications. Analysis paralysis is a major problem for today’s consumers, so inundating leads with too much information too quickly will hurt more than help your efforts.
3. Match the Decision-Making Process
The best way to convince a potential customer is by knowing the answer to their questions before they even know what they’re going to ask. This is accomplished by understanding the buyer’s journey and decision-making process.
Understanding the “why” behind what makes a customer decide to buy any particular product or service is imperative and requires that you know what problem your audience is trying to solve (ideally with your product or service).
This all depends on the specific nature of your audience: for low-cost consumer items, the buying journey is short and decision-making is often spontaneous and made by a single individual. For large B2B purchases, the buying journey is much longer and the decision-making process far more complex due to many external factors and the number of people involved.
Regardless, the basic outline of the decision-making process is a follows:
- Recognize a problem.
- Search for information on solutions
- Identify the products and services that can solve the problem.
- Choose which option they will buy.
- They assess the after-the-sale experience.
By knowing what content your audience will be consuming at each stage in this process, you can create a far more effectively integrated and compelling buyer’s journey for your prospective customers that will give you the subtle psychological heads up on your competition.
4. Implement, Automate, Analyze
It’s time to put your campaign plan into action and see what works and what doesn’t.
Make a Content Calendar.
Knowing when and where content is being published and consumed is incredibly important. Have a plan covering what time, on what channel, and what kind of content is being sent out. Staying organized makes it far easier to keep communications effective and identify the best places for improvement.
Automate the Dirty Work!
Automation is the key to scaling up as you grow and allowing even a small team to function as a full-blown marketing agency. Finding an integrated Customer Relationship Management platform not only lets you eliminate a ton of the repetitive, time-consuming data-entry dirty-work, but it also gives you a clear view of the entire sales process.
Analyze and Optimize.
No doubt you’ve seen these terms before: Analytics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). There’s a reason for that, and they’re much more than just buzzwords.
Insights gleaned from analyzing data, especially Big Data, are the not-so-secret ingredients that make for campaign improvements that drive results. Let’s be clear, not even the most successful marketing campaigns are launched perfect. It’s the constant testing and tweaking going on behind the scenes that achieve great results.
Knowing the KPIs that define success for your campaign allows you to easily measure and evaluate what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do to improve. While this can be applied directly to the content and channels of your campaign, it should also be applied to your audience.
To make sure your communications are effective, always keep your eyes on the needs of your prospects, with a focus on how the capabilities of your products or service solves that problem.
In practice, a holistic approach for measuring overall campaign engagement would include monitoring inbound marketing analytics, such as email open rates, click-through rates, social media interactions, website traffic, sales calls/inquires, etc.
Bringing It All Together
Integrated Marketing campaigns aren’t simple, they aren’t easy, but they are effective - if done right!
Remember that nothing is static, and there are constantly new tools and tactics evolving to make integrated marketing communications that much more effective.
All the strategies and tactics above can be applied to essentially any industry, but at Lambda Solutions our focus is primarily on the business of eLearning. To that end, we developed the Lambda Suite - the easiest, most efficient way to sell, market, deliver and optimize online courses and remote training programs.
A truly integrated eLearning revenue solution, the Suite is designed to work with Learning Management Systems and award-winning Analytics Reporting, to provide the best solution for delivering integrated marketing campaigns that will grow your eLearning business.
Additional Resources & References
But we’re not done yet! For more advice, best-practices, and how-to guides for creating, boosting, and improving your digital marketing and eCommerce, check out these additional resources:
- Webinar: 3 Brilliant Ways Proven To Get Your Online Courses To The Top Of Google
- Webinar: Marketing Your eLearning: Keys to Success
- Webinar: Enhancing Your eCommerce For Your eLearning Business
- eBook: What is an eLearning Business? Examining the $200-billion eLearning Industry
- Article: Sell Online Courses from your Own Website with Moodle LMS
- Article: Why Your LMS Needs eCommerce Integration For Selling Online Courses Part 1
- Article: Why Your LMS Needs eCommerce Integration For Selling Online Courses Part 2
- Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (2004). Advertising and promotion: An integrated Marketing communications perspective (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
- Iab. (2017). Cross-Media Ad Effectiveness Study. Retrieved May 9, 2020, from https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/IAB-Cross-Media-Ad-Effectiveness-Study-Jan-11-2017.pdf