Halfway during one of my marketing classes in college, I noticed a small quote on the bottom right-hand side of the whiteboard. It said, “Which raindrop caused the flood?” My teacher never referenced it once during the duration of the course. However, ten weeks later, it all made sense.
What is this IMC you speak about?
There are a few definitions for Integrated Marketing Communications, but my favorite is from the Northwestern School of Journalism: “IMC is a strategic marketing process specifically designed to ensure that all messaging and communications strategies are unified across all channels and are centered around the customer.” Simply put, it is the principle that marketing is most effective if every marketing channel has communication that is aligned to the same core brand positioning.
Like many good marketing strategies, this initially seems like a “duh” principle. Clearly you don’t want to have marketing that makes your brand look like it has some sort of split-personality disorder like Gollum from The Hobbit. (“No, not social media! / It will cheat you, hurt you, LIE! / But, social media is our friend!”) But getting all your marketing communications aligned is trickier than you may think.
IMC is not a new concept, but it’s more important than ever, as there are now more marketing channels than ever before. Back in the 50’s, marketing campaigns relied heavily on print, radio, and television. It didn’t take much to keep these aligned.
But, now with digital media, we have everything from newsletters to social media campaigns. Our marketing tool sheds are filled with new and effective tactics that range from broad messaging (your website’s homepage) to targeting more niche groups (via Instagram).
In bigger companies, each marketing channel will have a different manager, which is all the more reason to make sure that high level IMC strategies are in place.
An IMC expert once told me that when he first engages a client, he would audit their entire property. This obviously includes their entire digital efforts, but also included things that they might not expect.
In the case of a restaurant, he’d visit the restaurant and bring a notepad and paper taking note of everything from the condition of the parking lot to the personalities of the waiters. If the brand messaging of the restaurant is elegance and fresh foods, it really doesn’t help if the dumpster is viewable from the parking lot. Every little piece that contradicts your brand messaging is a step back.
Likewise, let’s take a look at a brand that seems to come up on everyone’s list as the gold standard for marketing – Apple. Apple stands for innovation, simplicity and style. Not only do their commercials, print ads, and website all share the same design aesthetic, but they bring the same qualities to their retail stores and even their products. For example, their customer service center – the Genius Bar – is set up to be simple, easy, and effective, just like an iPad.
What’s bad IMC?
One of the most common pitfalls for brands in terms of IMC is the use of too many tools for social media. Some brands have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Foursquare, Yelp, etc., when their audience only really pays attention to one or two of those channels. What ends up happening here is that although one channel looks nice and engages in meaningful conversation, the others look like a barren wasteland that ignores their audience. Not good.
But even when you have someone concentrating specifically on your social media, they need to not only be aware of the messaging they are trying to convey, but the manner in which they are conveying that message. Sometimes, it doesn’t always go well (See Exhibit A and Exhibit B below).
Here’s a post from ZzzQuil early in 2014:
And here’s one of the many responses they got:
And again, what seemed like a genuine post from Gap:
And as you’d expect, it didn’t get the best response.
Another thing that sometimes brands forget about is that even though you may not be able to directly alter the messaging for external sources, you still need to be aware of it and try and shape it best you can. This can be done by how you choose to respond to audience communication. If this is done improperly, it’s the same as having poor communication in the first place.
The point of IMC is to make sure that every piece of marketing is paid attention to. If every piece is in harmony, the overall result is much more powerful and the audience will be able to hear what your brand is trying to say. Each piece, no matter how small, shares the same responsibility in providing a strong brand identity. Each and every drop causes the flood.