Integrated Marketing Communications – 5 Primary Communication Tools

Communication is always one of the most important and vital strategic areas of an organization’s success. You can have the best or most innovative products or services, but if your internal and external communications are weak, then the demand for your products or services raises a personal flag of concern. When communicating the value of your products or services, you want to focus on how they will benefit your clients.

When planning your strategy for Integrated Marketing Communication or IMC, you want to have dialogue with your customers by inviting interaction through the coordinated efforts of content, timing and delivery of your products or services. By ensuring direction, clarity, consistency, timing and appearance of your messages, conveyed to your targeted audience, these factors will help avoid any confusion about the benefits of your brand, through the connection of instant product recognition.

When looking at your marketing mix, you’re examining price, distribution, advertising and promotion, along with customer service. Integrated marketing communication is part of that marketing mix included in your marketing plan. IMC strategies define your target audience, establishes objectives and budgets, analyzes any social, competitive, cultural or technological issues, and conducts research to evaluate the effectiveness of your promotional strategies.

If companies are ethically planning, communicating, and following industry guidelines, they will most likely earn the trust of their customers and target audience. There are five basic tools of integrated marketing communication:

1. Advertising:
This tool can get your messages to large audiences efficiently through such avenues as radio, TV, Magazines, Newspapers (ROP), Internet, Billboards and other mobile technological communication devices. This method can efficiently reach a large number of consumers, although the costs may be somewhat expensive.

2. Sales Promotion:
This tool is used through coupons, contests, samples, premiums, demonstrations, displays or incentives. It is used to accelerate short-term sales, by building brand awareness and encouraging repeat buying.

3. Public Relations:
This integrated marketing communications tool is initiated through public appearances, news/press releases or event sponsorships, to build trust and goodwill by presenting the product, company or person in a positive light.

4. Direct Marketing:
This tool will utilized email, mail, catalogs, encourage direct responses to radio and TV, in order to reach targeted audiences to increase sales and test new products and alternate marketing tactics.

5. Personal Selling:
Setting sales appointments and meetings, home parties, making presentations and any type of one-to-one communication, to reach your customers and strengthen your relationship with your clients, initiate this IMC tool.

Decisions linking the overall objectives and strategies during the marketing planning phases help to evaluate and fine-tune the specific activities of integrated marketing communication. Before selecting an IMC tool, marketing, product and brand managers must look at social, competitive, legal, regulatory, ethics, cultural and technological considerations. One thing you want to avoid when activating the tools of integrated marketing communication is reaching inappropriate audiences and causing controversy. That could be damaging when trying to build brand awareness and encourage consumer spending with your company. When marketing managers examine the beliefs, emotions and behavior of their targeted audience towards their brand, they can influence their beliefs to achieve product awareness, by attracting attention to their promotional campaigns.

Improving Marketing and Marketing Communications – A Midsized Company Dilemma

You’ve slashed expenses and reduced investments to deliver your current profitability. But your sales growth is marginal at best, and you know this is not a sustainable model.

You’re not alone. According to Frost & Sullivan’s CEO Choice Growth Survey, ninety-three percent of Chief Executive Officers consider “growth” their number one objective over the next five years. And with an ever increasing need to use the latest “sales deal-of-the-day” to meet quarterly goals, you know you can’t profitably continue this course much longer. Further, and perhaps of even greater importance, marketing budgets have also been cut drastically, impacting brand value for the short, as well as long, term.

One tactic you should consider to begin “righting the ship” is to invest in and improve marketing and marketing communications to grow both the top and bottom lines. But where to begin? How to do this? Using which marketing tools? And with whom?

Understand The Changing Marketing Environment
First, you must recognize that there is a changing marketing environment. Businesses and consumers are learning to “do more with less”, while also having less time to evaluate choices and make purchase decisions.

Therefore, the most fundamental change revolves around one word – trust.

With all that has happened, people distrust not just the most traditional of institutions – banks – but business in total. According to a survey by Edelman, only 44 percent of Americans said they trusted business in the Summer of 2009, down from 58 percent in the Fall of 2007. Whether you’re a b-to-c, b-to-b, or even a nonprofit, how you act and communicate in this environment is vital to your success.

As a first step, employ market research. You probably think you know everything about your existing and potential customers but, other than price, are you really sure you know what’s important to them? And do you know what factors are critical to their purchase decisions, and how much trust they place on you to deliver versus your competition? And with downsizing affecting everyone, and new faces in many positions, what do your new purchasers and prospects know about you to begin with? It’s time to find out.

And these changes are taking place not just in the outside world. Your internal corporate environment has changed as well. With already stretched marketing and sales departments, are the leads generated by marketing actually being followed up by sales? A recent study by the Kern Organization estimates that up to 80 percent of b-to-b leads are not followed up by sales, and only 13 percent are followed up in the first 90 days. Why? Because sales doesn’t trust the leads from marketing as being qualified.

Whether you’re a $35 million organization or a $350 million organization, without recognizing and developing solutions to meet the needs of a fundamentally changed environment, your growth and brand will stagnate.

The economy may improve and help you, but it most probably will also help your competitors as well. So, now is the time to get an edge on them by improving your marketing and marketing communications.

Determine Your Best Marketing Mix And Measure It
There isn’t any boilerplate answer to determine which marketing communications disciplines to employ, much less whether your brand position is right for today’s marketplace. But there are steps you should take to answer these questions.

Focus your attention on being media neutral or at least find advisors who are, and are seasoned professionals with broad experience across industries and companies who don’t have a vested interest in promoting a particular marketing communications discipline.

And recognize that all of the hard work that goes into today’s marketing and marketing communications needs to be measured to make sure you’re on the right track. Find an individual or company that really understands analytics and what it means for the future.

Which Media To Employ – New Or Traditional
The next question is how to effectively and efficiently reach these customers and prospects. Professional marketers have spent countless hours addressing this; take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

For example, your website is probably heavily branded, but did you know that less than ten percent of your visitors will actually click through to see the important message you’re putting out there?

You’re probably sending out email newsletters, and may even be blogging and tweeting to your important audiences. But, when was the last time you handed something to your customer or prospect, and looked them in the eye? There’s no question that webinars, for example, are effective and cost efficient, but what about in-person events, seminars and trade shows?

Much of today’s marketing dilemma is appropriately focused on media fragmentation and the resulting difficulty of efficiently and effectively reaching a prospect. Newspapers and magazines are clearly losing ground, but they’re still important channels of reaching certain demographics (such as the ever growing older demographic). Contrast that with the fact that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women, aged 55 to 65.

Determining which media alternatives to use to reach any key marketing or demographic segment means that you have to consider both efficiency and effectiveness. Traditional media and social media should be able to co-exist in your marketing communications plans. It’s just a question of when and where to use them.

The Marketing Communications End Game
Which leads us to the ultimate dilemma – how to obtain and evaluate the creative work that will impact and move your customers and prospects. Recognize that whether you use television, radio or billboards, or emails, blogs, Facebook or tweets, they are only tools to deliver your message. The strategic thinking and outright “creativity” that you employ with these tools will ultimately determine your success.

Look for strategic and creative partners, with demonstrated ability; people who are genuinely interested in profitably increasing your sales, not just trying to garner the latest industry awards.

There is much to think about, especially for a mid-sized company. The dilemma is trying to understand what to do, how to do it, and finding people you trust to help you accomplish this. But, standing still clearly isn’t the answer.

Find a senior professional, or group of professionals, whom you can trust, who can not only improve your marketing ROI but will also be willing to help you evaluate your on-going marketing communications efforts.

Don’t try to go it alone.

Making the Most of Your Marketing Communications

From a marketing communications perspective, the conventional wisdom used to be “throw some money at advertising and marketing to create awareness and sales will follow”. Marketers were more interested in building awareness and brand recognition and there was no linkage between sales and marketing. Lots of assumptions were made and there was little accountability.

All that has changed. Now sales and marketing are inextricably linked and it’s all about return on investment — ROI. Marketing budgets are now scrutinized to squeeze the most value out of media plans and PR activities. So how do you get good ROI from your marcom budget when you’re trying to reach a specific target market with information about your product or service?

ROI in marketing communications is all about taking the time to really understand who you are trying to reach and what it is that they really want. It also requires finding the most cost-effective way to reach that very specific target audience. No longer can the strategy be spray and pray, identifying the largest trade magazines and industry websites in your market and then hitting the biggest audience with a general message, assuming that you’re going to benefit from trickle down. Traditional vehicles like on- and off-line trade publications are suffering from some of their lowest advertising revenue in years, which translates into reduced readership and effectiveness. So, despite some very attractive deals out there, chances are industry trade publication advertising right now doesn’t offer very good ROI.

Identify your target customer accurately.

So what do you do? You practice something called guerrilla marketing. You find multiple, more focused ways to reach a highly qualified, targeted audience. And you start by doing your homework on who you really want to reach. For example, don’t say your target audience is engineers. Go that extra mile to confirm that the person you really want to talk to is the senior design engineer who’s driving specifications for board-level components. Target, target, target.

Now you can concentrate on how to most effectively reach your highly qualified target. Because you’ve selectively reduced the audience to a critical few, think about generating case studies, white papers, and press releases containing relevant keywords and specific “long-tail” search terms that potentially would be used by your target customer, with helpful industry links as well as appropriate anchor text and links to landing pages within your own website. Then make sure you have more complete, relevant information on your landing pages and an interactive contact form that enables them to query you and provide some details on what they really need.

Keyword every page in your site using those long-tail terms specific to your niche; for example, instead of a generic keyword such as “fabric”, use “waterproof, ripstop fabric.” Ten well-qualified leads are much more valuable than a hundred less-than-qualified leads.

Tweak your web site to contain a wide range of links out to appropriate trade pubs and industry or trade association websites, and try to get them to post a link to yours on theirs. All these things cost very little money, yet they can go a long way toward creating visibility for your company and product or service.

Use social media wisely.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding social media networking these days. One thing that is true, though, is that a thoughtful, appropriate presence on major sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can boost your visibility and help you open conversations with potential customers.

If you don’t have an account with these social media, get one. Join relevant professional groups on LinkedIn and start discussions there (almost every major industry has at least several professional groups on LinkedIn). Start a company blog and Facebook page, get a Twitter account, and have your comments posted automatically to all three (they all have mechanisms that enable, say, a LinkedIn comment posting to appear automatically on your Twitter page). There are lots of helpful, easy-to-find blogs, websites, and consultants that can help you explore social media networking more fully.

Five tips for achieving marketing communications ROI:

Know your target customer

Do your homework and research who REALLY would buy your product or service. Avoid generic job titles or descriptions as much as possible and try to drill down to the job responsibilities and purchasing needs of the person you’re trying to reach.

Hone your message

Focus on customer pain – the thing or things that really present a challenge to your potential customer and that your product or service will “cure”. Avoid the trite and hackneyed and communicate with clarity. Talk about what concerns your potential customer, not your company.

Disseminate your message creatively

Don’t blindly rely on traditional methods that may or may not work for your specific circumstances and in these economic times. Seek alternative methods, such as using social media networking and free article directory sites to post industry-related comments, key-worded case studies and press releases that can be found by industry bloggers and e-publications looking for content.

Find ways to “get found”

Generate case studies, abstracts, and articles that can become search-optimized content for industry publications, all pointing back to you. Make sure your website is updated regularly to include new and better content and links for increased visibility. Foster online relationships with industry marketplaces, trade journal sites, and professional organizations. Position yourself as an industry expert — line up speaking engagements and conduct seminars, webinars, and podcasts where possible.

Repeat

Once you find the right mix of message and media, repeat as often as possible. Stay on-message and on-target by producing key-worded content on a regular basis for outside publication and your own website. Create new content more easily by expanding upon previously-covered topics and updating older pieces with new information.

Good ROI for your marketing communications efforts comes from doing your homework, understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, and setting goals. Do this, and you can sleep easy, knowing your marketing communications program is working as hard as it possibly can.

A Small Or Midsized Company Marketing Communications Audit – Improving ROI For The Year Ahead

With another new year approaching, you’re probably even more concerned than usual – because of the sluggish economic growth, turbulent financial markets, unknown fallout from Brexit, and the exhausting and uncertain election season. Rest assured, your customers, prospects and employees are probably as concerned as you are.

These concerns will in many cases retard or even halt decision making and commitment to a variety of programs. In fact, the August CEO Confidence Index from Chief Executive Magazine, reflecting opinions on “future business conditions”, is near its lowest level since January, 2015.

As a marketer in a B2C, B2B or nonprofit organization, developing and implementing your new marketing and marketing communications strategy, plan, budget and tactics probably seems even more unnerving than in previous years. And the time to commit your resources – money, time and people – is rapidly approaching.

In the midst of all this doom and gloom are there any rays of sunshine? We believe there are, and recommend that now is the perfect time to take a step back and consider a more thorough evaluation of your program through the use of a marketing communications audit.

A Marketing Communications Audit Improves ROI

If you haven’t recently (or ever) conducted an audit, now may be a crucial time to do so before committing your already stretched resources. Like a financial audit, this process will provide an objective, professional picture of your current situation.

It will help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your marketing program as a whole, as well as how each communications tactic and message does or does not contribute to your objectives, strategy, budget and ROI.

The audit can provide a meaningful analysis of both your internal and external tactics and messaging, creative approach, subject matter, media mix, and budget allocation. Importantly, it will also provide an understanding of what is registering with your customers, prospects and employees versus what they really want to know about your brand.

Ultimately, the audit will provide an understanding of what needs to be improved, along with an actionable integrated roadmap of how to achieve your goals – how specific messages should be delivered across all forms of traditional and new media, as well as events, promotions, public relations, packaging and employee communications. The end results of this type of audit can significantly improve your marketing communications ROI now and well into the future. It will also provide you with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your have developed a plan based on increased rigor and professionalism.

Marketing Communications Consultants Can Really Help

Most probably, you’ve already put a lot of hard work into developing your marketing and marketing communications plan. And, even if you believe that an audit would be a prudent way to go, you might not be confident that your internal staff has the time, energy or skill set to provide a thorough and in-depth audit at this time. Fresh eyes and apolitical candor from outside consultants might be just what you and your already stretched team might need.

Consider tapping into established, media neutral consultants, with broad experience across industries, companies and nonprofits, both large and small, who are willing to “tell it like it is” so candor will flourish. Don’t settle for a consultant with experience in only your niche or industry, selling only one particular discipline. And be sure they’re analytically driven, willing to test their measurements against the real world. This is the time to take a broad view of your business and opportunities, not to rely on “this is the way we’ve always done it”

Improving your ROI for the year ahead is always an important goal; it’s even more important this year with the increased uncertainties facing all of us. Fresh and apolitical evaluation and measurement of your program makes a lot of sense. As W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality management techniques, said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”