The Broken Promise of Integrated Marketing Communications

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MarkWeinerBy Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research Americas

Given the common sense of integrated marketing communications – complimentary messaging, consistent targeting, and continuity across marketing channels — I was sure that by now, the benefits of Integrated Marketing Communications would be widely recognized and effectively practiced.  When I first encountered Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) in 1993 it seemed reasonable to expect that organizational marketing and communications – advertising, trade, employee communications, PR, etc. – would be integrated and aligned for the optimal customer experience, manifesting itself in efficiency, effectiveness and return on investment.  Unlike the often disjointed and discordant approaches of the past, I reasoned, new technologies and advanced methods for uncovering audience attitudes and priorities would naturally lead to a unified approach to meet the target’s preferences for frequency, function and form of communication at the same time that it met the business’s demands for a return-on-investment.  As a result, businesses would flourish and all forms of marketing – including PR– would blossom together.

The benefits of Integrated Marketing Communications are as great as ever, even if the overwhelming majority of marketing organizations can’t live up to its promise.  Technology is even more advanced than even just a few years ago.  And marketing is under even greater pressure to do more with less and for less given the disintegration of traditional media, the decline of mass marketing advertising and a general lack of trust (and interest) in marketing messaging.

So in the past 15 years, why haven’t marketing investment decision-makers demanded the advantages of IMC? Why hasn’t Integrated Marketing Communications emerged to dominate the marketing landscape?  Why is it common practice – and even preferred practice – is so distant from the theory?

Isolating the challenge

Could it be that having been exposed to some of the realities of integrated marketing, executives now know that truly integrated marketing can only be derived from a truly integrated organization? A truly integrated organization understands that IT, product development and engineering are as much a part of marketing as marketing is related to accounting or manufacturing because each is rooted in the customer experience.  Genuinely aligning an organization extends beyond most marketers’ sphere of influence and oversight.  The unwillingness of the organization to become more fully integrated in its thoughts and actions can be an insurmountable obstacle.

Even those organizations claiming to deliver integrated marketing communications, are most commonly delivering integrated tactical outputs rather than an infrastructure aligned to deliver a positive, aligned customer experience.  Most commonly, an organization’s ambassadors are in silos, asked to assume a narrow specific role. In many cases, these silos do not share priorities with one another and in some cases even compete and conflict with other departments. Add poor research, a lack of accountability, poor internal communication and it’s surprising that any level of integration is ever achieved.

What’s missing?  Unified standards and metrics. Consistent analytics for assessing customer experience.  Organizational collaboration and accountability for acquiring customers and keeping them happy.

Conclusion

Until CEOs extend their expectations for accountability within marketing and communication and throughout the organization, integrated marketing will not take root and companies will suffer the consequences.

Public Relations professionals are in a good position to lead the dialogue with their marketing and communications peers:  The discussions alone will help to create a more integrated marketing communications environment and the outcomes from these conversations may lead to meaningful business results for now and into the future.

About the Author: Mark Weiner is CEO Americas for PRIME Research.  Since 1986, he’s helped many of the world’s most admired companies and brands to improve the return-on-investment of their public relations.  A version of this story first appeared in Unleashing the Power of Public Relations published by John Wiley and Sons. 

2 Comments

  1. Ford Kanzler on at 12:14 PM

    Suggest that failure to achieve IMC, as described above, results from a human territorial imperative. We naturally tend to carve out what we desire to control. So internal friction and competition between people and departments in medium-sized or larger organizations defeats comm integration efforts. It likely can be overcome with strong upper management involvement. But that involvement is rarely the case.
    In my practice, I see IMC most often occurring with smaller organizations that haven’t yet developed fiefdoms or silos preventing the whole from working together in unity. Increased organizational size has a downside. IMC is not something that’s easily achieved.
    Lastly, differing professional communications specialties within or outside an organization bring various biases to the marketing communications game. Some PR pros I’ve encountered even believe they’re not involved in Marketing at all and reject it as beneath them. The IR team doesn’t talk to the PR team. The advertising team is competing for resources with the direct marketing or PR teams. (Does Marketing communicate well with Sales?) Each entity desires preeminence.
    I work in tech and still find engineering pros who feel promotional effort is unnecessary because the product is so great, they expect people will beat a path to the company’s web site and/or that promotional communications equates to lying (which certainly occurs)…something they want no part of. Its also seen as “extra duty” they shouldn’t have to take time on. These are a few of the roadblocks. Undoubtedly there are many others.

    • Mark Weiner on at 1:27 PM

      Ford,

      Thank you for sharing your expertise. I agree: smaller organizations tend to be more fully integrated because so few people undertake so many tasks. One of the stranger aspects of IMC is that if you asked anyone in marketing, communication or even in business, for that matter if they believed that the company’s performance would benefit from an integrated marketing approach centered around customer experiences and improving that experience, they’d all agree. Like so many things, the theory and the practice are miles apart.

      Best wishes,

      Mark

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