The future of communications Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

In today’s high-paced, technology-driven market, the way companies do business is ever-evolving. Buying and selling isn’t ust done face to face anymore. Business is done in a variety of ways and through several different channels. Savvy businesses are marketing their companies in ways never before imagined — via e-marketing campaigns or programs, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, e-mails, banner ads, Webinars, blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and Internet television. All of this is in addition to traditional methods, such as print, mail order, public relations, billboards, radio and television.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and if you’re not on top of things, your marketing dollars may end up going down the drain. Thus, companies are searching for a holistic way to manage a broad range of communication vehicles to various target audiences. The search has lead to the advent of integrated marketing communications (IMC).

According to Dick Brooks, director of the Center for Integrated Marketing Communications at San Diego State University, IMC is designed to make all aspects of marketing communications work together as a unified force, rather than each aspect working alone in isolation. IMC creates a unified look and message for all elements of a marketing campaign, leading to less headaches for companies and their marketing teams and, more importantly, more money to the bottom line.

Smart Business spoke with Brooks about why IMC is important in today’s market and what companies can do to implement it.

Why has IMC grown in importance?

The number of media tools has grown exponentially over the years, giving marketers a vast range of opportunities to send their messages to their target audiences. But, it’s difficult to sort out what vehicles will best reach your audiences in the most appropriate ways. A younger consumer will have different media consumption behaviors than a baby boomer, so you need to know the needs and wants of your target audiences, then get the right message to them via the appropriate vehicle, and you need to do it all while staying within your marketing budget. All of this has led to the need for a good IMC program.

What are the challenges of IMC?

A big challenge comes when the various people who take ownership in different media silos compete with one another. For instance, one group may be in charge of media advertising, while another is in charge of the Web site. Both have their own individual ideas and creative directions, so they don’t want to change. This happens constantly. It gets further complicated when a marketer employs different agencies to do different functions. It’s usually easier to get your own people on the same page versus those from different companies. Either way, though, the result is inconsistency of messages, using the wrong vehicles to reach the wrong audiences and the improper allocation of marketing dollars.

How can these challenges be overcome?

The solution has to come from the top down, with a mindset that all marketing ventures are going to be managed holistically, with the appropriate tools delivering the appropriate messages to the appropriate audiences. Also, someone needs to be in charge of the entire process, which is why we’re seeing the creation of a new position: manager of IMC. Knowing what to use, when to use it and how much to spend can be a major challenge. A manager of IMC can look at the big picture and ensure this is being accomplished.

What should a company look for in a manager of IMC?

Most importantly, the person needs to have incredible people skills. He or she will have to negotiate through all the various communication silos and the egos that go with them. Bringing all of this together, while staying in budget, takes an expressive, understanding and influential person. The person also needs to have license from above to make all this happen. He or she also needs to have the ability to help train all parties involved and keep them on the same page. Obviously, the individual needs to be knowledgeable, skilled and trained in the range of tools available as well as adept at being able to translate a creative platform that describes the target audiences and the messages to be delivered.

What does the future hold for IMC?

The importance of IMC is growing rapidly as we speak, and it will continue to do so for many years. The key is figuring out the best way to implement IMC. With that, top management wants accountability — it wants to know exactly where its communication dollars are going. Right now, we can measure individual aspects, such as the impact of a banner ad or a podcast, but we need a better way to measure the synergistic effect of an entire campaign. The holistic effect is still difficult to quantify, so there will be more efforts in the future to improve that. The interest in the marketplace for IMC is great, and with the cost of communication increasing practically every day, the bottom line is screaming for a measurement of performance.

DICK BROOKS is a clinical professor of marketing and director of the Center for Integrated Marketing Communications at San Diego State University. Reach him at (619) 594-4713 or dbrooks@mail.sdsu.edu.