Online Integrated Marketing Communications – An Introduction

The rapidly increasing development of new media and communication channels means marketers can connect with customers wherever they are in order to speak to them about products and offers. In this digital age, consumers have rapidly adopted to new forms of media such as mobile phones and tablets which have largely changed the way we engage with our audiences and the way companies communicate with their customers. The emergence of social media and search engines such as Google has revolutionised the way we find information and made it accessible to everyone.

As a marketer, it’s essential you remain agile and experiment with different strategies and mediums to stay connected to your customers, potential customers, and other relevant parties. In this article, we’ll explore how integrated marketing communications (IMC) can help you do just that. We’ll cover the different forms of IMC, the various social media platforms and the digital tools that can be used to drive business results.

Why IMC?

As a marketing communicator, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”. While this is still true, having a single image may not be sufficient to convey the right message to your audience. Video may be a more effective and dynamic way to communicate. However, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to engage your audience, nothing beats a good old-fashioned blog post or news article combined with a graphic that summarises the key points.

These days, consumers have become increasingly sophisticated and expect companies to provide content that is engaging and relevant to them. When developing content for digital channels, it’s crucial to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what they want and need.

What is IMC?

IMC can be defined as “a marketing strategy that relies on multiple media channels to drive engagement, amplify messaging, and build a reputation for the brand or organisation” (Oberlo). Simply put, it’s a form of marketing that merges all forms of media into one cohesive unit to reach your audiences and make sure they receive the right message across all platforms.

Having separate accounts on social media platforms for your brand and company can be a pain. Instead, integrate your marketing activity on social media into one place so you can keep track of all your activity across different platforms. This can be done via a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer which allow for the management of social media accounts from a single dashboard. Integrating your social media activities into one place makes it much easier for potential customers to find your content and discover your social media accounts when searching for products or services related to your niche.

Types Of IMC

There are four distinct types of IMC:

  • Hybrid
  • Multichannel
  • Outsourced
  • Coordinated

Each one of these types of IMC has its own advantages and disadvantages, and knowing which one to use depends on your goals for using the strategy.

A hybrid IMC combines a wide array of online and offline marketing tactics into one plan. Generally, marketers using this approach will have a mix of owned and earned media, with some paid activity and some kind of inbound marketing strategy.

In a multichannel approach, you’ll combine all digital forms of marketing such as search engine marketing (SEM), e-mail marketing, social media marketing (SMM), pay per click (PPC), and conversion tracking into one integrated plan. The advantage of this approach is that you’re able to target the right consumer at the right time with the right message.

In an outsourced IMC, you’ll outsource the creation of all the content to an independent third party, generally a content creation company. This content can take the form of a whitepaper, an e-book, a webinar, or a newsletter.

The disadvantage of an outsourced strategy is that you lose complete control of the content which is often poorly written and generic. This can make it harder for consumers to connect with the content and easier for them to ignore it. It also means you’ll need to be careful about what you share as it can be risky to give away your intellectual property (IP). Lastly, making sales calls or directly sending emails to customers is a time-consuming and tedious process. For those looking for low-cost options, freelancing is one possible solution.

A coordinated IMC approach means you’ll work closely with other departments within your organisation, such as sales, marketing, and customer service. One major advantage of this approach is that you’re able to ensure key messages are being delivered to the right audience via the right channels at the right time. By integrating your marketing activity with other departments, you can gain a better understanding of what your customers want and need throughout the whole customer lifecycle, and use that to identify the best communication channel for the task.

The disadvantage of a coordinated strategy is that you can quickly lose track of the various messages and campaigns as they’re scattered throughout different areas of your company. It also means that it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of individual campaigns and initiatives as they’re not always attributed to a clearly defined marketing plan.

When Do You Need To Use Each Type Of Strategy?

There are certain circumstances when you might want to use each type of strategy.

  • Hybrid – if you want to combine online and offline marketing activities, use this approach as you’ll have both digital and traditional assets that you can use to reach your audience. However, be careful not to overdo it and make it too complex as you may end up losing track of what’s going on.
  • Multichannel – if you want to focus on a single channel (e.g. social media), use this approach as it allows you to explore and implement different strategies on the different platforms. The disadvantage of this approach is that it can be difficult to ensure that all the different platforms are communicating closely with one another and that the various accounts are behaving in a coherent manner.
  • Outsourced – if you want to completely outsource the creation of all the content to an independent third party, use this approach as it saves you the cost and hassle of having in-house content creators. The disadvantage is that you lose control of the content as it’s created by a third party and can’t ensure that the quality is consistent across all the different pieces of content published by the third party.
  • Coordinated – if you want to closely align your marketing activity with other departments within your organisation, such as sales, marketing, and customer service, use this approach as it ensures that all the key messages are being delivered to the right audience via the right channels at the right time. The disadvantage of this approach is that you need to have very senior level support to ensure everything is running smoothly, and you have to be willing to commit the time to ensure that the strategy is working as intended.

The Rise Of Content Marketing

Content marketing is now a viable option for businesses of all sizes and marketers must harness this option to ensure that they’re able to grow and develop their businesses in an increasingly digital world.

The best way to understand content marketing is to consider it as a form of marketing that relies on content to attract, engage, and convert potential customers into actual customers.

The content itself doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to create; any form of regular content, such as a blog post, can be used.

Blogs are one of the most popular and prolific forms of content on the web, with 66% of B2C companies and 68% of B2B companies using blogs to gain customer insight and engage with customers online.

Blogs can serve a number of purposes, from providing useful, informative content for customers to gain an understanding of the product or service to providing a source of news and information about your niche.

The main goal of a business blog is to attract and engage with potential customers. Companies such as HubSpot, which provides marketing software, understand this and have developed a content strategy that serves multiple needs, generating leads, boosting SEO rankings, and enhancing brand awareness.

Focusing on content creation and distribution is only the first part of the equation; you also need to be thinking about how to engage with and grow your audience. For this, you can use a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer which can help you manage your blog posts and build your audience, or you can use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to engage with your customers.

Digital Marketing Vs. Traditional Marketing

The evolution of digital marketing and social media has made it easier than ever for marketers to connect with consumers, but this comes with a caveat: the competition has increased as well.