What is IMC? A Beginner’s Guide to Integrated Marketing Communications

This article was contributed by G2 Crowd and was written by Grace Pinegar, a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and now content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, and has come to tolerate, if not enjoy, the opposition of Chicago’s seasons.

When I think of integration, I picture a well-oiled machine.

All the varying parts are working together to create one unified result. It’s why the G2 Crowd research team works so hard to determine which software products integrate with one another. We understand that the ability to use products or services in tandem could make or break your productivity and, in turn, success at meeting goals.

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the strategy that takes your marketing department from disparate functions to one interconnected approach. IMC takes your various marketing collateral and channels — from digital, to social media, to PR, to direct mail — and merges them with one dependable message.

Imagine you’re trying to discover a brand’s message or better understand a company’s mission. If the sales team delivers a different message than the social media marketing specialist, you’re going to have a hard time understanding what that organization’s truth is. IMC seeks to eliminate these inconsistencies and ensure you’re sending the same signals regardless of team or priority.

Integrated marketing communications are beneficial to multiple audiences. First, it helps your consumer better trust your company and its values. Next, it’s beneficial for the stakeholders in your organization. Owners or those on the board will be content to see your marketing team deliver a consistent message to the audiences that will make your company a success.

If you find your marketing team struggles to deliver a cohesive message, it likely stems from a lack of understanding of the importance of an integrated marketing approach. Simply give this guide a good look and consider making it a required read for any employees looking to help unify your company’s marketing strategies.

What is integrated marketing communications?

We mentioned it briefly above, but IMC is the act of unifying your company’s marketing message across channels.

“Integrated marketing is an approach to creating a unified and seamless experience for consumers to interact with the brand/enterprise; it attempts to meld all aspects of marketing communication such as advertising, sales promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and social media, through their respective mix of tactics, methods, channels, media, and activities, so that all work together as a unified force. It is a process designed to ensure that all messaging and communications strategies are consistent across all channels and are centered on the customer.”

Data and Marketing Association

Not every campaign has to consist of IMC. This strategy combines old and new methods, and its relevance will depend on the content of the campaign and the desired effects.

Integrated marketing communications examples

To understand these concepts further, consider some of the following examples of real campaigns executed by real companies.

1. Always #LikeAGirl — Beauty and feminine care brands are increasingly trying to be a voice for good. Whether that’s for the benefit of society or their own bottom line, only they could say. Studies show that girls’ self esteem worsens as they reach puberty, which is coincidentally the same time Always feminine care products start to appear in many young women’s lives.

In an effort to combat this decrease in self esteem, Always came up with the #LikeAGirl campaign that sought to change the way we perceive the phrase, “You __ like a girl.” The campaign spanned multiple mediums, such as TV, print, and social media. The video below is easily the most memorable of the integrated marketing efforts, as it showed the differences in how older girls perceive their limitations, as opposed to younger girls.

The campaign’s video was considered a documentary and won eight different awards from the British charity, Design and Art Direction. The video currently has more than 65 million views on YouTube, and still regularly receives new comments.

2. Domino’s AnyWare — When you’re hungry, and especially “pizza hungry,” you want food immediately. You don’t want to wade through endless topping options, enter your payment information, update your current address, and then patiently await the delivery person.

Domino’s AnyWare campaign fully addressed this issue by creating a streamlined system of ordering that could be completed through almost any platform. Hungry customers could use Twitter, text messages, smartwatches, and smart TVs to get their orders in. Not only that, but Domino’s pre-established pizza profiles had their consumers’ go-to orders saved. Truly, ordering a pizza was a one-click service.

This campaign garnered more than 2 million impressions on social media and was featured on multiple celebrity talk shows. It also significantly increased the number of pizza orders that were made through digital devices.

The best news? This service continues to be available and is only more accessible with the recent advent of home smart devices. Domino’s currently lets customers order pizza through their Google Home, Alexa, Facebook Messenger, and even their company Slack. Talk about integration!

3. GoPro: Be a Hero — GoPro has used its Be a Hero campaign to emotionally appeal to the masses. The video camera brand sells portable, durable devices that encourage thrill-seekers to record their adventurous moments. Whether it be a run down a challenging ski-slope or footage of your company’s field day, GoPros are there to capture adventure at every angle.

The company’s Be a Hero campaign spanned multiple mediums, including magazines, billboards, in-store displays, and digital marketing. It was mostly created to advertise its new Hero device. As stated on the website of Tyler Morten, whose design work made up much of the campaign,:

“Whether it’s chasing a dream in the backcountry or chasing your kids at the park, anyone who pursues their true passions and lives to the fullest is a HERO. This campaign was created to inspire everyone to live a full life and find new ways capture and share their experiences using GoPro’s expanding ecosystem of cameras, mounts, accessories and software.”

Tyler Morten

The campaign includes footage from a plethora of these heroes, from surfers riding the waves, to drivers heading into the sunset. The brand’s message is clear: heroes are all around us.

4. Snap Inc. Spectacles — We’ve all heard of wearables: Apple watches, Fitbits, and Google Glass (may it rest in peace). But, when Snapchat released its Spectacles, which had the capacity to take photographs and videos in real-time and send them to users’ mobile devices through Bluetooth, people were interested to see how wearables faired as photographic devices.

Snapchat went beyond this initial invention with their guerrilla marketing campaign of installing vending machines around certain cities referred to as Snapbots. These traveling vending machines physically vended the devices for $129.99. Consumers would wait in line to purchase the glasses, creating conversation and buzz around an already intriguing product.

This integrated marketing campaign found a way to blend a digital product with a physical sales booth. People increased the reach of this campaign by posting about it on their own social media profiles, leading the campaign to gather even more attention than it would have from Snapchat alone.

5. Snickers: You’re not you when you’re hungry — As someone who is emotionally affected by low blood pressure, Snickers’ “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign struck a chord with me. Arguably, its most popular execution was the release of commercials featuring celebrity cameos wherein the celebrity would act out, leading Snickers to reveal it was a regular person who wasn’t acting like themselves because they were hungry.

Snickers continued this campaign through social media, print advertisements, and retail. Just recently at Walgreen’s, I noticed that Snickers candy bar wrappers have phrases such as “hangry” and “savage” printed where the label would normally go. This is a continuation of this campaign, reminding consumers that when they don’t eat for an extended period of time, they become these things.

This campaign blew up for Snickers, mainly because of the celebrity appearances. It was especially popular during Superbowl 2015, with celebrities such as Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo and the use of vintage television show The Brady Bunch. Effie.org shows that this campaign resulted in an 18,000 percent increase in YouTube searches for Snickers.

What are the benefits of an integrated marketing campaign?

Before investing in any marketing strategy, you want to ensure it will be effective. Here are a few reasons to try out an integrated marketing campaign.

Effective and cost effective — First of all, it works. You saw just some of the results listed above in relation to the campaign examples. Two million impressions on social media is not something brands come by every day. To see success like that, it’s necessary to strategize every step of the way. IMCs are thought out from top to bottom.

These campaigns also allow users or potential customers to do some of the marketing work for you. Remember when we said interested customers waiting in line for the Snapchat Spectacles used their own social media profiles to increase awareness? While the campaign itself might be an investment, the surrounding publicity comes for free.

These campaigns reduce cost by developing multi-use materials. Videos, imagery, copy, and more can all be passed from one medium to the other. This ensures consistency and keeps you from having to hire designers for a plethora of jobs. It’s a simple way to save that, no doubt, makes a difference in the end.

Additionally, united messages are more effective at increasing return on investment than a myriad of disparate commercials or advertisements. Creating an integrated marketing campaign is a lot like planning a themed birthday party. You come up with the original idea, then brainstorm various ways to execute it. If the theme is superheroes, then your decorations, games, and favors should all fit that theme. Otherwise, you risk having a misunderstanding with your audience. (Or in this case, fourth grade class!)

Integrated marketing is everywhere — These days, advertisements are so in tune to our individual interests, it is almost to the point of being creepy. Integrated marketing campaigns are effective because they are everywhere. You see the Snickers commercial not just on the TV between episodes of Friends, but during the Superbowl of all times. Then you see that commercial again, but with a different celebrity. Then you head to Walgreen’s to pick up your prescription, only to see Snickers changed its packaging to reflect the campaign.

It’s a lot like when you hear a new pop song on the radio. At first, you might hate its repetition and subpar lyrics. But after weeks, and then months, of hearing it on your way to work every morning, you may grow to like that song. Next thing you know, you’re front row at that artist’s concert singing the lyrics to the song you once hated.

This is an extreme example, but it’s fairly parallel to the way consistent advertisements work on us. Even though we didn’t rush out and buy the product the first time we see a commercial, our familiarity with the product grows, and we are more likely to purchase it at a later date.

It builds a relationship — Integrated marketing campaigns are all about the customer. You’re trying to build rapport with them, increase your own brand awareness, and improve your reputation. These campaigns get customers talking about you in casual conversation, similar to the way one might mention running into an old friend, or seeing a new movie that just came out.

“Hey, have you seen those new Snickers commercials? They remind me of you and how hungry you got on our road trip to Phoenix.”

“Did you see that Always documentary? The little girl in the video reminded me so much of Sofia. I cried at my desk.”

Conversations such as these get your consumers talking about the human elements of advertising campaigns. The way they felt and the things they thought—all of these reactions are helping you grow closer to your consumer. Your campaign creates an image and a reputation, and consumers get to decide how they feel about it.

Additionally, this integrated strategy builds trust between you and your customers. Think back to your school days. Your parents had a set of rules, your teachers had a set of rules, and your principals had their own set of rules. When these rules are all fairly similar — no hitting, no stealing, no unkind words — it’s much easier for children to follow them. That way, they don’t have to think about which authority allows what kind of behavior.

The same goes for your integrated marketing campaign. A message that values and pursues consistency will result in more understanding from your target audience. It’s important the various departments within your organization are all saying the same thing and sharing the same message. In this way, consumers know who to trust.

Risks of integrated marketing campaigns

As with all things, it’s important to consider any potential risks involved. Going beyond the benefits to understand what trials could lie ahead will help you be more prepared to handle any challenges that arise.

Reluctance within management teams — Think of all the different departments involved in an integrated marketing campaign. Before you can integrate externally, you have to integrate internally. This means design, working with sales, working with various marketing departments, working with public relations, and any other teams involved in your campaign execution process.

One challenge of IMC is that professionals often don’t want to relinquish their authority or share the budget that exists for their team. IMC campaigns require that teams come together on agreement, while also sharing resources to do so.

Before choosing to do an integrated marketing campaign, examine the structure of your teams. How would they handle a challenge such as this? Granted, being able to accept and overcome challenges is an accepted responsibility of being in the workforce and your employees should be willing to oblige if this is truly the route you wish to take.

Consider the objectives that may arise from other departments and how you will overcome them. Remember the shared goal you all have in common.

Restriction of ideas — When you set out to do an integrated marketing campaign, all other ideas are on hold for a period of time. We’ve said already that the point of an IMC is to present cohesive messaging so consumers clearly understand your angle. This means any ideas your creative team has in the interim will have to remain on the back burner. Even if it’s a really lovely idea, you can’t have your campaigns competing for attention. All hands have to be on deck serving the same purpose. In some instances, this can make your creative teams feel stifled or ignored. When choosing to execute an IMC, consider the attention and time that will have to be devoted to this one project.

How to execute an integrated marketing campaign

Creating an integrated marketing campaign is a more complicated process than creating a social media campaign or running billboard advertisements. Being that you’re using multiple channels to send the same message, there is no step-by-step process every team can follow to execute a perfect campaign.

So much of running an IMC is deciding what’s best for your company, such as which channels will be the most lucrative and whether to implement a humorous or informative approach. Here are some ideas on what behaviors will most likely result in success.

  1. Alignment — The most important aspect of an IMC is that all aspects are aligned. The various channels or mediums used should all deliver a cohesive message. Team members should be clear on the goals and overall messaging so every effort works to strengthen the others. All team members should be running toward the same finish line, so to speak. When executing an efficient and successful integrated marketing campaign, there is no time for misunderstandings.
  2. Clear leadership — As mentioned earlier, an integrated marketing campaign often requires teamwork from different teams or departments. Your group should decide early in the process who is the ultimate authority for the campaign. This reduces chances of discrepancies later on. It also gives you a person to turn to when things go wrong, such as going over budget or when there are disagreements about the overall message.
  3. Goals — Having your goals determined before beginning an IMC could be the difference between success and failure. You should never begin a campaign without understanding what you expect to gain from it. Do you want more engagements? Are you looking to increase your overall annual recurring revenue?
  4. Clear workflow — An integrated marketing campaign has about a million or so moving parts, if we’re rounding up. Establishing a clear and defined workflow from the beginning ensures no steps are left out, nothing gets lost in the shuffle, and all deadlines are met. Especially with teams working together that may never have collaborated before, it’s important that every contributor knows where to send their work after they’ve done their part.

Integrated marketing campaigns hold brands together

An integrated marketing campaign is your opportunity to show customers the extent of your creativity, as well as deliver a distinct message across multiple channels. When done well, it can have your brand name bouncing around in thousands of text messages, emails, or weekend brunch conversations.

The effects of this attention and awareness are impossible to measure completely, as so much of the response to an integrated marketing campaign is subconscious. Is someone buying a Snickers bar in the Walgreen’s checkout line because of the incredible integrated marketing campaign they’ve been privy to or because they’re hungry and a chocolate bar caught them in the right place at the right time?

These specific questions we can’t answer, unless of course you’re contacting brands every time you make a purchase to let them know the reason you’ve bought their product.

We do know one thing: the squeaky wheel gets the customers.