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Integrated Marketing Communication


The complexity of the marketing environment for organizations that operate in the current competitive market calls for the integration of marketing communication. This demand introduces the first question that organizations need to consider when developing a marketing communication policy in any market: Does the organization have the capacity to integrate their marketing initiatives? IMC acknowledges the importance of developing a comprehensive plan, which evaluates the strategic role of various communication disciplines, including advertising, sales promotion, and public relations among others, in developing a clear, consistent, and high-impact brand or product communication.

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Nevertheless, some scholars in the field of marketing communication believe that integration of marketing communications is incredibly difficult. For example, Pickton and Broderick (2005, p.28) suggests, ‘Integration is not easy to achieve but when it is achieved, the 4 E’s and 4 C’s of IMC create the synergistic benefits of integration.’ The statement is in line with Keller’s (2009, p.139) definition of integrated marketing communication. According to Keller (2009, p.139), IMC involves the ‘mixing and matching of different communication options to establish the desired awareness and image in the minds of consumers.’ This paper demonstrates an understanding of this statement using visual communication examples. However, it first discusses the concept of visual communication.

Visual Communication

Visual communication entails conveying both the intended and unintended messages in a legible manner or in a way that is possible to look upon. According to Reid (2005), constructing the appropriate mental image is an important aspect of both written and spoken language as deployed in marketing communication. Therefore, despite the language used in marketing communication, people will develop some visual images of their understanding of the message passed. Confirming Reid’s (2005) views, Fanara (2016) informs that people’s brain is designed to process visual images since they take all the data on images at ago while texts involve sequential processing.

Textual data goes to short-term memory where it can only be processed in 7 bits at a time. Comparably, image data goes directly to the long-term memory where it is etched permanently. Therefore, any effective integrated marketing campaign should involve blending communication techniques that guarantee the creation of long-term brain images to induce long-term memories on the brand under promotion. To this extent, the integration of visual communication techniques is inevitable. However, in line with Luck and Moffatt’s (2009) views, Pickton and Broderick (2005, p.28) believe that such integration is incredibly difficult, although when realized, an organization acquires synergies that are beneficial since the 4Es and 4Cs of IMC are actualized.

Difficulties in integrating Visual Communication in an IMC Strategy

An enlarging body of research such as the work of Luck and Moffatt (2009) and Micu and Pentina (2014) indicates that when integration of marketing communications is achieved, an organization acquires some beneficial success synergies. For new products and services to have market appeal, different marketing communication approaches must be deployed to reach a different target audience of the adverts (Luck & Moffatt 2009).

This implies that advertising needs to create brand appeal. In the same school of thought, Micu and Pentina (2014, p. 159) studied the impact of ‘paid advertising (banner ad) and publicity (news article plus banner ad) on attitude toward the brand in the context of different product categorization approaches’. They accomplished this goal by deploying the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and economics theory on the information in testing approaches via which various communication modes affected the attitude of consumers towards different brand categories.

The research findings indicated that ELM creates an effective attitude towards a product compared to information economics (Micu & Pentina 2014). Ewing (2009) agrees with the authors by noting that the inclusion of information concerning a brand in an online advertising environment communication mix, which principally involves visual communications, has a significant impact on brand attitude for products that have a low and/or moderate involvement. For high-involvement products, the ELM presumption holds when credible information is included in the advertisement mix. To determine the overall effectiveness of IMC campaigns, measurement is crucial to establish the success of different IMC synergies.

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An effective IMC needs to develop a coherent meaning of the communicated brand through different methodologies. Organizations need to consider integrating messages about a product (Finne & Gronroos 2009; Ewing 2009). In the process of creating meaning, historical, future, internal, and external factors are worth consideration in the IMC campaign adopted by any organization (Finne & Gronroos 2009).

IMC projects that yield success in the long-term need to be creative and innovative to help in addressing the things that consumers look for in products in the marketplace. However, Stuhlfault and Yoo (2013) assert that many organizations test and evaluate their IMC alternatives in late stages. Such evaluation and testing become waste and expensive. Nevertheless, when timed well, an organization can develop IMC alternatives that possess humor, novelty, effect, and utility. Such IMC initiatives are coherent, complementary, consistent, and continuous.

The goal of integrated marketing communication entails seeking strategies for developing and building strong brands. Keller (2009) provides a model for brand equity evaluation that enables marketers to develop and manage brands in a changing marketing environment. He provides and reviews the brand resonance pyramid to help in tracking marketing communications within an organization to create customer loyalty and long-lasting relationships.

Mallia and Windels (2013) concur with Keller’s (2009) line of thought when it comes to creating effective IMC projects. Mallia and Windels (2013) argue that organizations experience challenges, especially in the leadership role of directing such campaigns. Basing their research on 43 interviews, Mallia and Windels (2013) concluded that effective creative directors in advertising agencies deploy expertise in strategy development, creativity, and interpersonal communication. The goal is to motivate and/or mentor their co-workers to develop brand communication, including managing brand identities congruently with organizations’ vision and mission. To this extent, the environment of marketing communication is an important success factor for any integrated visual communication.

The modern trend in visual integrated communication is shifting towards the IMC paradigm in a digital setting. Pickton and Broderick (2005) argue that in case of integration is realized, an organization acquires significant benefits arising from 4Es and 4Cs. (Beba and Mira (2014) uphold a similar opinion by positing that IMC is achievable in case an organization deploys some standardized messages.

In the case of visual communication, the challenge is that images may create different meanings, depending on the context and perceptions of the target audience. This observation is manifested where an organization uses integrated visual communication to create a certain brand association. For example, consider a case where an organization advertises its juice as produced from naturally ripened fruits. The advert also has pictorial information on how these fruits look like.

The advert may create a strong brand image for an organization, depending on the state of the agricultural development of the audience. For example, the audience with advanced agricultural technologies may see and interpret the communication as reflecting the best and most desirable product that leaves one wanting to consume more of it. However, audiences with a poor state of agricultural development may view the inclusion of the phrase ‘blended from naturally repined fruits’ as contradicting what they understand the phrase to mean.

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Therefore, such audiences may consider integrated visual communication as misleading where the context involves people living in a harsh environment. In this setting, natural ripening in the agricultural field destroys the ultimate taste of the fruit. The challenge here is evident in the development of standardized integrated visual communication that can help in realizing the 4Cs and 4Es. Standardization is challenging since a marketing communication must apply to the context in which the audience receives the communication (Tancharoen 2016).

This claim is in line with Pickton and Broderick’s (2005) argument that integrated marketing communication cannot apply to every audience. The problematic issue is to standardize the context in a manner that visual marketing communication creates the same brand image and association as intended by the IMC strategy designer.

The 4Es refer to enhancing, economical, efficient, and effective communication. Therefore, through the ‘enhancing’ component of the 4Es, it is possible to transmit coherent communication by only selecting one message to target a given audience. Consequently, the audience does not become confused following the transmission of multiple messages, which may destroy the brand image. Pickton and Broderick (2005) layout a mechanism for countering the problem of standardization. They posit that the IMC strategy should not just focus on transmitting some standardized messages. Rather, marketing communication strategists should aim at adhering to a common understanding of a brand. In this process, it is critical to first apply the concept of efficiency coupled with the economical aspect of the 4Es to select the right and appropriate set of integrated visual communication systems.

Depending on the adopted strategy and maintaining its consistency, the 4Cs aspects of integrated communication are critical in ensuring the success of visual IMC. 4Cs denote coherent, consistent, complementary, and continuity of marketing communication. Consistent strategies do not self-contradict. In line with Pickton and Broderick’s (2005) method of offsetting the problem of standardization, such consistent strategies have the implication of favorably supporting a given brand (Luxton, Reid & Mavondo 2015).

A good example of successful deployment of visual integrated communication strategies that satisfy the 4Es and 4Cs is in the airline industry. For instance, the success of Virgin Atlantic Airways in terms of its global leadership has been achieved through the deployment of visual integrated communication strategies that meet the 4Es and 4Cs. Pictures 1(a) and 1(b) show some of the adverts used by the airline.

  • Virgin Atlantic Airways Commercials for 2011.
    Virgin Atlantic Airways Commercials for 2011.
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways Commercials for 2011.
    Virgin Atlantic Airways Commercials for 2011.

The above two commercials illustrate consistency, complementary, coherency, and continuity of the integrated marketing communication. For example, the legible aspect of the advert is the same for both cases. Hence, the audience will have the same interpretation of the two visual communication designs. The most basic interpretation here is that Virgin Atlantic has the best set of crewmembers to attend a client. This interpretation leads to the association of one’s considered best-in-class customer service and experience with Virgin Atlantic Airways. To this extent, integrated visual marketing communication leaves all audiences wanting to experience and/or associate themselves with Virgin Atlantic Airlines.

Mart and Gergely (2015) argue that organizations experience high failure rates in their integrated marketing initiatives. Greenley, Graham, and Rudd (2005) counter-argue that IMC is received positively as a strategy for marketing management because it incorporates perspectives of multi-stakeholder communications. However, Mart and Gergely (2015) insist that little is known about the failures of its implementation in practice.

After conducting an ethnographic study in the Swedish context, Mart and Gergely (2015) identified compartmentalization, de-contextualization, dysfunction arising from miscommunication, and reduced trust as important sources of failure of the IMC. Even if the goal of any organization is to initiate an integrated visual communication marketing campaign that leads to better brand positioning, Mart and Gergely’s (2015) findings are important since an organization must consider all possible factors that may lead to the failure of IMC.

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Considering that integration of marketing communication is incredibly hard to achieve, organizations need to consider the extent to which each element of visual communication mix can be controlled or adapted to specific contexts to realize the 4Cs and 4Es synergies of integrated marketing communication. Most importantly, an organization needs to consider the effectiveness and credibility of visual communication messages and the manner in which they are received by the intended target. If the communication messages are credible and reliable in portraying the true nature of a brand, they will be regarded as acceptable and effective in influencing clients’ buying decisions.


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