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Integrated Marketing Communication in a Push/Pull Marketplace

The second keynote at ANZCA 2009 is by Philip Kitchen, whose interest is in integrated marketing communication, which he says is especially important in the context of the current financial crisis. In this context, there's a need for curriculum, not conquest marketing, for relationship building rather than just sales, for sharing with consumers rather than shouting at them. Consumer marketplace empowerment, however, may only be apparent at this point - while we are moving in that direction, we haven't reached the end yet.

What about IMC in this context? Is IMC overhyped, or does it provide genuinely new approaches? IMC needs to be recast into a new format and new formula, Philip suggests. It was based on evident changes in the consumer and customer landscape in the 1980s and 1990s, when there was a massive expansion of media choices that led to arguments for a 'one sight, one sound' marketing communications approach. In this view, there was an assumption that communications were linear, outbound, and controlled by marketers. This provided the early basis for IMC approaches, and linked to customer relations management approaches and the close alignment of marketing and finance.

Integrated marketing communication provided the basis for integrated marketing itself; consumers are here finally seen as the driving force in marketing activities - but IMC remained outbound and organisationally directed in spite of the growing recognition of the switch in marketplace power relations between marketers and consumers.

Today, the marketplace has changed, consumers have changed, media systems have changed, and marketing organisations have changed, so there's a need to redevelop IMC for the new interactive push/pull marketplace. This is in spite of the still disputed definition of IMC, and the lack of accepted measurement methodologies for IMC results. There is, however, a progression from IMC via integrated corporate communications through integrated brand communications or integrated marketing, and finally to an emerging model of consumer-integrated brand marketing which is yet to be fully developed. Traditional advertising players need to come to terms with these coming trends if they want to survive in this changing environment.

In the first stages of such developments, this is also a progression here from conventional inside-out communication approaches to outside-in models (where the brand acts as crucible), to hardware and software applications which gather consumer information on an ongoing and iterative basis and turn customer data into customer knowledge, to financial and strategic integration, and finally through to integrated marketing - but many advertising players are skipping directly from inside-out marketing communication to integrated marketing without paying more than lip-service to outside-in forms of communication.

At least half of all marketers remain stuck in the first stage, and remain sales organisations shouting at consumers; progressively smaller numbers of institutions have so far advanced to the higher levels and moved towards true integrated marketing models. There are some obvious successes for one-sight, one-sound, first-phase integrated marketing communication models, but consumer-integrated brand marketing remains in the distant future for many.

Push/pull marketing, consumer-to-consumer marketing communication, and the central importance of branding all throw new spanners into the works; there are new challenges of synergy between different communications, media channels, and other elements of marketing; and traditional models of marketing now often seem somewhat worn and tawdry. There is a need to understand the dynamics of current markets, and understand consumer behaviour in more depth. This may be more of a failure of companies attempting to implement IMC than it is a failure of IMC itself (but perhaps also of IMC researchers communicating their ideas to marketers).

There is now a growing focus on building brand value through integrated marketing (not integrated marketing communication); in this approach, the brand is now the central vision that drives business performance, culture, vision, and attitude. This takes place in the context of the emerging three screen market (TV, Internet, mobile), which incidentally operates very differently in different countries - and attempted marketing reforms to date are attempted to be driven by US marketers who are largely unaware of such differences.

Philip introduces Samsung as a useful example for these changes - in the 1990s, for example, the company had various positions of market leadership, but no substantial brand positioning in difference from well-known market leaders (e.g. Sony). The company began a process of brand building, and repositioned itself as a premium brand through product desig, distribution channel revamping, pricing changes, and new communications strategies through all potential touchpoints. This has been very successful in terms of brand positioning as well as brand and share values.

Overall, then, a further move towards consumer-integrated brand marketing means that market share, consumers, and branding must be considered to be inextricably intertwined. Marketers especially for successful brands, however, remain apathetic about consumers - they are not driven to innovate their marketing approaches. Only declining market shares, sales, and brand value act as wake-up calls for marketers. Brand makeovers which may follow as a result must be more than simply promotion campaigns - customers drive businesses, and managers need to focus attention on the dynamics of the markets they serve. The IMC journey is far from over.

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