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Integrated Marketing Communication is the Present and Future

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Integrated Marketing Communication

Have you ever heard of integrated marketing communication?

It’s not a hot new idea. In fact, it’s a concept that has been around for a long time but didn’t get much attention from marketers until the 1990s.

At its most basic, the idea is to have consistent messaging over multiple marketing channels.

It may sound easy but there are many challenges and it’s not just understanding how the different channels work.

It could be the way your company is structured or functions.

It could also be the way you view marketing and communication for your business.

The one I do know is that integrated marketing communication isn’t a fad or buzzword. It’s the present and the future.


Good question. Let me tell you but first, let’s take a look at the past.

Traditional Marketing and the Silos

Traditional marketing focused on reach and awareness.

This comes from the Mad Men era of marketing when print and radio thrived and you could count the number of television channels available in your area on one hand.

Marketing was seen as not much more than another word for advertising which was viewed to be the best way of reaching an audience and building awareness.

There are some that still see it this way. The Mad Men mindsight has proven to be durable.

There has always been more to marketing than advertising. In the 21st century, the internet has allowed new ways to reach people such as email marketing, social media, and content marketing.

Advertising is still alive well and public relations is still important.

Inside your business, you may look at all these things and decide you need specialists for all these things and thus form different teams with a specific focus.

Each team works in its own silo and there are advantages to this. When your marketing teams are working in their own silos, they are often the experts on that channel.

For example, your social media team will know the different social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat inside out.

The problem with this is that while your teams are experts in a particular channel, teams that are in silos are so focused on what they are doing that they have no idea what the other teams are doing.

You might have been able to get away with this 20 years ago but now it’s a problem.

If your customers are seeing conflicting or inconsistent messaging it could be bad not only for your marketing but for your business as well.

Have you ever spoken to multiple people within an organization and got different answers from some or all of them? Did it make you feel confident in doing business with them? Likely not.

This is the problem with having your teams in silos. They are all doing their own thing. They are disconnected from each other.

There isn’t a common goal and it can create confusion. This doesn’t breed confidence or trust which is a major problem.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way.

What Is Integrated Marketing Communication?

When I graduated from Boise State in 2011, I applied for several jobs that asked me, as part of the interview process, to develop a basic integrated marketing communication plan.

I had no idea what it was. I’d never even heard the term. I had to google it and did a quick crash course but I still didn’t totally get it.

As you might have guessed, I didn’t get those jobs.

Afterward, I purchased a textbook, Integrated Marketing Communication: Creative Strategy from Idea to Implementation by Robyn Blakeman so I could learn more about this concept.

What is integrated marketing communication?

Oddly, the textbook I mentioned falls short of defining it.

I’ve looked elsewhere but honestly, I’ve never seen it defined in only a sentence or two. It’s usually several paragraphs.

On top of this, some of the definitions are aspirational or vague.

Others see integrated marketing communication as nothing more than a strategic choice.

It’s no wonder that integrated marketing communication seems to be one of those buzzwords that you either get or don’t.

Let me put an end to that. I’m going to give you a simple definition.

Integrated marketing communication is the unification of the messaging you do over multiple channels to reach your desired audience.

This is where the model I referred to earlier comes into play.

In late 2016, I was introduced to the PESO model, created by Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks. It’s an integrated marketing communication model that breaks everything down into four areas:

  • Paid Media
  • Earned Media
  • Shared Media
  • Owned Media

I’ve talked about PESO on multiple occasions but in a nutshell paid media is ads. Earned media is media relations. Shared media is social media. And owned media is your website and email list. You can find more about the PESO model here.

Essentially what the PESO model promotes is that these are the four areas that need to be used to reach your audience and they work together.

They are working together in a complementary way to help you reach the same goal or objective.

To be clear, these four areas exist whether you choose choose to integrate them or not.

As I have heard passionately explained on more than one occasion, it isn’t the PESO model if you aren’t using them together because this model is an integrated marketing communication model.

I’m not talking about copying a message from Twitter and posting it on LinkedIn or Facebook.

While that might work sometimes, you need to understand that while the message might be the same, the way you deliver it on different channels isn’t going to be the same.

The ad on Facebook is going to be different from the video you create for your YouTube channel. Same messaging but different ways of delivering.

If you break these elements apart to work on their own, you are creating silos that create opportunities for inconsistent messaging which you now know is problematic.

Think of it this way. In the Marvel movie, The Avengers, the heroes were pretty powerful and had some great success fighting villains on their own in the past.

Their individualism failed when they tried to fight Loki. It wasn’t until they came together and worked as a team that they were finally able to defeat him and his nefarious plan.

This is what we are talking about. Bringing your teams together to work towards the same thing. They all still have their expertise but instead of working on their own, they are now able to work together in a complementary way to get better results.

This is the goal of integrated marketing communication.

Choosing to refrain from allowing the silos to exist and employing an integrated model will produce better results.

Why Integrated Marketing Communication is Important

The world is more fragmented than ever.

60 years ago if you watched a show it was one of the three TV networks: CBS, NBC, or ABC.

Slowly the viewership for the networks eroded as a host of cable channels were born.

It wasn’t just the three TV networks anymore. There was HBO, USA, TBS, TNT, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, A&E, MTV, Nickelodeon, Lifetime, The History Channel…you get the idea.

If you were running advertisements on TV, you had more options but a smaller audience because it was now splintered. After all, people can only watch one TV station at a time.

Streaming has introduced yet another shift. In addition to a small army of TV networks, there is Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBOMax, Peacock, Paramount+, Shudder, and Tubi to name a few.

Print is still alive but many newspapers and magazines across the country have either gone out of business or shifted to online only. Some do both as do television and radio stations.

Traditional radio itself is under assault by services such as satellite radio and streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.

We now live in a world where anybody can write and publish online, produce a podcast, or produce a video for YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, or your own website.

You can reach out to people directly when they subscribe to your email newsletter. You now can also make money off your newsletter by using a service to monetize it with SubStack or Ghost.

Let’s not forget social media. You can be on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, or LinkedIn to promote your business and create new relationships.

Advertising is also still alive and well. You can advertise on social media, a website, and on search engines.

You can use search engine optimization (SEO) to help with visibility in search engine results.

This is all on top of the traditional advertising and PR tactics that have been used for decades.

You have many more options. This is awesome but it also creates a problem.

It’s become harder to hit a large number of people who might be interested in your product or services in only one or two places.

The audience you want to reach has fragmented.

This fragmentation is why you have the need to focus on multiple channels.

Paid, earned, shared, and owned media become essential tools to reach your audience and they need to be integrated so consistent messaging is taking place to create trust.

Integrated Marketing Communication Challenges

As you can imagine, there are challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is embracing an integrated marketing communication approach.

This sounds like it would be easy but the Mad Men era mindsight is still alive and ingrained in many. As I said earlier, it’s proven to be very durable.

The idea that it’s not all about reach and awareness is harder to overcome than you realize but it is essential.

There are also so many options of where to market it can feel overwhelming.

This doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere. In fact, unless you have an enormous budget and a huge team, you shouldn’t be everywhere.

It’s knowing which channels on which you should focus your efforts and this requires research.

You also need to be aware of confirmation bias while doing your research. This is where you research to confirm what you already believe.

It’s fine if a hypothesis you have is proven true after you research but doing research to prove your beliefs true will lead to you wasting your marketing dollars.

While there are some great tools that will be of help to you, such as Spark Toro, it takes time and a thoughtful approach.

You also need to accept that marketing and communication is an experiment. The patience required is a challenge in itself for many businesses that want results yesterday and don’t realize it takes time.

Developing the right content for each stage of the funnel is both an art and a science and your task is to meet your customers where they are with the right piece of content at the right time.

Having the content on the different channels weave together so it creates a unified experience like a piece of music requires exceptional strategic vision and teamwork.

You need to have the right people in place who can execute this type of approach.

I’ve only written a few paragraphs on the challenges but I don’t want you to think that the challenges are small.

If you don’t properly execute your integrated marketing communications, the result will be frustration, stress, and money flushed down the toilet.

How to Use an Integrated Marketing Communication Effectively

I’m not going to make this overly complex. There are really three areas to focus on.

You need to do your research. Yes, I know I mentioned this already but it’s important.

You do not want to base your integrated marketing communications on assumptions. You need data that will help you make the right decisions.

This impacts everything from the channels you choose to use to the audience you are trying to reach to the content that you create.

It’s important to the next piece of this puzzle.

You need to have a plan.

I beat this to death on my site. Why? Because you need to clarify and organize your efforts.

The number one reason I see for the failure of marketing and communication is that there wasn’t a plan.

Nobody knows the goals of the business and there aren’t any real marketing goals that can be tied to them.

It’s just random activity that leads to poor results, anger, and frustration.

You need to figure out where you want to go so you can develop a strategy for how you are going to get there.

I’m talking about your goals. What does success look like and how does your marketing play into this?

You need to clearly state what you are doing and how you will know that this action is working.

This means you need to measure what you are doing.

I talked earlier that one of your challenges will be accepting that marketing is an experiment.

Measuring what you’re doing is important to know what is working. This allows you to optimize what is working and tweak what isn’t.

If you do these things you will be able to execute your integrated marketing communications in an effective way that helps you get the results that will help your business get to where it needs to be.

This is what any marketing should do. Support the business.

The way forward is clear but the choice is yours.

Don’t be left behind with Don Draper. Embrace integrated marketing communication.

*Image by Carlos Gabriel Morales Toro from Pixabay

Shane Carpenter
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Integrated Marketing Communication