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What Is Integrated Marketing Communications?

May 10, 2021
A group of Medill students conduct a product lifecycle work session on the white board

Marketing is literally all around us. The ratio of networked devices to U.S. citizens is currently 8 to 1, and that is only expected to rise in coming years. Today, U.S. adults consume media on average for more than 12 hours per day. In order to make an impact with an audience this scattered, with practically boundless opportunities to engage with media on their own terms, savvy marketers must learn how to be everywhere and anywhere their consumer might find them.

Integrated marketing communications, or IMC, describes a broad and tactical effort to reach this modern audience, one comprising both the art and the science of marketing. Read on for some key components of IMC strategy, and find out what might be in store for you in a high-impact marketing career today.

A Multi-Channel Approach

The first step in understanding what defines integrated marketing communications is to understand what, exactly, is being integrated in this approach. Because marketing in the 21st century is defined by the burgeoning array of media platforms across which engagement is possible, an integrated marketing approach seeks to create a consistent experience for consumers across all of them.

Integrated marketing campaigns can include a web presence, social media, email campaigns, digital advertising, out-of-home ads and experiences, television commercials, and other platforms where opportunities occur. Through repeated engagement across media, a successful integrated marketing campaign will build deep knowledge of and a strong relationship with a brand, ideally one that results in positive feelings of familiarity and trust.

Cohesive Messaging and Design

Across each of the above platforms, the key to achieving a truly integrated campaign is through meticulous attention to creating a consistent, cohesive brand identity. This means ensuring all assets are aligned in terms of their visual design and content strategy. The “communications” element of integrated marketing communications can be understood to the strategic alignment of each point of contact to deliver the right message in the right way.

Clearly articulated brand guidelines are key to creating successful cross-platform integration. These include typeface, colors, editorial guidelines like punctuation and capitalization rules, repeated use of stock photos or models, recurring taglines, consistent design layouts, or anything else that might signal to a viewer that the message they are receiving in one location is related to one they’ve encountered in another. The best integrated marketing campaigns will deliver a cohesive and compelling story across a wide set of engagements, a narrative that can educate, persuade and shape affinity.

Data-Driven Strategy

As it occurs across a multitude of digital platforms, an integrated marketing communications approach has the built-in benefit of generating copious amounts of user data. Whether impressions and clicks on social media, email opens, page views on a product’s website or form fills on a landing page, users are constantly leaving a digital trace of their engagement with an integrated marketing campaign.

The savviest professionals working in the integrated marketing communications paradigm will collect all the data they can from their customer interactions in order to guide their IMC strategy. They can use email data collected in a customer relationship management program like Marketo or Salesforce to optimize subject lines to increase opens or link placement to drive more clicks. They can take clickthrough data into account from Google Analytics to ensure that the right ads with the right messages are being served to the right users. And they can closely monitor engagement on their social platforms to gauge the impact their campaign is making and the brand affinity they are building.

Focused on Relationships

At the end of the day, integrated marketing communications is about the successful relationships that can be built both within the marketing organization and outside of it. It involves a host of team members operating with a common strategy and a shared goal, from copywriters and graphic designers to brand managers, social media managers, data analysts, and other members of the marketing team. It also requires cross-functional coordination between marketing team members and product designers, sales representatives and technical support professionals, among others in the organization.

While relationships structure the work done to create integrated marketing campaigns, strong and lasting relationships with the customer base are the measure of their success. When consumers know instantly what brand is speaking to them when a digital ad pops up on their browser or a clever email subject line appears in their inbox, and when they not only accept this appeal but welcome it, a successfully integrated multichannel campaign can be thanked.

Master the Art and Science of Integrated Marketing Communications at Medill

The Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications Professional program from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University is your pathway toward a leadership role in the field. Learn more about our faculty of innovators and successful marketing executives, and discover the valuable skills you will learn in a high-impact curriculum that can only be delivered by the school that invented IMC.