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IMC, The Importance of Message Consistency Integrated marketing communication (IMC) involves the synergistic use of public relations

in tandem with other promotional tools to promote products, services, causes, or candidates. ORIGINS OF IMC The traditional tools in the "promotion mix" used by marketers include advertising, sales promotion, direct response, personal selling, and public relations/publicity. Clients have used these tools for many years, but beginning in the early 1990s marketers and advertisers began to recognize the importance of using these tools more effectively in combination. The advertising agency business, in particular, became alarmed about reduced spending on traditional space and time advertising. Clients were shifting dollars away from activities based on building long-term brand awareness and brand equity to activities that would generate more immediate, demonstrable results: trade and consumer promotions, direct response, and cause-related marketing and events. Agencies responded by promoting the idea that they could coordinate all these elements for clients and acquired or established alliances with companies with expertise in these other specialties. ELUSIVENESS OF INTEGRATION Early IMC theorizing called for an audiencecentered (versus activity-centered or product-centered) approach to marketing communications. Implicit in this approach was recognition that various tools could be used to reach audiences. Early IMC theorizing also emphasized the extension of the same metrics used to measure advertising to all communications efforts. Duncan (2002, p. 8) defined IMC as the "cross-functional process for creating and nourishing profitable relationships with customers and other stakeholders by strategically controlling or influencing all messages sent to these groups and encouraging data-driven purposeful dialogue with them." IMC advocates have identified a series of stages through which integration progresses: (a) awareness within the organization; (b) image integration, or the melding of messages and themes across communications activities; (c) functional integration of units responsible for producing messages; (d) consumer and database integration, where customer intelligence is brought together; (e) stake-holder integration to address groups beyond customers; and (f) technological integration, where communications with customers are both intelligent and interactive. These varying approaches suggest that integration is actually conceptualized and used in a variety of ways today. Full integration has been difficult to achieve due to structural, economic, creative, and tactical issues that continue to differentiate the disciplines involved in the process. Advertising continues to receive top priority in many programs because of the broad reach and awareness ads can create (and the large revenues generated from advertising for agencies). Sales promotion, direct response, and public relations are often ancillary activities, considered only after a creative direction for advertising is established. Full integration is also difficult because of the different creative, production, and distribution conventions used by these disciplines. Integrated communications campaigns invariably involve the conjoint efforts of communications professionals with different skills, training, and orientations who create different genres of communications that follow different conventions. Even with the best of intentions, these inherent differences pose misunderstandings and conflicts. Among some public relations practitioners, IMC has been viewed as anPgina 427 | Inicio del artculo encroachment by imperialistic marketers who seek to take over the public relations function. Public relations practitioners produce a wide range of tools that can be used in an IMC campaign. These

include product publicity, speeches and presentations, events (celebrations, tours, meetings, conferences), and school and club programs. Significantly, some tools commonly used in public relations also might be assigned to sales promotion or direct response specialists. Examples are publications (collateral), displays, exhibitions, audiovisuals, direct mail and email, and Web sites. Corporate advertising, cause-related marketing, and campaigns involving tie-ins with philanthropic organizations are examples of where traditional distinctions between public relations and marketing functions have become blurred. COORDINATION OF CAMPAIGN ELEMENTS An integrated marketing communications campaign, at minimum, requires three elements: (a) deployment of different tools and media to achieve the objectives or outcomes for which they are best suited, (b) timing of campaign elements to take maximum advantage of each, and (c) message consistency or continuity so that audiences recognize a topic or message as being familiar. Coordination Of Tools Integrated communication involves optimizing the effectiveness and efficiency of various marketing tools. Certain communications tools are especially well suited to achieve particular outcomes as outlined in Table 1. Coordination Of Message Timing Integration also involves purposefully disseminating messages using the same or different strategies to maximize results. In a new product introduction, for example, it is customary to lead with a new product publicity announcement to take full advantage of media interest and a product's inherent newsworthiness. Once fully exploited, publicity efforts are often reduced (unless there is ongoing news interest) and advertising begins. In-store sales promotion (point-of-purchase, etc.) often coincides with the initial advertising campaigns, but also can be used later to bolster interest when no public advertising is being used. Direct response often follows publicity and advertising, capitalizing on previous awareness and interest to stimulate ordering. Coordination Of Message Content Marketers seeking maximum integration and messages will ensure that messages carry common elements across communications tools wherever possible. Elements include common brand identification, spokespersons, and message themes (product promises, benefits, descriptions, and key facts). To the extent possible, consistent use of executional features of advertising such as logos, signatures, slogans, and graphic designs can provide important cues that attract attention, trigger recall, and facilitate learning and memory. The critical issue in message integration is consistencyspeaking with a "single voice." Contradictory positioning or descriptions of a product or service obviously should be avoided. However, research suggests that moderate levels of inconsistency might actually increase attention to messages because audiences are motivated to resolve differences between a message's content and their existing knowledge stored in memory. Psychologists describe this phenomenon as a desire for cognitive consistency or the reduction of cognitive dissonance. Varying messages within or across media categories has been shown to enhance interest and avoid the problem of message "wear-out," where people become bored and disengage from message processing. In publicity and other forms of promotion where marketers have control of message content, varying the source, phrasing, and valence of messages can contribute to message acceptance because the message appears to be from a source other than the marketer. The challenge for effective publicity thus is to imbue the message with sufficient cues to create linkages with other communications that might appear as part of an integrated campaign.