01 March 2011

What is IMC?

IMC, or Integrated Marketing Communications, has more than few definitions. Here’s mine: it’s Marketing.

The words “Integrated” and “Communications” are redundant

Any marketer who doesn’t integrate their various marketing communications, in even the smallest way, is so hopelessly siloed they will never survive. There’s simply no excuse in the year 2011 for developing separately your advertising, retail and digital programs. Even in a siloed organization most people acknowledge the need to work across disciplines. Even the most specialized agency acknowledges the need to cooperate with their clients’ other partners.

Thus the word “integrated” is redundant because all marketing must be integrated. I would argue, too, that “marketing” implies some kind of communications, so that word is also redundant.

IMC is just a fancy acronym for Marketing

I confess to having used the term myself, here, here, here and here. In each case the context was a program where we made a specific, dedicated effort to align all the disciplines and deliver for a client a truly integrated marketing program. This effort required a lot of heavy lifting strategically as well as during execution, not to mention the challenge of keeping all the various constituencies moving in the same direction. It’s hard work, especially if you have to wrangle a group of agencies.

We need hard work, because aligning the disciplines doesn’t come naturally. In the days of Ye Olde Marketing, advertising was relatively simple, retail was far less sophisticated, and digital didn’t exist. Today all those disciplines demand attention, so we need specific, dedicated efforts that change our behavior and help make IMC – uh, modern marketing, come naturally.

Stop calling it IMC

The risk in continuing to use the term “IMC” is that some marketers and some agencies will treat only some marketing as “integrated” – which means that other kinds of marketing are what, exactly? Disparate? Traditional? Antiquated? It starts to sound like Ye Olde Marketing.

I’m not starting to a campaign to extinguish the term “IMC”. I’m merely advising caution in using it.

Join #IMCchat Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. Central U.S. time

Just a reminder that tomorrow night is another edition of #IMCchat, which we posted about recently.


  1. Hi Steve,

    You know I couldn't help but leave a comment on this post, given that I am a huge proponent of IMC.

    How I wish IMC was just regular, normal marketing! That would make customers SO very happy because they wouldn’t be bombarded with useless messaging pushing untargeted products and services. Unfortunately, I don’t think marketers and corporate culture are quite there yet.

    Where marketers trip up with IMC is thinking that the “C” is strictly outbound communications, as in promotion (advertising, direct marketing, etc.). IMC has always been about two-way communications between the organization and the customer across the organization…similar to public relations (not publicity, real PR).

    As we know, marketers really struggle with the notion of two-way communication. If they didn’t social media would have been embraced 5 years (or more!) ago.

    The premise of IMC from the very beginning was to put customers at the center of the organization and to focus on the entire marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion) from a customer’s perspective (Customer Needs/Wants, Cost, Convenience, Communications).

    This business perspective leads to a huge impact on customer relations, customer experience, brand relationships, etc. Things that are only just starting to be discovered and discussed.

    When IMC was introduced in the mid-90s, the focus was on “one sight, one sound, one voice” (Schultz) across channels used because that is where marketers failed (due to silos) and it was too difficult for customers to piece all of the messaging together. If we look at IMC from that perspective today, you are correct—marketers should be doing this and there is no excuse not to be “integrated” from a communications perspective. But, I still don’t see it as the norm due to silos, politics, budgets, etc.

    If you want to read a great book on today’s IMC, pick up Schultz’s book “IMC: The Next Generation.” It is a bit heady, but offers new insights on marketing, data, branding and ROI. I highly suggest it!

    The day we get to IMC and customer-centric marketing being the norm will be a great day!

    Beth Harte

  2. Beth, these are very wise comments; thanks for taking the time to contribute them.

    As briefly discussed on Twitter this morning, we long ago moved past the "matching luggage" and "spider charts" of old-school IMC. These are artifacts of the "one sight, one sound, one voice" mantra you mention above. Likewise, we have moved past a mentality of "surround the consumer", i.e., using as many "touchpoints" as possible in hope the consumer will get the message. Our philosophy today absolutely starts with the consumer, as you advise, and principally in the exercise of channel-planning, not solely creative.

    One more thought I'd like to share along these lines came via one of our data analytics people who is modeling the effects of truly integrated marketing campaigns. He observed that integration is not something we can engineer, it's something that each consumer will put together in his or her own way. I like this because it admits that modern communications are two-way, not one-way, and hence completely out of anyone's control. The best we can do is assess the consumer honestly and try to reach him or her at the best moments, in the best ways possible.