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Integrated Marketing Communications: It’s not what you think it is

By July 16, 2020July 23rd, 20202 Comments
Knowing that IMC means Integrated Marketing Communications gets you a gold star. In this image a young girl wears a Wonder Woman costume with a gold star on her shirt.

Next time you are talking to someone who “knows” marketing, ask them what IMC is.

If they know the acronym stands for “Integrated Marketing Communications,” they get a gold star.

If they tell you, “IMC is when all your marketing communications are working together — your printed materials, your website, your advertising, direct marketing, new media, and your PR are all speaking with one voice,” they get a second star.

And if they go on to tell you, “it’s when you are speaking with the same voice to all your internal and external constituencies,” they get the third star.

Then ask them “what else?”

If they can’t take it any further, they may have three stars, but they still don’t know IMC.

For five years, from 1997-2002, I instructed the second term of the Integrated Marketing Communications program at the University of Washington. Our curriculum was inspired by Northwestern’s IMC program, instructed by Don Schultz (who coined the phrase), Philip Kotler, and other great marketing minds.

Schultz and Kotler would tell you that everything above is just table stakes. Of course, everything works together, and of course, you are speaking with the same voice to all your internal and external audiences. There’s nothing groundbreaking there.

Integrated Marketing Communications is about integrating the customer into the company.

It’s not about putting widgets or services in the marketplace based on what you think customers need.

Instead, it’s becoming a responsive organization driven by consumer insights that know its customers’ wishes, wants, needs, and desires — and then creating products and services to fill those needs.

IMC argues you need to get to know the customer better than your competitors, and maybe even better than they know themselves.

A true IMC company is closer to the customer, and would never be nervous or ashamed to have one sit in on a strategic marketing meeting — a true IMC company has the best interests of its customers in mind.

So, what have you done to get closer to your customer? 


Interested in bringing Integrated Marketing Communications to your company? Take a look.

Originally published on August 20, 2008. Revised on July 16, 2020.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Yee-hah! You nailed it, Bro! Integrate the customer into your company. And not just the customers but other stakeholders (employees, neighbors, suppliers, etc.).

    I especially like this part:

    “Instead, it’s about and becoming a responsive organization driven by consumer insights that knows its customers’ wishes, wants, needs and desires—and then creating products and services to fill those needs.”

    I’ve been beating this drum for years, most notably in my award-winning sixth book Principled Profit: Marketing that Puts People First. Glad but not the least bit surprised to see that you agree.

  • Joy Levin says:

    It’s so basic, but often overlooked in companies. This also means that companies need to know about former customers, competitive customers, and those customers that have not purchased within the industry yet (potential customers). Knowing about the needs of all of these audiences helps companies not only to know how to integrate communications today, but how they can integrate to better position themselves at an advantage tomorrow.

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