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February 17, 2020

Whatever happened to IMC?

I remember when Integrated Marketing Communications was a big thing. Today, it may not be dead, but it's buried beneath an avalanche of content marketing, revenue marketing, account based marketing... I could go on. Instead, let's consider what's happened to the marketing practice that once spawned libraries of books. Or, put another way, why do marketers no longer want to be known as IMC experts vs. experts in content marketing or account-based marketing or (insert even trendier terminology here)?

Integrated Marketing Communication has an academic definition. Pick one. Here’s The American Marketing Association’s: “... a planning process designed to assure that all brand contacts received by a customer or prospect for a product, service, or organization are relevant to that person and consistent over time.”

But outside academic corridors, Marketing has introduced countless organizational constructions that make it difficult to coordinate brand contacts. Here are a handful of variations I’ve seen, just off the top of my head, that disrupt a company’s ability to pursue the academic ideal:

Corporate Marketing and Field Marketing are compartmentalized organizations with no common leadership until one gets to the Chief Marketing Officer. This means, effectively, only the Chief Marketing Officer has Integrated Marketing Communications management responsibility. This is common.

Some marketing communication disciplines are structured as centralized service organizations, while others are embedded within business units. For example, one major enterprise held “direct marketing” as a separate service function, while “marketing communications” was embedded. It may sound like nonsense, but companies make such organizational choices all the time.

Companies will not only segregate disciplinary responsibilities, but further fragment a discipline by creating a “corporate” unit with some overarching or supplemental responsibility, and other units that are typically aligned with regional or vertical marketing teams, or both. This is often the case with event marketing (Corporate Events vs. Regional Events).

Companies implementing a Global Demand Center concept will also compartmentalize some or all disciplines that are viewed as directly contributing to demand or “lead generation.” This may be done holistically, or along purely digital lines.

My first insight: while some of these actions fragment the marketing organization in different ways, that doesn't mean they're not best practices. I personally have reaped rewards from implementing a Global Demand Center, for example. But these organizational decisions don't make it easier to implement "integrated" marketing communications. In fact, organizational realities when coupled with the vastly increasing speed of execution possible with digital tactics, have made doing so more challenging – especially if you view Integrated Marketing Communications as a planning discipline, as the definition above suggests.

My second insight: what is often behind these variations is a business’s desire to focus on the marketing disciplines that are perceived as driving revenue opportunity (“leads”) vs. those that drive awareness or equip and enable selling channels. (This has become the case even though perceptions about how marketing actually impacts revenue are often misguided, as I’ve written elsewhere.)

My $.02: With communication tactics evolving so rapidly, and the speed of execution happening at a blur, today's Chief Marketing Officers are well advised to focus on common message plans, leaving their marketing leaders to execute their individual tactics and disciplines with demonstrable excellence.

As I put it in an earlier blog, "metrics should focus, not on the 'shrinkage' calculations of funnel conversions, but on the simple tracking of content and consumption." This should be true for marketing planning as well. The velocity of brand communications has become such that sitting through planning meetings passing the spirit stick is far too time consuming. As marketing leaders, let's unify our teams through a common message plan, a marketing strategy that all can interpret, and a devotion to measured excellence in execution.

Perhaps Integrated Marketing Communications has become a dated concept. But despite the twists and turns we marketers take, as our crazy cluster of marketing disciplines continually reinvent themselves, the creation of great and engaging content has never grown stale.

That’s not such a bad thing for a storyteller like me.

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