Why Integrated Marketing Communications is Essential for Small Businesses

How can integrated marketing communications help me, the small business owner?

Integrated marketing communication is essential for small business owners because they, even more than large corporations, cannot afford to waste or waste money on a single isolated marketing effort.

For example, as a small business owner, it can be tempting to focus on one aspect of marketing: a new website, a direct mail campaign, radio ads, or as a manufacturer, simply letting your partners do the marketing for you. However, what if that piece of marketing doesn’t work?

ANSWER: Your entire marketing effort fails.

Instead, wouldn’t it be great to have an integrated marketing plan that takes the best parts of online marketing, like websites, email newsletters, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click advertising, and uses that to make your traditional offline efforts like direct mail, advertising, and public relations even more effective.

For example, this can be as simple as making sure your website has the same keywords as your radio advertising and that your banners at minor league games also have the same message. To internalize a message, a person must be exposed to it multiple times. If you hit them three times with three different messages, it’s about the same as being exposed just once. Worse yet, it could be confusing and disorienting, resulting in a negative experience with your brand.

Integrated marketing communications addresses this problem by creating a plan with a consistent message and then delivering it through as many mediums as possible, online and offline.

What are the components of an integrated marketing plan?

An integrated marketing communications (IMC) plan should be based on all available communication disciplines, including online, offline, and interpersonal communications.

Online marketing channels include any electronic marketing campaign or program from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click, Affiliate, Email, Banner to the latest web related channels for webinars, blogs, RSS , podcast and Internet TV. Offline marketing channels include traditional print media (newspapers, magazines), mail order, public relations, billboards, radio, and television. Interpersonal marketing includes participation in community groups, networking organizations, your handshake, how you dress, and even how you answer the phone or return calls.

While it is not necessary to include every communication discipline for every campaign, it is important for any integrated marketer to be well-versed in the various components so that they can select the most appropriate for a specific client’s budget and demands.

Is it better to go with an agency or buy individual services myself?

While both have benefits, an agency can be a benefit if you don’t already have a network of reliable service providers including print shops, promotional product companies, trade show planners, etc. who are familiar with your business. Often times, an agency can get things done for a client faster, more efficiently, and with better quality for the same or lower price. Also, as a business owner, you need to consider the time you can spend shopping for the best price and reading reviews to make sure that the best price does not give you the worst services.

However, the cost of each component should not be your primary concern when evaluating an integrated marketing plan. Instead, look at the expenses and benefits of the entire plan working together. For example, a website may cost $2,000 to build and then you could spend $10,000 on pay-per-click advertising over the next year, but if the content of the website does not match the message in your direct mail or your customer service people can’t answer questions about the website, then you wasted a lot of money.

Instead, don’t look at the website as a single entity. Make sure it is perfectly integrated into your marketing strategy:

* Promote it at every opportunity. This includes not only pay-per-click ads, but also on business cards, in radio ads, even put a label on your products to let customers know they can download copies of the product manuals there and print it on their receipts telling them to download coupons on the website.

* Develop an email newsletter to provide your customers and prospects with news and information they can use, not just a brochure to sell your products.

* Create a blog and allow people to subscribe to it. This will build trust and familiarity between your customers and your company. Don’t limit blog posts to just the president, sometimes a post from a project manager or even the receptionist can keep the blog interesting and engaging.

* Create a contest, but make sure the message is consistent with your integrated marketing strategy. Get people to visit your website to enter.

* If you post an ad promoting a specific service, make sure your customers can find more information about it quickly and easily. Maybe even put a graphic at the top of your page that says “Attention 99.5 listeners, click here for more information on gutter cleaning.”

Those are just a few examples of how you can integrate your marketing plan and maximize the initial investment you made when building a website.

Isn’t integrated marketing communication like any other marketing plan?

A marketing plan may simply be a marketing plan for a website or a marketing plan for an advertising campaign, but an integrated marketing communications plan involves all aspects of marketing throughout the company. This means that all aspects of the business are integrated into a single cohesive plan.

After all, you could have a great website marketing plan, an amazing ad campaign, and an award-winning PR agency, but if a customer reads a press release or hears your ad and decides to visit your website where they can’t find out more about your PR or advertising message what’s the point of spending the money in the first place?

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