(Dis)integrated Marketing Communications: failures from the frontline and how to avoid them

The goal of marketing communication is to engage with consumers, to inform and motivate their purchasing decisions regarding a company’s product or service.

Because consumers receive and process information differently, a single communication channel is ineffective. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) address this limitation through a strategic process for brand communications (Ots and Nyilasy, 2015). IMC requires marketers to broadcast a coherent story via different communication methods and platforms to reach consumers across several touch points (Iacobucci, 2013).


It sounds simple, right? Ha! In fact, it is quite challenging to implement and many organisations have tried and failed. Previously, when marketing communication involved pushing out information, the sales figures told the story. With the advent of social media, companies are now seeking a personal relationship with their consumers through the power of targeted marketing . The present day story can be told even before a sale takes place! Companies must carefully nurture this relationship as consumers have now leveled the playing field, reclaiming relational power  through online influence #it’sallaboutmememe.

If organisations hope to connect with consumers they have to get their IMC right. Fortunately there is much to learn from research and some of the blunders made #epicfail.

Why IMC fail

In 2015, Ots and Nyilasy studied a Swedish retailer’s relationships with their marketing communication partners to understand the impact of different mental models on IMC campaigns. They determined four main reasons why IMC fail:

  •  People interpret messages differently. If these misinterpretations are not corrected, miscommunication can occur which confuses the messengers and consumers.
  • Organisations often operate in functional silos. This compartmentalisation encourages self-protection and hinders effective collaboration.
  • This self-serving mentality erodes the opportunity for cohesive communication.
  • Abstract versus rigid thinking can result in a loss of context, resulting in disconnection within an organisation, and between the organisation and its partners.

Wake up and smell the interaction!


After posting flippant remarks regarding the Xbox 720’s contentious ‘always-online’ rumours, and telling frustrated customers to “deal with it”, Microsoft’s Creative Director Adam Orth was forced to resign.



And, my personal favourite:

United Airlines

This bloopers reel teaches us that (a) marketing messages should try to connect with consumers, not disenfranchise them, and (b) the organisation must have the appropriate means to respond to consumers’ social commentary in a timely manner.

How IMC should work

IMC performed well are steered by four principles (Killian & McManus, 2015):

  1. Consistency – organisational alignment and consistent messages across all marketing communication platforms
  2. Commitment – to the platform and understanding the audience engaging with the brand on the platform, and the conversations that are being conducted.
  3. Customisation – tailored brand messages that build a personal connection with consumers.
  4. Caution – responding with caution to consumer commentary on social media platforms.

In addition to these guiding principles, an effective IMC approach assesses the desires of the target market and understands how to communicate with consumers through the suitable channels. Once understood, an action plan should be developed to align the organisation with its IMC approach (Wienclaw, 2015).

Social media: it’s fun – well, until it’s not anymore

Research further confirms that at a minimum, 75% of adults on the internet use social media sites. As social media continues to grow in popularity, brand managers must maintain a visible presence, while protecting the brand image, finding new ways to reach consumers, and building stronger consumer-brand connections (Killian & McManus, 2015). Social media provides the opportunity to better understand consumers’ needs and concerns which are promptly expressed in a manner unique to this interactive platform. This makes social listening especially important because it facilitates a deeper consumer-brand relationship, providing insights for future business strategy.

The “fail trail”

Timely responses to social media crises are equally important. The recovery time of Nestle, Dominos and United Airlines was tested when they encountered their respective predicaments. The pace of their response and their approach to crisis management determined their recovery time.


We shall overcome!

World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) research conducted in 2013 identified gaps that confront organisations when developing an IMC campaign. It highlights the core reasons why IMC attempts fail and recommends strategies to address those failures.


IMC – It’s totally worth it!

Nike have benefited from implementing a highly successful IMC strategy that applies much of IMC best practice and demonstrates a dynamic variety of communication methods and platforms to reach multiple consumer touch points.



Source: Nike’s Integrated Communication Mix (Pickton and Broderick, 2004)

The implementation of Integrated Marketing Communications is challenging and requires a significant amount of effort in the planning, alignment, delivery and monitoring phases; however, an effectively implemented IMC provides many benefits. It can create a competitive advantage, boost sales and profits, build long-term customer relationships, save money, create efficiencies, reduce workload and frustration, and strengthen brand awareness and customer loyalty. In other words, #IMCrocksIMHO.


Iacobucci, D., 2013. MM4. Student ed. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Killian, G. & McManus, K., 2015. A marketing communications approach for the digital era: Managerial guidelines for social media integration. Business Horizons, Volume 58, p. 539—549.

Ots, M. & Nyilasy, G., 2015. Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC): Why Does It Fail? An Analysis of Practioner Mental Models Exposes Barriers of IMC Implementation. Journal of Advertising Research, pp. 132-145.

Pickton, D. & Broderick, A., 2004. Integrated Marketing Communications. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall Financial Times.

Wienclaw, R. A., 2015. Integrated Marketing Communications. Research Starters: Business (Online Edition), pp. 1-6.






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