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The Five Steps of IMC
The Five Steps of IMC


The Five Steps of IMC

Dec 19, 2018By mStoner Staff

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is a process through which organizations accelerate returns by taking a customer-centric approach to aligning their marketing and communication objectives with their business or institutional goals. (Definition provided by Don and Heidi Schulz.) 

Four key things to note about IMC:

  1. IMC is an ongoing process, not just a one-off campaign. That process includes strategic planning, measurement, and refinement of communications.
  2. The goal of IMC is to accelerate returns. This most often means growing revenue faster.
  3. IMC is customer-centric. Marketing is no longer about pushing out messages and hoping people will listen. We must understand and develop empathy for the people we are trying to reach — and put them at the core of our efforts.
  4. IMC is about aligning objectives with goals.

In short, IMC is a replacement for outdated marketing models and funnels. Think about it — there’s no mention of customers in the four P’s model (price, product, promotion, place). And funnel-based approaches miss the reality that the customer decision-making process is rarely linear.

Five Steps of the IMC Process

five steps of imc process

1. Identify your customers from behavioral data

Let’s start with this assumption: For education institutions, the customer is the student.

Behavioral data: Tells us what customers do, how they act, and their history in relation to our offering.

Demographic data: Tells us a customer’s age, location, gender, income, and so on.

IMC is based on what people do. The key takeaway is that behavioral data is going to yield better results over demographic data, every single time. Aggregate your customers according to their behaviors first. After that, enhance it with other types of segmentation.

2. Determine the financial value of your customers and prospects

Marketing is traditionally considered an organizational expense. However, an IMC mindset requires us to look at marketing as an investment, a strategic tool that influences incoming dollars.

To know what we can spend to attract new students, we must know the financial value of our current students and prospects. This value becomes the basis for marketing investment because customers drive revenue. Use this value to set goals and determine what marketing actions to take.

3. Create and deliver messages and incentives

We can now set marketing goals that tie back to our institution’s financial goals, and then create and deliver meaningful marketing communications to prospects and customers.

Tie marketing objectives to financial outcomes using these two components:

  1. Delivery: Where do customers come into contact with your brand? Where do they want to come into contact with your brand?
  2. Content: What customer insights can you use to connect what your brand wants to deliver with what your customer wants to acquire?

While a traditional marketing approach would require you to determine your creative content first and then select the channel, IMC flips this process around by asking first for an understanding of where your customers are. With that knowledge, you can meet them there with content and messaging that is grounded in customer insights.

4. Estimate the return on customer investment (ROCI)

Step four focuses on determining ROCI as a result of your marketing and communications. This is the goal of IMC.

Wouldn’t you rather invest in marketing efforts that will yield the most loyal and profitable customers? Prove to senior leaders that you can turn a $100 investment into $1,000 in customer revenue and you’ll never need to fight for budget again.

How? Use:

  • Analytics: descriptive, predictive
  • Attribution: first, last, and multitouch
  • Optimization: A/B tests, control groups

5. Budget, allocate, evaluate, and recycle

A true IMC approach requires that you budget at the end, which is the opposite of how most college and university budgeting processes unfold.

Think like an investor and know important financial numbers: customer acquisition cost, retention rate, and the difference between your short-term and long-term returns.

Understand the three C’s:

  • Contribution: dollars generated over time
  • Commitment: how many dollars you get vs. the competition
  • Champions: support, involvement, and advocacy of your brand

And now that you can prove IMC’s impact, you can truly evaluate the effectiveness of your program and use that insight to plan for the future. Remember that IMC is cyclical.

Do you want additional resources to continue your IMC learning journey? Get on-demand access to our IMC Crash Course ebook, Four Barriers to IMC in Higher Ed blog post, and our Prospective Student Starterer Experience Map. 

Learn More

mStoner, Inc. is a creative agency that builds elegant, creative, and effective solutions to your greatest digital challenges. We work with colleges and universities to craft powerful, tailored, human-centric experiences to illuminate your brand and allow you to tell the story only you can tell. 

If you’re a higher ed marketing or enrollment professional, let’s chat! Bounce ideas off of us, tell us about your upcoming digital projects, vent (within our cone of silence) about your communication challenges, or grill us about our capabilities and experience.

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