When it comes to brand messages, there are generally four influences. Each of these influences a stakeholder’s relationship decision, so marketers must know where these messages originate, what effect they have, and the costs to influence or control them.
Planned messages. Traditional marketing communication channels include—advertising, sales promotions, personal selling, merchandising materials, publicity releases and event sponsorships. They are self-serving, so these usually don’t impact much. Planned messages should toward a predetermined objective. This is the basic aspect of IMC.
Product messages. In IMC theory, every element of the marketing mix (not just promotion) sends a message. Messages about the product, price, or distribution elements can also be referred to as product messages. For example, customers and other stakeholders receive one product message from a $36,500 Rolex watch and a totally different one from a $30 Timex. Product messages also include packaging, which communicates a lot about the product through the use of color, type fonts, imagery, design, and layout. Apple, for example, has a well-deserved reputation for beautiful product packaging.
Product messages have great impact. When a product (or service) performs well, the customer infers a positive message that reinforces the purchase decision. However, a gap between the product’s performance and advertised promises is likely to convey a negative message. Managers must realize that all marketing mix decisions are also communication decisions.
Service messages. Many messages result from employee interactions with customers. In many organizations, customer service people are supervised by operations, not marketing. Yet the service messages they send have greater marketing impact than the planned messages. Luxury brands like Nordstrom and Lexus believe great service is part of their brands’ DNA. With IMC, marketing people work with operations to minimize negative messages and maximize positive ones.
Unplanned messages. Companies have little or no control over the unplanned messages that emanate from employee gossip, unsought news stories, comments by the trade or competitors, social media posts, or major disasters. When Walmart created a Facebook page, many of the initial fans criticized the company’s policies. Unplanned messages may affect customers’ attitudes dramatically, but they can sometimes be anticipated and influenced, especially by managers experienced in the online world.