Defining the term “marketing” is difficult without using synonyms. It’s promotion. It’s advertising. It’s talking about your “hustle.” Textbooks explain it. Professionals do it. Consumers experience it every day. But, mapping out your marketing strategy to ensure that your message saturates the appropriate mediums for your target audience? That is called an IMC plan or an Integrated Marketing Communication Timeline and it will save your life.
From the Inside Out
It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor.
– Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle
Marketing explains what you are doing inside your organization to those outside your organization. Without marketing, your audience is out of the loop. They don’t know what you’re about. Then, when you want to motivate them to action, they are stumped by your prompt.
It’s like they’re pulled into the middle of the story, similar to the titular character in the story of Rip Van Winkle. One of the most fascinating moments in the story of Rip Van Winkle is his encounter with the townspeople upon awakening from his 20-year sleep. The townspeople ask who Rip Van Winkle voted for in the recent election.
Since he slept through the Revolutionary War, the question baffles him. He states that he is loyal to King George III.
The orator bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired, “on which side he voted?” Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, “whether he was Federal or Democrat.” Rip was equally at a loss to comprehend the question; when a knowing, self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd, putting them to the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo, the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating, as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone, “What brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder, and a mob at his heels; and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?”
“Alas! gentlemen,” cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, “I am a poor, quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King, God bless him!”
Here a general shout burst from the bystanders-“a tory! a tory! a spy! a refugee! hustle him! away with him!”
– Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle
It’s an absurd answer because his strange situation caused him to be wildly out of touch with reality. However, it’s perfectly reasonable from Rip Van Winkle’s perspective. His disconnect from the world has alienated him from current events. And that’s the alienation your audience feels when you present them with disparate messages. Remedying this is simple with an Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) Plan.
What is an IMC (Integrated Marketing Communication) Plan?
An IMC plan maps your marketing activities by putting projects on a calendar. It includes objectives, strategies, and tactics by taking into consideration an audience, budget, and message. Using one allows you to coordinate marketing activities and measure them against your goals.
An IMC plan details which communications and media should be used at which times, to what extent, and in what manner.
An IMC plan helps keep everyone on the same page as they work on marketing projects. Additionally, this plan reveals gaps between the tactics and communication goals. By addressing this, you can link activities to outcomes and advocate for your marketing strategy.
How to Map your IMC Plan
Mapping an IMC plan takes big ideas and boils them into lists on a timeline. To start, you need a free-form space to mark your thoughts (i.e. “old school” whiteboard or “new school” digital notepad.) Follow each of the following steps to map your plan.
Write Down Your Campaign Goals
Generate campaign goals by identifying key metrics, such as:
- Sales or contracts
- Website Visits
- Sign-ups or subscriptions
- Ad Clicks
- Post Comments
- Social Followers
Each goal should have a number based in reality. If you have never run a campaign before, consider this one an experiment to set a “baseline.” If you have run campaigns in the past, determine whether your activities will be lesser or greater than the past promotion. Adjust the numbers accordingly.
Just make sure you can justify the ROI (return on investment).
Identify Your Timeline
Once you know your deadline, you can work back from that date. For example, your plan might center around promoting a sales event, magazine issue, or a popular holiday. Working back from the final day, you can identify which mediums can accommodate your plan.
If you think about your ideal customer as a total number of people then, you can use percentages to determine how much exposure they need to respond to your message.
Estimating Your Impact
Impressions (sometimes called frequency) are the number of times your message is seen, usually in the digital space. Typically, when media outlets measure these, they will compare it with reach. Reach equals the number of times your ad is seen by a single person or a household. So, that reach number will always be the lower of the two.
In this phase, reach and impressions are an estimate based on how the outlet has performed in the past.
In a medium’s media kit, estimating tool, or sales pitch, they should be able to estimate the number of impressions they can deliver during a certain period of time. You want this number to be as high as possible while maintaining a quality audience within your niche.
Although the average span of attention has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, a strong plan can capture your audience and hold their interest for a longer time. In fact, attention spans may actually be longer than previously thought. People are simply changing the way that they focus and that is seen through engagement.
Engagement is when someone actually responds to your marketing and does something (usually measured digitally). This is often measured in likes, comments, or shares on social, forwards and clicks on the email, comments, and clicks on websites, etc. This valuable metric is rapidly changing in the definition because smart marketers (and value-driven ad platforms) are realizing that the quality of the engagement matters just as much as the quantity.
No matter what medium you use, you should be able to estimate these metrics based on your timeline and resources (time and dollars).
Plan Your Drops
After all that estimating, you can truly plan when your media drops. You need to give each channel a chance to perform. By taking the time to estimate this and lay it out on a timeline, you can see whether you have enough time to properly expose your intended audience to your message.
Additionally, you’ll be able to manage the project. Photoshoots, video, text, and design all need to be created before the media launches. By mapping out the timeline, you can reasonably scope the project.
Specify Your Budget
Balancing time is money. Both placements and production comprise the budget. To keep your spending reasonable, use your calculations from above to use your resources wisely.
If you are short on time (or creative energy), you can make up the difference by paying for more advertising. If you are short on cash, you can lengthen your schedule to allow for a more organic (hopefully viral) response to your message.
Set Mediums on a Calendar
Finally, you want to set your mediums on a calendar. I prefer to start in a spreadsheet and then later, make it more visually appealing for a client presentation.
Start by setting up each week from the project start to completion. Fill in key deadlines as provided by mediums or key events. Work back from those deadlines to fill in any other promotion as needed.
As you work, you’ll see a pace to your message. At this point, you can check the frequency of your message from the point of view of your audience. Consider whether you have allowed them enough time and reason to act.
Once you have the kinks worked out, it’s time to put your timeline into your full plan.
Format and Presentation
Depending on your project, you will need to decide how to present your timeline to the team. I find that it works best as part of the entire marketing pitch. Most people prefer to go through it line-by-line after a meeting.
You can use it as a prop during your presentation to explain the general flow of your plan. I would recommend making it available in either large print or digitally after a presentation. Others will need to reference it as they work to make sure they are staying with the plan.
Map Your IMC Plan
An IMC plan allows you to apply your marketing strategy and messaging to a timeline to make sure you are getting the most out of every medium. The plan becomes a useful tool to guide your team as you target your customers.
Are you ready to map your own IMC plan?
If you are still unsure, check out some of my pre-packaged campaigns for small organizations. They’re short-turn timelines focused on small budgets and tight teams. Let me know if you found this useful by connecting with me on Instagram.