As people, we are pretty good at spotting when things don’t quite line up or work well together (1980s fashion being the exception to the rule). It jars. It makes us uneasy. We don’t like it even if we aren’t sure what it is that’s ‘not quite right’. Therefore, as marketers we have not just got to be pretty good at making sure that our communications and campaigns are totally integrated but really good if we don’t want our campaigns to flop. That’s where the 4Cs of integrated marketing communications can help. 

Integrated – a definition

When we put out a marketing or communications campaign, one things we have to be sure that is does is ‘integrate’ across every single touch point.

‘To integrate’ something means to make it whole, to bring together the parts of it. In short, we are trying to avoid people seeing, feeling, hearing and experiencing our marketing campaigns and getting that, ‘ergh, that jarred’ response. 

Take a few minutes to think about the time you came across a campaign or comms that wasn’t integrated. It could be:

  • You heard about on Instagram a fun, friendly café which urged you to book a table online – but when you tried to, the website was hard to use and kept crashing.
  • The adverts tell you that you’ll get an amazing deal and save loads of money – but you’re an existing customer so when you check it out you have to pay full price.
  • The TV advert is slick, chic, expensive – the product comes in a box that feels flimsy and the spray element fell off after one use.

While it is unlikely the deception was planned, it makes people feel uneasy and unlikely to take that purchase decision again. 

The 4Cs of integrated marketing communications and campaigns.

Enter the 4Cs of integrated marketing communications. 

Pickton & Broderick, 2001, propose the 4Cs model for all marketing and communications professionals.

For every campaign you run, as a professional, expert marketer, you need to check it against the 4Cs:

  • Consistency
  • Coherence 
  • Continuity 
  • Complementary 

Let’s quickly look at each C in turn.

  1. Consistency  – do all of your messages, across all of your platforms, support and reinforce each other? Are they pretty much similar? Or are some of them contradictory, even if it’s just slightly? For grade A** marketing, extend the consistency test out to the other Ps (Product, Place, People etc) and make sure they support and reflect the messaging too.

Pro tip: Having a core campaign message, image and/or hashtag is one way of ensuring consistency, but also take a step back and think of how all the messaging is working across all media elements across the journey, ensuring coherence of the message throughout the campaign.

  1. Coherence – are the different communications logically connected? Can someone see one message in one place, see another in another place and instantly understand how they relate to each other? Or are they left wondering if they are the same thing or not?

Pro tip:  Test this out. Ideally with your target audience but colleagues, friends and family who haven’t worked with you on this campaign can help. Show them the different campaign elements and ask them if they can pick out the core message from each, any differences in message or brand, and if they would have said it was all from one campaign. 

  1. Continuity – is your campaign clearly connected to previous campaigns and communications and is it consistent through time? Campaigns that have been strong and successful are those that have run for a number of years, building on the same core creative idea or message, but using updated media and ways of bringing the message to life. Good examples include Dove’s Real Beauty campaign or HSBC’s different cultures campaign.

Pro tip: Test (again). Show people your comms material and then material from previous communications and campaigns, plus a few random but similar communication pieces from competitors thrown in. Ask them which are from your company. Ask them how obvious it is, instantly, which they are. 

  1. Complementary  – now let’s look at all elements of your campaign together. What we’re after here is synergy where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole – think of a well-designed room where all the elements have been chosen to work together; on their own they might be interesting but together they are highly impactful. The show-stoppers on The Great British Bake Off are a good example of ‘complementary’ – the individual parts can look or taste good on their own but pulled together – wow. 

Pro tip: When you step back and look at all elements of your communications you should go, ‘Wow. That works.’ Again, test it with other people to see if they react like that or if they react the same that I do to 1980s fashion – slightly squinting as if my eyes can’t quite believe that someone put those colours, and those patterns, and that eye makeup together and really thought it worked.

If you’d like to improve your communications activities and using the 4Cs of integrated marketing, why not find out more about our range of marketing courses and qualifications. Get your two-week free trial by contacting us or completing the form on our website.

About the author

Kara Stanford is a tutor at the Oxford College of Marketing and also a Strategic Marketing Consultant at KMS Marketing, working with SMEs to help them take a structured, effective approach to their marketing.

Reference: Pickton and Broderick (2001) Integrated Marketing Communications, Financial Times Prentice Hall