The Role of Brand Identity in the Implementation of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) by Advertising Agencies
Bibby, David Neil
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This thesis seeks answers to a fundamental question relating to the field of marketing communications: How does one implement Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)? It is almost 30 years since Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) first aroused the interest of researchers. In that time a significant body of research has emerged seeking to define what the concept means (Kliatchko, 2009; Moriarty & Schultz, 2012) and to understand what factors are involved in managing the implementation of IMC (Kerr & Patti, 2013; Porcu, del Barrio-Garcia, & Kitchen, 2012). The perceived benefits of IMC provide a compelling explanation as to why the practice is widespread today (Eagle et al. 2007; Kitchen & Schultz, 1999; Schultz & Schultz, 2004). The basic concept and principal benefit of IMC is synergy (Duncan & Everett, 1993). IMC is perceived as improving media and message delivery and thereby reducing media costs (Nowak, Cameron & Delorme, 1996). IMC is therefore considered an efficient and effective strategy for building brand equity (Madhavaram, Badrinarayana & McDonald, 2005). Since the inception of IMC a number of scholars have emphasised the strategic role of the brand in the implementation of IMC (Duncan & Moriarty, 1998; Duncan & Mulhern, 2004; Schultz, 1998; Schultz & Kitchen, 2000a). Building brand equity is considered to be a key strategic objective of IMC (Aaker, 2014; Fill, 2009; Kapferer, 2008) and the brand identity construct has been proposed as a key element in that process (Aaker, 1996; Kapferer, 2008). However brand identity has rarely been explicitly linked to the implementation of IMC in a conceptual framework (Madhavaram et al. 2005). Madhavaram et al. (2005) propose a ?Brand Equity Strategy? schematic in which they use Aaker?s 1996 conceptualisation of brand identity. They propose that consistent utilisation of brand identity by brand strategists will ensure a more synergistic and effective IMC and that this in turn will lead to stronger customer-based brand equity (Keller, 1993). This thesis considers these proposals by Madhavaram et al. (2005) and examines the extent to which the brand identity construct plays a foundational and formative role in the IMC implementation process. To date there has been no research in which the propositions offered in Madhavaram et al?s 2005 paper have been subjected to any empirical investigation. This thesis seeks to amend that situation. Consequently, the research problem investigated in the research is: 'What is the role of the brand identity construct in the implementation of IMC by New Zealand advertising agencies?' Within this focus additional attention is given to the strategic role played by agency account planners in this process. The Account Planner?s primary function is to produce the creative brief (Baskin, 2001; Fortini-Campbell, 2001) and the creative brief is the platform upon which creative agencies create integrated marketing communication campaigns. The purpose of account planning is purportedly to create effective marketing communications (Fortini-Campbell, 2001; Kelley & Jugenheimer, 2011). Yet, there is a limited body of empirical research relating to the role of account planners in advertising agencies. This research investigates their role in the IMC implementation process and the part that brand identity statements play within that role. This research involves a multiple case study design. It studies how five New Zealand advertising agencies each work through the process of creating IMC campaigns for their clients? brands. Data is sourced from semi-structured interviews with senior agency and client executives and from proprietary agency documents and templates relating to the creative process. The five advertising agencies studied exemplify a cross-section of leading New Zealand agencies. Each agency embodies a single case. A series of research questions guide the inquiry: 1) What is the role of the Account Planner in the agency? 2) What is the role of the creative brief in the creative process? 3) What is the role of brand identity statements in the creative process? 4) What are the drivers that integrate marketing communications? 5) To what extent is IMC, as practised by New Zealand advertising agencies, anything more than just ?tactical integration?? The research involves a two-stage data analysis process: Stage One involves ?within-case? analysis and Stage Two involves ?cross-case? analysis. Decision Systems Analysis (DSA) is also utilised to study how advertising agency personnel and their clients make integrated marketing communication decisions within an advertising agency context. The research finds that brand identity statements positively influence the implementation of IMC programs. Each advertising agency in the study considered an in-depth understanding of their client?s brand to be an essential prerequisite to the commencement of any marketing communication work for that brand. It appears to be the norm for New Zealand agency account planners to have access to brand identity statements relating to their clients? brands when implementing IMC strategy. The form of brand identity statement favoured by the New Zealand account planners studied, when implementing IMC strategy, is the brand manifesto. The research also finds that account planners positively influence the implementation of IMC programmes. Account planners, or brand strategists, are the authors of arguably the most important document in the creative agency, the creative brief (Butterfield, 1985). In preparing this document planners seek to infuse the brief with strategic imperatives and insights relating to the client?s brand and to link these to creative insights pertaining to the target audiences? needs, wants, beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. The Account Planner is an advocate, on the one hand, for the consumer - all the way through the creative process - and on the other hand for the strategic integration of the client?s brand into all planned marketing messages. The research suggests that there are three key drivers in the implementation of IMC. First, a brand identity statement in some form; second, a big idea; and third, an understanding of the target audience?s media consumption behaviour. These findings are consistent with the extant literature (Aaker, 1996, 2014; Assael, 2011; Duncan, 2005; Ogilvy, 1983; Rossiter & Percy, 1987; Schultz & Kitchen, 2000a). Three original IMC process models are proffered in the thesis; each seeking to illuminate how IMC is implemented in practice. The first model illustrates how the three drivers of IMC act together in unison and interdependently to create IMC at a tactical level. The second model is an eight stage generic DSA model of the IMC creative process, and the third model seeks to illustrate the IMC implementation process - as suggested by research participants. Overall, results support the view of Madhavaram et al. (2005) that, for the agencies studied, brand identity strategically influences IMC in the creation of strong customer-based brand equity (Keller, 1993).