Integrated Services Communication Mix.

It is important that customers know about the value being offered by our company through our service. They can then seek to purchase the service and obtain the value. This will help to form the right expectations in their mind. This will help in the match between what they expected from the service and what they receive from it. Thus proper communication can address the communication gap towards superior service quality.

Every bit of the service, beginning with advertisements about the service, the physical evidence of the service in the servicescape, the behaviour, attitude and interactions with the service employees and the post-service communications with customers, communicate the characteristics of the service to the customers. Above means are different forms of communication with the customers, and together, they form part of integrated marketing communications. The service marketer must be careful that every bit of the communication is consistent with the service concept including the value, form, function and the outcome of the service that is received by the customer. Consistent communications help to give a complete picture of the service to customers and differentiates the service brand from competitive offerings.

In this lesson we will discuss the need for integrated marketing communications and how integrated marketing communications can be planned.

Need for Integrated Marketing Communications

It is important that customers and prospects receive consistent communications about the service from various service personnel and the physical evidences of the company. Otherwise, communication gap is likely to take place as customers will receive a service inconsistent with what was promised or communicated before they received the service. There are four reasons why such a gap might form:

Puffery: The company over-promises its delivery based on what competitors might be offering, raises customer expectations and then fails to meet the promise.

Customer education failure: Customers are not educated about the role they have to play in the service process. For instance, customers may expect full-service in a self-service hotel if they are not educated properly.

Internal communication failure: The marketing arm releases advertising, the sales arm instructs sales personnel and the operations arm instructs delivery personnel, with incomplete knowledge of what the other arm has communicated to the customers. The customer may be sold a stay for 3 nights – pay for 2, while the guest house manager might be surprised that such a scheme exists, causing much difficulty for both customers and employees.

Encounter communication failure: Service personnel fail to communicate adequately to customers regarding what they are expected to do. At times, medical dispensaries fail to advise patients the interval at which they are supposed to take a dose of medicine.
Inconsistent physical evidence: As discussed in Lesson 19, physical evidence might be inconsistent with the service concept and fail to communicate the concept to the customers, thereby creating inappropriate expectations in their minds.

In order to close the above gap in communicating to customers, coordinated and integrated marketing communications (IMC) are required so that customers receive the same communication from all departments of the business which match the service concept and its actual delivery. This will create the right expectations about the service in their minds, which would be later matched during the delivery. This will keep customers satisfied with the feeling that the service is reliable because they did receive what they were promised or communicated before purchasing the service.

Planning Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated marketing communications can be planned using the 6 Ms model consisting of the market, mission, message, media, money and measurement. The 6 Ms are discussed in the following paragraphs.

  1. Market: This implies identification of the target audience eligible for receiving the communication.2. Mission: This implies identification of the objective that is to be fulfilled by communicating to the target audience identified above.3. Message: This implies the content to be communicated to the target audience to meet the communication objectives.

    4. Media: This involves identification of the media consumption habits of the target audience so that they can be reached by using appropriate media. Suppose the target media do not own television sets, they must be reached with radio, billboards or posters. Similarly, if the target audience displays a fair interest in watching sports on television, they can be reached with the message through popular television sports channels, like Star Sports, ESPN, etc..

    5. Money: This implies the budget set aside for the communication programme. Although most companies set aside 2 to 3 % of their budget for communication purposes, it is best to work out the above 4 Ms and estimate the cost of the communication planned for the year.

    6. Measurement: This involves finding out how much of the communication investment was effective in attaining the objectives and adjusting the communication programme for greater effectiveness.

The first three ‘M’s can be determined by using the Hierarchy of Effects Model (HEM) introduced by Professors Lavidge and Steiner in 1961. The model is depicted in Figure 33-1 below:

 Stage Buyer state Message type
Cognitive stage 1. Awareness Simple broadcast, jingles
2. Knowledge Unique Benefits
Affective stage 3. Liking Emotional message
4. Preference Comparative message
5. Conviction Induce trial
Behavioural stage 6. Purchase Reinforcement message

Figure 33-1: Hierarchy of Effects Model

Based on HEM, prospects and customers in the trade area are surveyed to ascertain the percentage of population in each of the 6 buyer states. The gaps in the company’s communication and the target audience can now be easily identified. This takes care of the market aspect of the 6 Ms model. Now the objective of the next communication can be identified. The objective can be now written in the creative brief as “To create positive feelings about the brand among 40% and preference among 25% of the target audience.” Now the second aspect of the 6 Ms model, i.e. mission, is clear. 

The marketing department of the company hands over the creative brief to the advertising agency who can design the message. The message may have a rational content giving the unique benefits that customers would receive from the service in comparison to alternative ways of fulfilling their needs. On the other hand, the message may contain emotional appeals to customers in order to induce or enhance positive feelings for the service and reinforce their feelings if they have already experienced the service. This would take care of the third M, i.e. the message.

The agency now recommends the media to be used for communicating the message depending on the preferences of the target segment and the effectiveness in delivering the message depending upon the characteristics of the service and the message. For instance, a magazine would be preferred for an emotional message to a select audience, while television could be used for a larger audience. Advantages and disadvantages for various types of media are given in Table 33‑1. This takes care of the 5th M of the communication model.

Table : Advantages and Disadvantages of Media

Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Newspapers High coverage Short life, poor production quality
Television Appealing to senses, high attention and reach High cost
Direct mail Select audience, personalization, no competition High cost
Radio Mass broadcast, select audience, low cost Audio presentation only
Magazines High quality production, selectivity, credibility and prestige Long ad purchase lead time
Outdoor Repeat exposure, low cost, low competition Limited to travelers on the way
Yellow pages Wide reach, low cost, effective database for customers High competition, creative limitation
Newsletters High selectivity, interactive opportunity, low cost Costs might run away
Brochures Full control of presentation, interactive Costs might run away
Telephone Opportunity to give personal touch High cost
Internet Interactive, low cost Only computer users

Once the communication has been released, the performance of the communication must be measured against the objectives according to the 6th M of the communication model. The measurement can be undertaken through marketing research. This will help to take corrective action to address any shortfall in the communication programme.

The Communication Mix

We can communicate about our services to our prospects and customers using the marketing communication mix. The marketing communication mix consists of (i) advertising, (ii) sales promotion, (iii) events and experiences, (iv) public relations and publicity, (v) direct marketing, and, (vi) personal selling. Let us discuss each element of the mix in the following sections.

  • Advertising is a paid form of indirect communication which can be done using mass media like newspapers, newspaper inserts, magazines, television, radio, billboards, cinema, internet, mobile phones and mobile broadcasting. Advertising can reach a large population in a short time although it is very costly. Advertising can be effective when the right message is given to the target audience.
  • Sales promotion includes window display, coupons, discounts, sale, money off, rebate, happy hours, free gifts, buy-one-get-one-free deals, club memberships and frequency points. While advertisement entices prospects towards the service, sales promotion give incentives for purchasing and trying the service. Sales promotion primarily allows some kind of financial saving for the customer, although some customers might find redeeming deals as an interesting and ‘smart’ buy.
  • Events include trade shows, road shows, inaugural functions, etc. that are meant to enhance sales during lean periods. Experiences include inviting guests for a visit to the service facility and experiencing its services with the aim of creating awareness and positive associations in the minds of the visitor and positive word-of-mouth about the service.
  • Public relations include the communication of company spokesperson to the public particularly about the resolution of erstwhile problems with the service or to notify them about investments made towards upgrading the service. Publicity includes third party communication, including editorial communication about the service for public consumption. Usually, media reporters are invited to a press conference of the company and are made to visit the facility and give literature about the service business. The reporters then write about the company in the media. The audience believes this type of communication the most, as a third party, not directly involved with the business, communicates about the business and is likely to be communicating the true scenario.
  • Direct marketing includes sending telephone, mail or email communication including catalogues, to the target audience about the service business and requesting them to act on it by replying back with some information, subscription, etc. Direct marketing also includes infomercials on television where the service is explained at great length and prospects are requested to dial telephone numbers appearing on the screen to make a purchase. This is a personal form of communication which can be very effective if it is sent to the right people.
  • Personal selling involves visiting the prospective customers and selling the services. We may be familiar with the personal sales activity undertaken by insurance agents. Although costly, personal selling can be very effective if the salesperson is able to communicate the benefits of the service business for the prospective customers.

This goal of the service business should be to deliver services at a level equal to or more than the promises that are communicated to the customer. This can be achieved through four strategies as discussed below:

  1. Management of Service Promises: As discussed earlier, inadequate service promises can be caused either due to puffery or the inability of the organisation to fulfill the promises. Again, the inability of the organisation may be due to lack of preparation or because different arms of the organisation are unclear about what has been promised by another arm and how the same can be fulfilled by the service personnel. In 1999, Professor Banwari Mittal has broken down the intangible characteristic of services into five aspects and forwarded a communication strategy to address each aspect as follows:

A. Services have an incorporeal existence without physical form. Accordingly, the service outcome must be clearly exhibited with the right associations.

B. Service benefits are abstract, like fun, security, health, etc. Hence, the communication must demonstrate how people are actually benefiting from the service.

C. Services are described generally by saying ‘wonderful service’, ‘complete customer satisfaction’, etc. without pinpointing the specifics. The service performance episode showing service personnel at work must be exhibited along with parts of the system documentation and performance statistics including certificates of recognition, etc.

D. Services cannot be searched and previewed before purchase. Performance documentation and customer testimonials should be exhibited. Service sampling can be offered to prospective customers through trial, visit to the service facility, etc. For instance, some educational institutes let future students attend a class session to preview the same.

E. Services suffer from mental impalpability, i.e. they are a set of complex procedures. This requires communication about the service process and past stories about what the firm did for her customers.

In addition to the above, effective advertising would include narrating stories about the service and creating a clear mental picture of the service process and outcome. Physical evidence and artifacts can be associated with the service. As service employees are the face of the service, they must be featured in communication messages. At the same time, service customers should also be featured along with testimonials of their experience with the service. Service communication can be humourous and witty, thereby becoming a subject of people’s discussion. It is important to make consistent communication using various elements of the communication mix, such that all messages are consistent with each other. Finally, service communication should make promises that the service business is ready to fulfill and all employees of the company know what has been promised and what they have to do to fulfill the same. One way to make meaningful promises to customers is to offer service guarantees and fulfill them. This would help customers perceive our service business as fair, honest, trustworthy and enhance its credibility.

2. Manage customer expectations: Realistic communication builds up the right expectations in the mind of customers. In case, the service is going to deviate from its earlier promises, it can give choice to the customer such that the alternative chosen by the customer can be fulfilled. Service outcomes and their levels can be separated out and customers can be offered different service outcomes at different levels for various prices. Hundreds of mobile phone service plans are an example of the above concept. When customers choose an alternative, they are clear about what they can expect from the service they are about to receive. At times, customers try to negotiate the price of a service to bare minimum levels. In those circumstances, service managers should communicate the unique benefits and value that the customer would derive from the service as compared to alternative ways of fulfilling the same need. Then he should indicate how the price is less that the value that the service business is delivering to the customer.

3. Improve customer expectations: Customers must be educated about their role in the service business. They have to be given clear step-by-step guidance as to what they should be doing as part of the next step. Service providers must understand that if the customer fails to play his/her role in the service process, the service remains undelivered and unsold! Therefore, customer education must ensure that customers know and remember when and how to discharge their actions. Since customers dislike waiting, they can be taught about the benefits they can receive if they consume the service during ‘happy hours’. The business must not assume that customers know about their role in the service process or any other information unique to the service delivery.

Next, customers must be communicated about service standards and guarantees that the business adheres to. It must also communicate to the customer when the service is over and communicate how the service has been delivered as per the standard and any guarantees about the permanence of the outcomes. This keeps customers updated regarding what to expect from the service business. The customer would also tell this to others and the word would spread by mouth, thereby creating wide knowledge about the delivery standards of the company. 

4. Manage internal marketing communication: As discussed earlier, it is important that all arms of the company are aware of marketing promises and initiatives that have to be fulfilled for customers. This requires real time communication, both vertically and horizontally. Several companies work with the concept of creating zone-wise or product-wise contact person or account executive, who is the one-point contact for the customer. He/she elicits customer expectations and communicates the same to the relevant service personnel across the company, so that the service is delivered by a cross-functional team.

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