By Tom Duncan & Sandra Moriarty
The Integrated Marketing Audit developed at the University of is used to identify message inconsistencies and strategic gaps in a company's marketing communication program. For example, an audit of a national consumer goods company found one message theme was used in all television advertising, but only 22 percent of other advertising; another theme was used in 80 percent of television advertising, but only 20 percent of sales promotion materials.
In another example, an audit found that 24 percent of all printed messages were not targeted to any of the high priority stakeholder groups identified by management, and only 1 percent were specifically directed to the target audience rated most important by management.
With today's marketplace emphasis on customer relationships-i.e. retaining and growing the value of existing customers-new internal systems and operations are needed to manage the communication demands of relationship marketing. Consequently, companies are setting up cross-functional processes and making other structural changes to better manage brand relationships. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of such efforts, there is an increasing need to audit these internal processes to make sure that they are, in fact, integrated, and operating efficiently and effectively.
We are focusing in this article on the effectiveness of the processes of marketing communication, rather than outcomes. Although process controls such as financial audits have been used for years, few companies have a system for auditing the processes they use for managing brand relationships even though both TQM and ISO 9000 standards require companies to continuously monitor all their processes and procedures, even marketing communication.
Because our audit evaluates more than just traditional marketing communication (i.e. personal sales, advertising, marketing PR, direct marketing, sales promotion, packaging), we call it an integrated marketing [IM] audit rather than an IMC Audit. We're concerned with inconsistencies in planned messages, but we're also concerned with all the messages being sent by a company and how they reinforce or contradict the messages in the planned communications.
An IM audit should be done by an outside, objective team and should be a census (not just a sample) of the managers of all departments impacting on brand relationships. At the audit orientation meeting with top management, the audit instruments are reviewed and customized to fit the organization's structure and needs.
IM Audit Objectives and Instruments
The objectives and benefits of the IM Audit are evident in the following explanation of the audit tools. These include three basic interviewing instruments, as well as a variety of optional tools depending on the type of business and how in-depth the organization wants the audit to be.
1. Core Competencies Questionnaire. This questionnaire determines the respondents' knowledge of the marketing and marketing communication plans and practices and their attitudes about various marcom areas. Specifically, this instrument evaluates their knowledge of the following areas:
· Objectives: Is there agreement on communication objectives and the brand's positioning among the various marketing groups/departments/ functions? Does the objective-setting process include everyone who contributes to creating messages?
· Targeting: What are the target/stakeholder priorities? Which stakeholders are most important and is there agreement among managers? What are the key messages for each of the target audiences?
· Contact Points. Are these identified? What messages are being sent at these points of contact? Are these experiences measured and analyzed? Who manages them?
· Organization: How much agreement is there on the responsibilities of the various marketing communication departments/functions? How is coordination managed? Who is responsible for coordinating communication efforts? Is cross-functional management used?
· Customer Databases. To what extent do customer databases exist within the organization? How accessible are they, and how often are they used? What are the procedures for capturing customer dialogue and other interactions? Is there sharing of databases, market research findings, and other types of planning information?
· Integration. What's the brand's current level of integration? What are the advantages and disadvantages of integration? What are the major barriers to being more integrated?
· Outside Agencies. To what extent are marketing communication agencies involved in strategic planning? How much communication/sharing of ideas is there among agencies?
· Interactivity. How far has the company moved into interactive, two-way communication with customers?
· Planning. Does the organization use zero-based planning? To what extent are objectives based on some kind of prioritized SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis?
2. Communication Network Survey. This is a matrix of closed-ended questions that pinpoint the following information: Who talks to whom, how often, and about what? Who drives planning and decisions? Who influences them? How often are respondents involved in MC planning (formal/informal)? How much and what kind of information sharing is there (research, other information)? What are the patterns of internal communication among departments? Is one department doing more talking than listening?
3. Content Analysis. All marketing communication or planned messages used by the company over at least a 12-month period are gathered and then analyzed to determine whether they are consistent with marketing and MC strategies: Do they deliver on the objectives? Are they on target? Are key messages appropriate for key audiences? Is there a consistent portrayal of
company/brand positioning and image? Is there consistency in creative strategy and execution? Content analysis findings are then compared with interview findings to determine the organization's actual level of integration. The content analysis also helps identify gaps between strategy and performance.
What Can Be Learned From an IM Audit?
As evident in the two examples at the beginning of this article, the benefits of auditing the organization and its relationship management processes can uncover major inefficiencies such as targeting gaps and inconsistent themes. Some of the other benefits include the following:
· Confusion about objectives: In one company, managers gave nine different responses when asked what the corporate marketing communication objectives were and ten different responses for the brand marketing communication objectives.
· Lack of agreement on message content: A retail chain had begun advertising "Low Prices Every Day," however, there was no agreement among managers on what this meant. Interviewees gave seven different explanations of what this new pricing strategy involved with none given by more than 15 percent of the interviewees.
· Lack of agreement on which stakeholders are most important: In response to a question rating the overall importance of the organization's stakeholders, interviewees at a health care facility ranked patients/families as the most important, but that group was only ranked eighth by top management. Similarly, political leaders were ranked ninth in importance overall, but third by the public relations staff.
· Lack of information: In all our audits, the majority of marketing managers say that half the time they do not receive enough information from other departments to do their jobs effectively. The information mentioned as difficult to get were sales results, research results, and promotional and other special marketing plans for specific events and programs.
· Limited use of research results: In one packaged-goods company ($150 million marketing communication budget), 37 percent of the managers said they did not know of any market analysis being done by the company, 33 percent said some was being done but didn't know if it was being used, and 15 percent said very little was used.
· Little knowledge of planning: In one company, 60 percent of the managers did not know how the budget was allocated among departments; half of them did not know how each year's communication plan compared to the previous one.
· Little knowledge of evaluation: In a high-tech company, 35 percent of the managers did not know if or how the company evaluated its marketing communication programs.
· Limited use of databases. One business-to-business company had a relatively small number of industrial customers; yet it did not capture any customer buying behavior information.
An audit can identify problems a company doesn't even realize it has. For example, while auditing a high-tech manufacturer (annual sales over $300 million), the audit discovered that the marketing communication department had little knowledge of, and made little use of, the company's databases even though the company had fewer than 200 customers.
Furthermore, most of the company's marketing communication messages were in the form of ads in industry trade magazines, rather than direct marketing, which would make more sense given the narrow target market.
Realigning Relationship Programs
Although the IM Audit was designed to be an evaluation tool, it also provides a road map for showing how a company can become more integrated.
The audit provides an objective, well-documented list of what must be changed in order to strengthen brand relationships.
If the process used for building brand relationships is not properly managed, it can produce confusion and conflicting messages rather than value-added communication. But unlike other industries where a recall is used when defects are discovered, it is virtually impossible to recall 1,000,000 relationships to replace a broken promise or align inconsistent messages after they have already been communicated.
Tom Duncan and Sandra Moriarty are both professors in the University of Colorado graduate IMC program and they are co-authors of Driving Brand Value. You can email Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.