Written by Jess C.
The Role and Aims of Marketing Communications: A Critical Perspective
Marketing communications is an essential part of any marketing strategy with the companies’ competitiveness and financial returns frequently perceived through the content of their messages and the channels of their delivery (Falat and Holubci, 2017, p.148). However, despite the importance of this concept, there still remains substantial ambiguity surrounding its strategic functions and roles for contemporary businesses. For instance, scholars are yet to reach a specific conclusion on how electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) could be successfully integrated into the communications strategies of contemporary organisations (Park et al., 2018, p.304). This essay critically analyses the applications marketing communications with the aim of evaluating their major strengths and weaknesses.
Marketing Communication: Key Applications, Aims and Developments
In accordance with Varey (2001, p.4), marketing communication can be defined as a set of tools and methods of advertising and promoting products and services. On the other hand, marketing communication is an opportunity for producers and sellers to find out needs, values, likes and dislikes of potential customers (Grenroos, 2004, p.99). Luo and Donthu (2006, p.70) argued that the main directions of marketing communication were advertising and sales promotion. A proper evaluation of marketing communication and its performance could help organisations to create a strong brand image and gain customer loyalty (Luo and Donthu, 2006, p.70). The outlined functions are realised through strategically selected channels such as the Internet, printed media or television (Ruyter et al., 2018, p.193). A major critical point is that each of these media is only suitable for targeting specific groups of customers and has its own limitations (Ruyter et al., 2018, p.193). For example, the Internet is highly effective for targeting young adults, but the spread and visibility of a firm’s digital communications could be challenging to control (Ryuter et al., 2018, p.193). Nevertheless, Prins and Verhoef (2007) argued that marketing communication benefitted from using the Internet as the majority of people used it for their own purposes and proper and unobtrusive advertising might increase the number of customers. Thus, marketing communications present a major opportunity for businesses worldwide, but could also act as a source of contingencies.
Branding serves as another important role typically allocated to marketing communications (Li et al., 2018, p.152). The more advertising companies dedicate to the development of brands the higher quality of products is expected (Li et al., 2018, p.152; Proctor and Kitchen, 2002, p.144). However, the dependency between the quality of brands and the advertising spending is not always linearly defined (Li et al., 2018, p.152). Advertising is mostly necessary for products that have to face a high level of competition in the market. New products may also benefit from advertising, but it does not mean that the quality of new products will be able to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. From this point of view, marketing communication may serve as a tool for attracting customers, but the effectiveness of this paradigm in customer retention is ambiguous. Coelho et al. (2018, p.101) supported the above findings and claimed that loyalty was fostered through consistent experiences and maintaining positive customer impressions as shown below.
This lessened the degree to which marketing communications affected the established customer base of the firm (Coelho et al., 2018, p.101). In contrast, Meyer and Arvind (1985, p.41) claimed that marketing communication was not only the advertising and promotion of goods but also a method of collecting data from customers that could be used to increase the quality of goods and services. Improved quality of goods, necessary attention to customers and proper treatment enhanced the number of retained customers. While brand equity may have played the core role in retaining customers, other studies failed to establish a link between any specific messages and brand equity improvements (Villarejo-Ramos and Sanchez-Franc, 2005, p.431). The work of Mihaela (2015, p.1446) provided a possible explanation of the above discrepancy by stating that integrated marketing communications created long-lasting impressions and served as emotional anchors influencing customer behaviours. This indicated that the marketing messages had to be consistent with the overall strategy of a company over a prolonged period to make an impact on customer retention (Mihaela, 2015, p.1446). Nonetheless, the authors failed to articulate a specific definition of integration, raising the issue of what specific practices had to be followed by real-life organisations.
The above problem is complicated further by the opinion that marketing communication has a broader meaning than advertising or promotion (Sridhar et al., 2005, p.278). The scholars stated that marketing communication was aimed at providing customers with information that would be sufficient for making a decision. The researchers differentiated between direct and indirect effects of marketing communication. The direct effect is associated with the influence of marketing communication on customer preferences. Marketing communication indirectly influences customer perceptions by means of providing customers with all the necessary information about the quality of products and their value. On the other hand, Sridhar et al. (2005, p.278) failed to account for customer segmentation, targeting and positioning. For example, Christy et al. (2018, p.1) noted that customer targeting was a determinant of marketing communications effectiveness. The key implication of this finding was that marketing communications as an instrument required the support of other tools and practices to be effective.
A major highlight of the above result is electronic word-of-mouth communications. The research carried out by Chen and Xie (2008, p.477) examined the role played by eWOM and concluded that the personal experiences of customers were vital when forming the content of these messages. On the one hand, online consumer product review provided customers with an easy access to information about products that are based on someone’s experiences that made the information more truthful (Finne and Strandvik, 2012, p.120). On the other hand, such kind of service cannot guarantee that information is reliable as eWOM could be affected by subjective perceptions and biases (Park et al., 2018, p.304). Furthermore, competitors may provide users with wrong information in order to negatively influence the willingness to purchase products manufactured by their rivals (Park et al., 2018, p.304). Thus, eWOM takes a significant degree of control over marketing communications from the business companies themselves serving as a major source of risk (Park et al., 2018, p.304).
The outlined results were mostly supported by Lagrosen (2005, p.63) who examined the strategies used by Swedish service companies. The findings indicated that there were three different marketing communication strategies that were used by the companies. The choice of a strategy depended on the scope of the internet use and also on the extent to which relationship marketing was utilised by the companies (Lagrosen, 2005, p.63). At the same time, the scholars failed to consider how digital marketing and social media could be integrated into strategic decision-making in the area of marketing communications (Jucaityte and Mascinskiene, 2014, p.490). This meant that marketing communications was not only a vital instrument of implementing business strategy, but also had to be aligned with the core strategic propositions themselves to avoid disruptions in their implementation (Jucaityte and Mascinskiene, 2014, p.490).
Marketing communications was defined as a method of informing customers of a company’s value proposition as well as a technique for gathering information for future product development. However, technological development in the form of eWOM, social media, and digital marketing have complicated their implementation. Moreover, marketing communications was often insufficient for customer retention. It is summarised that the concept of marketing communications should be viewed only as one strategic instrument available to a business. Businesses aiming at long-term success have to supplement its adoption by also considering other marketing dimensions such as branding and customer targeting.
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