Optimize My Brand

Strategy, tactics, ideas and tips from Creative Company.

Integrated marketing communications … is it branding?

Before “branding” was a buzz word, there was integrated marketing communications

When I began in the design and marketing business, in the early years of Creative Company (1978 to 1988 or so), the term branding was used to describe hot metal applied to a cow. We pursued a process called integrated marketing communications.


The original term “branding” referred to heating up metal in a specific shape (the brand) then applying it to the skin of a cow. On open range, the resulting scar identified (branded) specific cows as owned by those who owned that brand design. Ouch.

In those early years, our work focused on a visually connected series of communications — anchored by a logo, fonts, and color palette — to create consistency for a business. The goal was to inspire instant recognition between all communications — ads, billboards, TV spots, stationery and business cards, brochures and folders, trade show booths, signing and vehicles. Everything visual followed a system to create “integrated marketing communications.”

Visual consistency demanded choosing a font system then using it and nothing else on everything from brochures to signing. It also required defining a color palette of PMS (Pantone Matching System) colors and their CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) builds for full color process printing.

This was before computers took over marketing

There was no need to define RGB or HTML colors or use web safe fonts. And really, fonts were spendy to buy and license. Photography was film, polaroids, time and many dollars. Reproducing color photos required costly color separations created on huge (and very expensive) machines. Full color printing meant four-colors on a press, sometimes one pass at a time. Then we progressed to two-color and four-color presses.

Ensuring consistency meant standing over the press to check color saturation and match it to the swatches in a PMS book for the project. Smaller budgets avoided full color photos due to the high costs of reproduction.

Yes, design and marketing communications were very different before computers came along.

Consistency created recognition between all marketing communications

Association of Oregon Counties Style Guide

This is an example of a visual identity style guide, standardizing colors and fonts for an integrated marketing communications system … the visual brand.

Yet that consistency visually tied marketing together. People knew at a glance who the communications were from.

We built recognition for the companies we worked with. We helped them stand out wherever their message appeared. The integrated visual system created a personality. Those integrated marketing communications supported how they wanted to be known.

Without that consistency, each marketing touch meant reintroducing the company. Follow up was less effective because there was no built-in recognition or understanding.

Integrated marketing communications is the foundation

With a visual system and consistent design standards, an effective integrated marketing communications system connected everything. That’s the first tenet of great branding — visual consistency. Creating an integrated marketing communications system was the foundation for today’s branding.

Yet today, nearly 40 years later, the concept of brand has evolved much further. An article in Fast Company offers a quick summary — 10 Questions Every Brand Should Ask to Ensure It’s Simple Enough. 

“… as our companies grow, so does their complexity. More offices and employees require more communications. Added product lines and services require more messages to larger and increasingly diverse audiences. And the evolution of digital technologies means there are new touch points and more communication channels through which to reach our customers.”

Why is this an issue?

Because keeping a brand simple and focused in this complex, multi-faceted, online and offline, constantly changing environment is tough, really tough.

To build consistency, a brand must go beyond the visual (although it’s still vital). In our work we focus on positioning, purpose and people … then build a visual and verbal brand. The verbal brand is a defined messaging hierarchy to express the brand consistently.

Large companies fret over every level of the experience — how audiences interact with what the brand/company does or provides. Another article from Fast Company, titled Branding Once Meant Logos, Now it Means AI, the author states:

“The brand is undergoing a paradigm shift. It’s no longer a mark. It’s not even a voice. It’s an intelligent entity, a personality, an algorithm capable of learning.”

While we’re not ready to go this far now … though it’s likely coming … addressing the interactions your audiences have with your organization is essential to building the brand.

A brand is the sum of experiences

If your audiences have a bad experience — a rude response on the phone; or a murky and confusing website; or a disappointing product and that doesn’t perform as promised–those experiences affect brand perceptions.

That’s why the concept of “brand” must be integrated into the entire organization. It must guide the design of products and services. It must drive how they’re delivered and supported. The goal is to integrate the organization’s purpose into actions that fulfill on that purpose. And yes, a cohesive visual identity is still part of an integrated marketing communications system.

Where do you want to take your brand?

branding-cattleThere are many options when you’re branding … whether refreshing what’s in place now, updating and upgrading an existing brand system with fresh colors and fonts, (brand refresh) or reinventing how you’re seen, recognized and known.

One thing is certain … your brand program will not consist of applying hot metal to cows.

And to have impact, your brand must be built around visual consistency and encompass a verbal brand to express key messages and ideas. Include integrated marketing communications and tight and rigorous management over the customer experience to create that consistent, visible and memorable brand.

Thinking about a rebrand?

Visit our website to see examples of new brands, brand redesign and brand refresh programs.

These blog posts will give you more insight into the rebranding process.

Our guide will help you decide if now is the right time to rebrand. Download it below.


About the author

Jennifer Larsen Morrow

Jennifer's four decades of work in the industry, starting as a designer and adding marketing, copywriting and digital marketing, has generated response for clients since 1978.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you Jennifer, 30 years I’m working on industrial engineering I don’t know what the IMS , now a days I try to understand some additional information .
    Dr Eng Acram Matar


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