In the past, China had been practicing a command type of economic system where the administration has the final say on all business matters. However, through the transformation of its economic policies, China has now opened its business and market opportunities for other nations. With its booming economy, foreign companies, such as those from UK, are able to access to China's large market and achieve significant profitability. Establishing foreign business in the country however, would require effective marketing strategies. Foreign businesses would have to learn the Chinese market and adopt strategies that would suit the main customers' standards. The increased entry of foreign businesses in the country then gave rise to various marketing strategies. One of which is the integrated marketing communications (IMC).
IMC has actually been developed during the latter part of the twentieth century; however, the concept, approaches and contributions relevant to this strategy have only been highlighted recently (Kitchen & Schulz 2000). This strategy involves the combination and integration of the different aspects of the communications mix. This had been considered an effective technique in overcoming the limitations of various communication elements (Hackley & Kitchen 1998). As more and more companies are recognizing this technique, IMC has gradually been considered an essential competitive advantage (Weilbacher 2001).
While most UK companies have already applied this marketing technique, China views this as a new strategy. Moreover, despite the usefulness of this strategy, the application of IMC in the country appears to be constrained due to some lacking essential factors (Hu 2006). Though there had been a number of studies conducted regarding the effects of IMC, there had been limited studies on how the application of the strategy affects companies in the international business setting. This proposed study will then attempt to investigate on how UK companies operating in China are able to apply IMC in their operations. Specifically, how the introduction of IMC in the country affected the UK companies and their local target markets will be the focus of this proposed research.
Statement of the Problem
Entering a new foreign market is an advantageous yet risky business move. In order to effectively penetrate a market, foreign companies must be able know its main target. Through this, appropriate marketing strategies can be applied. However, this task becomes even more challenging in the international setting as there will be affective factors that can hinder the application of the companies' conventional marketing tactics such as the IMC. As IMC can possibly contribute the development of foreign trade as well as the economy of the country, identifying the effects of this technique to the consumers and the companies is essential. In relation to this, the researcher will use the following research questions to guide the investigation:
- How do UK-based companies in China apply the IMC strategy?
- How do their target markets respond to this technique?
- What difficulties have these companies encountered in relation to IMC application?
Rationale of the Study
Limited researches in the past have indicated that China has just been introduced to the IMC approach and that certain constraints appear to hinder its full application. A number of previous researches however, had cited several advantages this approach can bring to the business sector. By means of identifying and addressing these constraints, foreign companies operating in China may be able to adopt the IMC strategy to obtain optimum business outcomes. In effect, this could play as an important contributor in supporting China's further foreign trade and economic growth. Specifically, this could make the Chinese business sector more attractive to foreign investors accustomed to this marketing strategy.
Significance of the Study
Understanding how companies behave and operate in the international setting can play a significant role in enriching current knowledge on international business and marketing. As IMC is one of the current strategies applied by businesses today, investigating on its application and effects will provide up to date and useful information for other companies. Increasing the awareness and available information on IMC in the Chinese business sector through this research can also be significant, particularly in widening the companies' knowledge and access to other marketing possibilities.
There had been a number of literatures describing IMC and its role to business marketing. This section will then cite some of these literatures, including those that describe the status of IMC in China and other countries.
Integrated Marketing Communications
Integrated marketing communication (IMC), utilizes the strategic combination of various promotional media such as public relations, advertising, direct marketing and package design (Moore & Thorson 1996). Pickton and Broderick (2005) provided a summary of features that make up the IMC approach. These features include coherence, consistency, continuity and complementary. The coherence feature stresses the aspect that in IMC, various communication elements should be connected in a logical manner; the consistency feature is centered on the aspect that despite multiple messages received through IMC, they support rather than contradict each other; these messages should also flow consistently through time; the communication elements should also complement each other to establish synergy.
Schultz (1993) stated that IMC is a concept that recognizes the strategic role and importance of each communication discipline, such as direct response, public relations, sales promotion and general advertising, and combines these disciplines in order to achieve consistency, clarity and optimum communications impact. IMC enables interactivity, which in turn allows the counter flow of information. Its aim is to optimize the impact of persuasive communication on both consumer and non-consumer such as trade and professional audiences. In this case, users are able to participate in modifying the type and content of information they obtain at real time (Edell & Keller 1989). One important aspect of this integrated approach is the resulting effect of a more enhanced means of brand building. By means of this marketing strategy, businesses are able to promote their products or services to more people; considering that multiple marketing tools are used, businesses have higher chances of reaching out to its multinational market.
While traditional means of marketing like advertising is one way in nature, the integrated approach permits users to do several functions, including receiving and altering information or images, forward inquiries, respond to these questions, and the most important of all, make purchases (Moore & Thorson 1996; Moore 1993). These functions make IMC a complex marketing approach. In particular, Pickton and Broderick (2005) introduced a model called the wheel of integrated marketing communications where marketing techniques and their capability to overlap are shown. Traditional elements of sales promotion, advertising, personal selling and public relations are illustrated in the model as techniques that can be used in a number of different ways. This model emphasizes how one-to-one or one-to-many communications for brand and image management serve as essential aspects of IMC.
Traditionally, marketing practices were founded within strong barriers wherein various functions on marketing and promotion are planned and managed separately, with specific market views, budgets, goals and objectives. During this time, marketers failed to realize the importance of coordinating all marketing tools in order to enhance communication and image to target markets (Moore & Thorson 1996). By 1980s, several organizations have understood and realized the effective strategy behind the integration of various promotional tools. Later, this marketing approach was termed as the integrated marketing communications or IMC. The utilization of IMC is indeed the manifestation of the twenty-first century marketing wherein strategies should be more flexible in order to adapt to diverse marketplaces. By means of combining different means of communication elements, marketers become more adaptable to the marketing preferences as well as needs of the customers. Furthermore, IMC represents current marketing approaches of today wherein resourcefulness and creativity other than professionalism are present (Kitchen 2003).
A number of previous studies had been conducted in the past in order to determine the impact of IMC application to various countries. A series of exploratory studies by Kitchen and Schultz (1999) was done using the American and British application of IMC. The researchers concluded that IMC was helpful in generating creative and effective business ideas, increasing the impact of communication and providing communication consistency. These developments then supported the view that IMC is capable of improving return of investment from the customers. Earlier studies also revealed similar findings. For instance, in 1995, an IMC-related study concluded that in the US, 95% of the selected respondents claimed that an integrated marketing approach would improve the impact of their respective marketing communication programs (Schultz 1996a). However, some studies also noted that difficulties can be encountered in applying this strategy.
Schultz (1996b) for instance, conducted an IMC study where the familiarity of the Indian marketers on the strategy's concepts had been described. In spite of this, the marketing approach was not as actively implemented in the country. The study found out that several marketers were hesitant of applying this marketing strategy as they are not used to depending their marketing communications programs to one agency. Furthermore, in order to successfully implement this technique, heavy reliance on structure, skills, staff and budget would have to be done. These on the other hand, hinder other marketers to apply the IMC strategy.
IMC in China
The integration of communication strategies for marketing has recently reached the Chinese business sector. The research conducted by Hu (2006) cited that this development marks the third phase of China's business marketing history. In particular, the author noted that modern Chinese advertising is made up of three important stages. These include the emergence and foundation stage (1979-1989), the introduction and communication stage (1990-1999) and the integration and transcendence stage (2000-2003). Although the country has already familiarized itself of this marketing concept, the application of IMC in China had remained constrained due to certain lacking factors. Specifically, imbalance between interpersonal relationship and mass communication, incomplete database, backwardness of measuring techniques for communication effects as well as undeveloped objective conditions were some of these affective factors that affect IMC implementation in the country. This is similar to the case study conducted in India, where despite the recognition of the concept, the strategy cannot be fully recognized due to certain obstacles.
Similar findings had been obtained by researchers who had conducted an IMC study in South Korea (Han, Kim & Schultz 2004). The researchers found out that IMC has indeed been introduced and recognized in the country. Majority of the respondents had already or are planning to implement the strategy in three years time. Most of the participants also have a positive perception of the strategy, indicating the local advertising agencies broadening promotional views on integrated approaches. In particular, local agencies see IMC as more that a theoretical concept but a practical strategy. Furthermore, the respondents believe that IMC is a conceptual idea capable of providing better communication consistency, efficiency and impact.
The researchers however, identified some difficulties encountered in implementing this strategy. These include business culture issues, inadequate staff talent and existing decision-making procedures in marketing communications in the country. Though some the challenges mentioned can be remedied by training or employee education, some factors are more difficult to address considering that they have been part of the country's business marketing culture. Changing these conventional business practices will then be difficult and probably would be dependent on how much the companies truly need integrated marketing and communication approaches (Han, Kim & Schultz 2004).
The descriptive method of research will be used for this study. Creswell (1994) noted that the descriptive method of research is to gather information about the present existing condition. The emphasis is on describing rather than on judging or interpreting. The aim of descriptive research is to verify formulated hypotheses that refer to the present situation in order to elucidate it. The descriptive approach is quick and practical in terms of the financial aspect.
Moreover, this method allows a flexible approach, thus, when important new issues and questions arise during the duration of the study, further investigation may be conducted. In addition, the descriptive method is also used for researches that aim to identify and explore the cause or causes of a certain situation. The researcher opted to use this research method considering the objective to obtain first hand data from the respondents.
The data for this study was based on both primary and secondary sources. Primary information was gathered through the survey questionnaire distributed to the selected respondents. Secondary sources on the other hand were based from printed references; these had been used mainly to support the results of the survey. In terms of approach, the quantitative approach was used for this research.
In order to obtain the necessary data to answer to the developed research questions, participants from UK-based companies applying the IMC strategy and operating in China will be utilized. A total of 40 respondents will be asked to participate in the research process. For the purpose of information relevance and limiting the population size, inclusion criteria will be used during the development of the sample. In particular, employees of the selected companies assigned in the marketing department will be considered as qualified participants. It is also essential that the employees selected have been employed and assigned in the said department for at least three years. This will ensure that the participants had been exposed to the issue of IMC application in China. This criterion has been based on the advertising development stages in the country. As age, job position and gender will not affect the results of the study, these sample criteria were no longer included.
Simple random sampling will be done for the participant selection. This sampling method is conducted where each member of a population has an equal opportunity to become part of the sample. As all members of the population have an equal chance of becoming a research participant, this is said to be the most efficient sampling procedure. In order to conduct this sampling strategy, the researcher would have to define the population first, list down all the members of the population and then select members to make the sample. For this procedure, the lottery sampling or the fish bowl technique was employed.
This method involves the selection of the sample at random from the sampling frame through the use of random number tables (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2003). Numbers will be assigned for each short listed employee. These numbers will be written on pieces of paper and drawn from a box; the process will be repeated until the sample size is reached. The participants will be gathered from 4 UK-based companies in China. The researcher chose to focus on limited number of companies to be able to handle the size of the population, making sample selection less complicated.
The survey questionnaire will be used as the main data-gathering instrument for this study. The questions on the survey will be based on the different factors related IMC application in China found on various literatures. The survey will explore the experiences and encounters of the selected employees regarding the application of IMC in the country. In particular, how the consumers responded to this type of marketing technique will be investigated. Furthermore, the difficulties encountered by the company during its implementation will also be questioned. In general, questions in the survey will attempt to discover how IMC application in China has impacted the company's operations and customers.
The questions will be structured in Likert format. In the Likert technique, the degree of agreement or disagreement is given a numerical value ranging from one to five, thus a total numerical value can be calculated from all the responses (Underwood 2004). The equivalent weights for the answers will be:
4.50 - 5.00 Strongly Agree
3.50 - 4.49 Agree
2.50 - 3.49 Uncertain
1.50 - 2.49 Disagree
0.00 - 1.49 Strongly Disagree
The Likert survey was the selected questionnaire type as this will enable the respondents to answer the survey easily. In addition, this research instrument will allow the researcher to carry out the quantitative approach effectively with the use of statistics for data interpretation. Once the all the answers of the respondents have bee gathered, the research will compute the weighted mean value for each survey item. The mean will then be compared to the scale shown above to interpret the results. The weighted mean will be used in order to obtain the average values that will represent the sample's response to each question in the survey. This will help the researcher identify the general response of the participants to the question given.
Data Analysis and Presentation
After gathering all the completed questionnaires from the respondents, total responses for each item will be gathered and tabulated. In order to use the Likert-scale for interpretation, weighted mean to represent each question will be computed. To compute for the weighted mean, each value must be multiplied by its weight. Products should then be added to obtain the total value. The total weight should also be computed by adding all the weights. The total value is then divided by the total weight. Statistically, the weighted mean is calculated using the formula below:
The entire studywill be divided into five chapters. The first chapter will present the background of the study, the objectives, research problems and its significance. In the second chapter, literatures and published documents pertaining to website usability, related studies and various assessment techniques will be discussed. The research methodology to be used for this study will be discussed in chapter three. Specifically, this chapter will focus on the description of the participants, sampling technique and the research instruments which will be utilized in the process. In chapter 4, the results of the conducted evaluation test will be presented. Finally, the fifth chapter will summarize the findings and provide the conclusion and recommendations appropriate for this research.