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The integrated marketing communications mix in the digital age: Defining the promotional channels with examples of Paris Saint-Germain

The discipline of marketing communications is one of the main components of marketing and seeks to promote the company or brand and its services and products across a variety of marketing and communications channels through above-the-line tactics, e.g. mass media advertising, through-the-line tactics, e.g. direct marketing, and below-the-linetactics, e.g. sales promotion and PR (Fill and Osmond, 2017). The evolution of information technology in the 1990s, with the internet becoming accessible to mass consumers, led businesses to reassess their promotional channels for an adequate and effective delivery of their brand messages (Friedman, 2005). This meant that companies had to integrated their marketing communications mix, in which brand messages and experiences are linked across channels and delivered to consumers at the appropriate stage in their customer journey (Batra and Keller, 2016). These promotional activities parallel the efforts undertaken through integrated marketing communications, hence, the terms promotion and integrated marketing communications can be used interchangeably when referring to the promotion component in the marketing mix (cf. Yeshin, 2008).

The marketing mix consists traditionally of the four components product, price, promotion, and place, also known as the 4 Ps of marketing (Kotler and Keller, 2012). These were later extended to 7 Ps by including the components people, process, and physical evidence (Kotler et al., 2019). The objective of the marketing mix is to provide a strategic tool for marketers “to devise a product or service which will be seen as different in the eyes of prospective customers, to the point where they will prefer it to all competing substitutes” (Baker, 2008, p. 247). A strong emphasis on two-way or many-to-many communications like relationship marketing, co-creation activities, or social marketing in current-day marketing environments becomes legitimate (Jackson and Ahuja, 2016). Consequently, one of the main tasks to achieve the objective of the marketing mix includes the proper implementation and continuous maintenance of the promotion component, which is a composite of all integrated marketing communication exchanges between the brand and its target audience (Fetchko et al., 2019). According to Batra and Keller (2016), “Integrated marketing communications are the coordinated, consistent means by which firms attempt to inform, incent, persuade, and remind consumers—directly or indirectly— about the products and brands they sell” (p. 137). This means that marketers need to assess the appropriateness of their marketing and communications channels for reaching a desired objective or outcome along the consumer journey. Research has shown that different communication channels and media affect their recipients differently (Batra and Keller, 2016; Fetcho et al., 2019). Marketers should therefore consider which channel to apply for achieving a desired objective or outcome.

This article will examine a possible mix of marketing and communications channels that can be used to achieve desired objectives or outcomes along the consumer journey of a brand. Content examples drawn from the first team of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), one of France’s most popular and successful football clubs in recent times, will be offered and discussed. Examples from other football brands may be offered where no appropriate example could be found on PSG channels. 

An integrated marketing communications mix

Traditionally, the marketing communications mix encompassed the five channels advertisingsales promotiondirect marketingpersonal selling, and public relations (Fill and Osmond, 2017). However, the mix of channels and media available to marketers in order to disseminate information and engage with potential customers has evolved since mass communication was established, and it keeps evolving with new technologies arising and communication behaviours adapting on a continuous basis (Herczeg, 2007; Lister et al., 2009). Academic literature does not agree on ‘1’ specific contemporary integrated marketing communications mix, but offers variety of possible mixes, as portrayed in Figure 1. 

Figure 1: Overview of Integrated Marketing Communications Mixes from extant literature
Figure 1: Overview of Integrated Marketing Communications Mixes from extant literature

A contemporary integrated marketing communications mix based upon the literature reviewed for Figure 1 is offered in Figure 2 and described in the following paragraphs.

Figure 2: Proposed integrated marketing communications mix

Advertising

Fill and Osmond (2017) define advertising as “a non-personal form of mass communication that offers a high degree of control to those responsible for the design and delivery of advertising messages” with television, radio, ambient, print and cinema as its main media channels (p. 1/11). An additional characteristic for the advertising component is the necessary payment for placing an advertisement on a third-party platform in order to obtain the reach of the provider (Stanton, 1984). The communication platforms TV and display can be attributed to the advertising component, because both require the advertiser to pay for obtaining access to the provider’s audience (cf. Batra and Keller, 2016). Looking at advertising from the perspective of digital marketing, any kind of paid media campaign undertaken on search, social media or mobile channels can be attributed to the advertising platform as well, as they follow similar principals (Smith, 2011; Burcher, 2012). This includes Google Adwords, YouTube in-stream video ads and other ads, Facebook ads, and dedicated ads delivered through branded apps (Safko and Brake, 2009). Advertising messages offer a reason to buy a product or service (Kotler and Keller, 2012).

Sports marketing differentiates between two approaches to advertising: marketing of sports, i.e. promoting a sports brand’s products (e.g. tickets for a PSG football game, PSG merchandise, PSG TV Premium access, etc.) directly to fans and potential customers, and marketing through sports, i.e. promoting non-sports products and services using a sports brand like PSG as a communication vehicle such as through sponsorships, venue naming rights, or licensing (Fullerton, 2010). Figure 3 offers an example of marketing of sports: It portrays a paid Facebook ad in which Juventus FC explains the reason why football fans should subscribe to receive access to Juventus’ online TV channel. This could be applied to PSG’s efforts.

Figure 3: Marketing of sports: JuventusTV Facebook ad; accessed 10 April 2020

In the case of PSG, examples of marketing through sports include sponsorship deals such as a jersey sponsor deal with multinational hotel chain Accor (Carp, 2019) and a premium partnership with Qatar Airways as official airline partner (Qatar Airways, 2020). Furthermore, PSG deployed virtual advertising boards for geo-targeted advertising in 2018, which allows “to leverage additional advertising space on the LED screens around their home ground by allowing different brands to occupy the same space while advertising to different markets” (Holmes, 2018). Another contemporary example of marketing through sports for PSG is portrayed in Figure 4. Entering the term «psg jordan» in the Google search engine, to search for PSG merchandise of their Jordan sportswear, ads of third-party retailers appear instead of the PSG online shop. One reason could be, because PSG does not pay for advertisements on Google or because the retailers in the sponsored posts may be paying more than PSG is willing to pay for having ads displayed for the above-mentioned search term (Google Ads, 2020).

Figure 4: Marketing through sports: Google ads for search term «PSG Jordan»; accessed 10 April 2020

Sales promotion

Sales promotion is a non-personal form of communication with great capability to target smaller audiences and comprises tactical marketing techniques to provide added value to an offering, with the aim of accelerating sales and gathering marketing information (Fill and Osmond, 2017). Such techniques can include consumer promotion, e.g. samples, coupons, free trials, warranties, etc., trade promotion, e.g. prices off, advertising and display allowances, etc., and business and sales force promotion, e.g. trade shows and conventions, contests for sales representatives, etc. (Kotler and Keller, 2012). For digital marketing, established online sales promotion techniques may include discounts, virtual coupons, gifts or free prizes, special status or membership offers, product tracking, and free delivery (Zikienė and Kalmakhelidze, 2016). Sales promotions seek to offer an incentive to buy a product or service (Kotler and Keller, 2012). These incentives are commonly used in a later stage of the customer journey, when the recipient of the promotional message is already aware of the product or service and needs an extra motivation to make the purchase (Schwartz et al., 2013). 

PSG offers sales promotions on their official website shop, following two digital marketing examples put forth by Zikienė and Kalmakhelidze (2016): On their French website, customers in France receive free delivery with purchases of €50+, as displayed in Figure 5; on their UK website, a discount of 30% is offered for the 19/20 third shirts; see Figure 6. Both efforts serve as incentives––i.e. triggers––to motivate and enable users to make the purchase (Yocco, 2016).

Figure 5: Sales promotion on PSG’s French web shop; accessed 9 April 2020
Figure 5: Sales promotion on PSG’s French web shop; accessed 9 April 2020
Figure 6: Sales promotion on PSG’s UK web shop; accessed 9 April 2020
Figure 6: Sales promotion on PSG’s UK web shop; accessed 9 April 2020

Public relations (PR)

A company promotes and protects its image, products and services through public relations (PR), which traditionally includes press/media relations, i.e. presenting positive news and information about the organization, product publicity, i.e. sponsoring efforts to publicize specific products, corporate communications, i.e. promoting understanding of the organization through internal and external communications, lobbying, i.e. dealing with legislators and government officials to promote or defeat legislation and regulation, and counselling, i.e. advising management about public issues, and company positions and image (Kotler and Keller, 2012). The goal for the company is to receive publicity from third-party media outlets that are perceived as unbiased and neutral sources (Schwartz et al., 2013). This helps the company and its stakeholders “adapt mutually to each other” (Fetchko et al., 2019, p. 276).

Figure 6 depicts a simple but effective public relations example: A new partnership between PSG and Qatar Airways was announced on 1 February 2020 with press releases through both company’s media relations and was picked up by SportsPro, an international sports industry publication, to spread the news. PSG and Qatar Airways ‘earned the reach’ of SportsPro without having to pay for it, making effective use of their media relations.

Figure 6: Media relations example in which PSG and Qatar Airways earn the reach of SportsPro; all websites accessed 9 April 2020

A further example is shown in Figure 7. PSG’s have launched the #PSGengagé fundraising platform to benefit caregivers and people in need. The campaign follows corporate communications tactics as it applies external communications to promote values and interests that the company wants the public to know about (Kotler and Keller, 2012). 

Figure 7: External corporate communications about #PSGengagé; all websites accessed 9 April 2020

Events can be considered a PR technique, because, according to Kotler and Keller (2012), “Companies can draw attention to new products or other company activities by arranging and publicizing special events such as news conferences, seminars, outings, trade shows, exhibits, contests and competitions, and anniversaries that will reach the target publics” (p. 529). An effective tactic to cover an event online is to offer a livestream of or about the event (Stewart, 2018). For example, PSG utilises the Facebook live feature to broadcast training sessions to fans and followers (cf. PSG Facebook, 2019) and discuss upcoming matches (i.e. events) in order to give viewers a sense of instant proximity to the team, the event, and ultimately to the brand (Stewart, 2018). Sponsorship is another marketing communications technique in the PR component. It intends to build awareness by creating and strengthening long-term and mutually favourable associations between the collaborating brands (Schwartz et al., 2013). Its success can be attributed to the possibility to target a specific audience with a specific message (Pickton and Broderick, 2005). Sponsorship was already discussed in the advertising component from the perspective of marketing through sports (Fullerton, 2010). In the case of PSG and their PR efforts, sponsorship takes the perspective of the club. This could refer to, for example, PSG’s engagement in contributing financially and socially towards a good cause, such as fundraising and donating to hospitals and people in need in their community (PSG Website, 2020a). This example may not necessarily adhere to the traditional definition of corporate sponsorship, but it needs to be considered that sports brands are more likely to be used as vehicles for other brands to deliver a specific brand message, not the other way around (Fullerton, 2010). Nevertheless, the example depicts how PSG can strengthen their image and portray corporate social responsibility through philanthropy (Revilla-Camacho et al., 2016).

Social media

Safko and Brake (2009, p. 6) define social media as “activities, practices, and behaviors among communities of people who gather online to share information, knowledge, and opinions using conversational media,” which enable users to easily generate and send various forms of content such as words, pictures, videos, and audios through digital devices. Kietzmann et al. (2011) depict the social media framework as a honeycomb and offer 7 functional building blocks upon which its marketing and communication efforts are built, namely identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups. The successful implementation and management of these functional building blocks is based on carefully moderated consumer-to-consumer conversations, which are increasingly important in an uncontrolled digital media environment (Mangold and Faulds, 2009). PSG utilises various social media channels to and ranks 8th in the Global Digital Football Benchmark with a total digital community of 79 million followers and fans as of January 2020 (Result Sports, 2020); see following tweet. A comparison of recent numbers with numbers from 2015, shows improvement in PSG’s social media efforts (cf. Sports Business Research, 2015).

Website and online search

Websites are considered a key interface for users to access the internet (Palmer, 2002). Their success can be increased by creating a well-organised and easy to navigate virtual experience that offers visually appealing and value-adding content underlining the purpose of the site (Garett et al., 2016). Adding detailed information on a product or service on the website can have a positive effect on users’ cognition and therefore increase purchase intentions (Batra and Keller, 2016), which may be especially effective in an online shop. Figure 8 depicts the PSG website (in French) with a salient navigation bar including the home-link and links to strategically important sites such as for online shopping and brand initiatives, and an additional navigation in the form of a hamburger menu (Hingorani et al., 2016) for faster access to other, arguably less important, sites (Garett et al., 2016).

Figure 8: PSG website navigations; accessed 11 April 2020

Search engines like Google and Yahoo are among the main interfaces through which users search for websites and content on the internet; their main interest lies in delivering “accurate, relevant, high-quality search results to their users” (Ryan, 2016, p. 66). Search engine optimisation (SEO) has a positive effect on the visibility of a brand’s website and content in organic search results; therefore, on-page optimisation practices, e.g. creating relevant content and using appropriate HTML coding, and off-page optimisation, e.g. attracting inbound links and building authority, should be applied (Giomelakis and Veglis, 2015). An example for PSG’s successful SEO is the search for PSG match tickets. Entering the term «psg tickets» in Google results in the first search result leading directly to PSG’s official online ticket shop; see Figure 9. This would benefit the company, as it can sell directly to the end consumer circumventing a third-party and avoiding commission fees.

Figure 9: Successful SEO: Google results for search term «PSG tickets»; accessed 11 April 2020
Figure 9: Successful SEO: Google results for search term «PSG tickets»; accessed 11 April 2020

Mobile marketing

Mobile phones and faster mobile connectivity have revolutionised the way users access the internet, which led to all its communication opportunities are now available to consumers anywhere, anytime (Friedman, 2005). Among the main characteristics to be considered when planning a mobile marketing experience are interest and location of a user (Ryan, 2016). Mobile users prefer accessing information and content through a brand’s website or app instead of using a search engine, which underlines the need for a branded mobile app (Zhao and Balague, 2015; see Figure 10 for screenshots of the official PSG branded app) or a mobile-friendly website (Hingorani et al., 2016).

Figure 10: Official PSG branded mobile app for iOS devices; accessed 11 April 2020
Figure 10: Official PSG branded mobile app for iOS devices; accessed 11 April 2020

Figure 11 shows a screenshot of PSG’s official website (left-hand side) and how it is designed to be mobile-friendly. However, the screenshot on the right-hand side shows the brand’s official online shop, which does not seem to be optimised for mobile. The navigation bar shows four columns, although when designing for mobile only one column should be offered (Kim, 2013). 

Figure 11: Official PSG online shop on mobile; accessed 11 April 2020 on an iOS device

A further and arguably the easiest mobile marketing technique is the execution of text messaging through either short message service (SMS) or WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or other messenger apps (Shankara and Balasubramanian, 2009). customising mobile ads and coupons to reflect their interest or location can be an effective tactic to convert interested users into buying customers (Batra and Keller, 2016). Text messaging can also be considered direct marketing; hence, it will be discussed under the respective section. 

Direct and database marketing 

Direct and database marketing communications is interactive, immediate, and can be tracked; this means that brand messages delivered through these avenues seek a direct response from its recipients, which can be traced back to the specific communication (Fetcko et al., 2019). Walle (1996) sees direct marketing as “a viable option when a significant segment of the market is willing to forgo whatever benefits the traditional intermediaries provide in order to gain the resulting convenience and/or savings” (p. 72). Although direct mailings may be perceived as the most utilised direct marketing channels, due to its prominence in the post-World War 2 era, until the establishment of email and email marketing (Walle, 1996), other avenues can be included in this category that aim at reinforcing a purchase (Batra and Keller, 2016). A prominent contemporary direct marketing technique to foster consumption and strengthen loyalty is email marketing; in its simplest form, it seeks to deliver relevant information about a product or service with a dedicated call to action in order to encourage a desired action (Ryan, 2016). The marketing email portrayed as example in Figure 12 promotes indoor and outdoor merchandise for the coming spring season and links directly to the PSG online shop.

Figure 12: Official PSG marketing email from 9 April 2020

Telemarketing is another avenue for direct marketing that “provides for interaction, is flexible, and permits immediate feedback and the opportunity to overcome objections, all within the same communication event” (Fill and Osmond, 2017, p. 15/11). Text messaging, through SMS or other messenger apps, can also be applied as a direct and database marketing technique (Fetchko et al., 2019). Text messages that entertain, inform, and are credible influence recipients positively, whereas irritating messages have a negative effect (Pickton and Broderick, 2005; Shankara and Balasubramanian, 2009).

Personal selling and personal contact

According to Fill and Osmond (2017, p. 1/12), “Personal selling is traditionally perceived as an interpersonal communication tool that involves face-to-face activities undertaken by individuals, often representing an organisation, in order to inform, persuade or remind an individual or group to take appropriate action, as required by the sponsor’s representative.” The main goals include building and maintaining a relationship with people interested in the product or service and convert them to paying customers (Fetchko et al., 2019). In a brick-and-mortar setting, personal selling is commonly undertaken by salespeople, who offer advice to potential customers on their needs and wants. In digital media, personal selling can come in the form of a requested live-video to discuss the purchase of a possible product or service (Stewart, 2018), a consultation with a sales representative on a social media site (Kietzmann et al., 2011), or as a conversation with an AI-driven chatbot (Balasudarsun et al., 2018). 

In sports marketing, personal contact is a more appropriate term for the marketing communications component of personal selling, as community relations and socialisation are the main drivers and apply a less sales-driven approach, which entails that players and staff of a sports organisation foster goodwill in the community and build relationships with individuals and fans by ‘giving back’ to the community (Schwartz et al., 2013). Examples with a philanthropic perspective include popular players dressing up as Santa Clause and management showing children around the prestigious PSG facilities in the context of the “Paris Saint-Germain Foundation – Children First” (PSG Website, 2019) and young PSG players visiting children at the Poissy-Saint-Germain Hospital (PSG Website, 2020b). These examples could be considered PR tactics, as they seek to positively promote the brand and company (Batra and Keller, 2016). However, it can be argued, that PR is only the avenue that delivers the message that personal contact was made between the brand and the community. 

Conclusion

This article elaborated on the parallels between the promotional component of the marketing mix and the integrated marketing communications mix. Based on a review of seminal literature, a framework with eight dedicated marketing and communications channels was proposed, including advertising, sales promotion, public relations, social media, website and online search, mobile marketing, direct marketing, and personal selling. Examples of the football brand Paris Saint-Germain were assessed, and it can be concluded that PSG is mostly doing a good job with the application of its marketing communications channels, following the main theoretical notions. Furthermore, it can be observed that PSG integrates its communication by utilising contents connected to each other across different channels. For example, its partnership with sportswear manufacturer Jordan (i.e. Nike) is well interconnected through advertising, sales promotions (see Figure 5), PR (see link), social media (see link), and direct marketing (see Figure 12). Next, an assessment of how the channels are utilised to achieve communication objectives should be undertaken. Batra and Keller (2016) suggested a framework that provides guidance regarding which channels have the greatest influence in achieving specific goals. Definitely an interesting exercise in continuation of this article.

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