A commonality shared by all elements of the promotional mix is that their function is to communicate. Thus, it is important that advertising and promotional planners have an understanding of the communication process. This chapter reviews the fundamentals of communication and examines various perspectives regarding how consumers respond to promotional messages. Communication has been variously defined as the “passing of information,” the “exchange of ideas,” or the “process of establishing a commonness or oneness of thought between a sender and a receiver.” For communication to occur there must be some common thinking or ground between the two parties and a passing of information. The communications process is often very complex with success depending on many factors such as the nature of the message, audience interpretation and the environment in which it is received along with the receiver’s perception of the source and medium. The challenge of developing effective marketing communications becomes particularly evident when companies are developing advertising and promotional messages for foreign markets or for certain ethnic markets in the U.S.
BASIC MODEL OF COMMUNICATION
Over the years a basic model of communications has evolved that represents the various elements of the communications process. The elements of the model include:
A. Source/Encoding—the sender or source of a communication is the person or organization who has information to share with another person or group. It should be noted that the source can be an individual (e.g., salesperson or hired spokesperson) or a nonpersonal entity such as the corporation or organization itself. The receivers’ perception of the source influences the manner in which the communication is received, interpreted and responded to.
Encoding is the process of putting together thoughts, ideas and information into a symbolic form to communicate a message. The sender’s goal is to encode the message in such a manner so as to ensure that it will be understood by the receiver.
B. Message—the encoding process leads to the development of a message that contains the information or meaning the source or sender hopes to convey. Messages can take a variety of forms and may include symbolic forms or signs. To better understand the symbolic meaning that might be conveyed in a communication, many advertisers have begun focusing attention on semiotics, which involves the study of the nature of meaning. From a semiotic perspective, every marketing message has three basic components: an object, a sign or symbol and an interpretant. The object is the product that is the focus of the message (e.g. Marlboro cigarettes). The sign is the sensory imagery that represents the intended meaning of the object (e.g., the Marlboro cowboy). The interpretant is the meaning derived (e.g., rugged, individualistic, American).
The message must be put into a transmittable form that is appropriate for the channel of communication being used. Advertising messages range from simply written words or copy that will be read or heard as a radio message to the expensive production of elaborate television commercials with a great deal of visual impact and imagery.
C. Channel—the channel is the method or medium by which the communication travels from source or sender to receiver. At the broadest level, channels of communication exist as two types:
• Personal Channels which involve direct interpersonal contact with target individuals or groups. For example a salesperson serves as a personal channel of communication when delivering a sales presentation.
• Nonpersonal channels are those which carry a message without involving interpersonal contact between sender and receiver. These channels are often referred to as the mass media as messages transmitted through them are sent to many individuals at one time. The two major categories of nonpersonal channels are print and broadcast media.
D. Receiver/Decoding—the receiver is the person(s) with whom the sender shares thoughts or information. Receivers are generally viewed as the consumers in the target audience targeted by the firm’s marketing and promotional program. Decoding is the process of transforming and interpreting the sender’s message back into thought and is heavily influenced by the receiver’s frame of reference or field of experience. Effective communication is more likely when common ground or shared meaning or understanding exists or has been established between the sender and receiver.
E. Noise—throughout the communications process the message is subject to noise which refers to factors that can distort or interfere with adequate reception or comprehension. Noise can occur during the encoding, transmission, or decoding of a message. Noise can also occur because of a lack of common ground or understanding between the sender and receiver.
F. Response/Feedback—response refers to the reaction the receiver has after seeing, hearing and/or reading the message. These responses can range from non-observable actions such as storing information in memory to taking immediate actions such as ordering a product seen in a direct response ad. Feedback is the part of the receiver’s response that is communicated back to the sender and takes a variety of forms. Feedback provides the sender with a way of monitoring how the message is being decoded and received by the target audience.