Developing a communications strategy
— March 18th, 2018
The marketing and communications function in an organization bears a big responsibility: does the market know about the organization's offerings, and does it have a positive association with the brand? Do potential customers understand what the company's selling, and do they respond to campaigns? Metrics like these will help determine the success of the marcomms team, yet achieving these objectives is harder than ever when customers' attention is hard to get and harder to keep.
Internal communications teams have their own challenges, especially in large multinational firms where the barriers to communication are many. They might not be selling a product, but they’re responsible for making sure all parts of the organization understand each other and are informed about the latest internal developments.
Whether you're focusing on internal or external communications, it's important to have an overall communications strategy, rather than reaching out in a haphazard way and hoping your message gets through and resonates. By "strategy" we mean defining an overall aim and a series of steps to achieve that. First, let's look at external marketing and communications, where the strategy is likely to be tied to one of three objectives:
Achieving awareness in the market
An awareness strategy is all about getting a name out there, so it's well suited to launching a new company or a new brand in an existing business. Awareness is all about recall, and getting customers to hear about (and ideally remember, either prompted or unprompted) your brand and what you offer. While that might conjure up visions of splashy, high-visibility advertising campaigns, a more affordable technique that's also more authentic is seeking out third parties who are already discussing your brand and amplifying what they're saying.
Smart use of social media such as LinkedIn also gives the opportunity to write and publish articles and opinion pieces for free, taking care to ensure your company's name is clear on your content (and on any social media posts that promote it.)
Educating the market
Technology companies, in particular, often need to educate the market. A communications strategy that's focused on comprehension and education may favor easily-digested pieces of marcomms content, such as infographics or short videos that explain the market need and how the product addresses that pain. Positioning against current solutions is critical here: the target may think they already have a solution for the pain outlined, but an education-focused strategy will clarify why that solution is sub-optimal and the new offering is superior. These campaigns focus on feeding the potential customer with information, and success may be measured by metrics like how many attendees came to a webinar or how many people downloaded a piece of content.
Educational material can also be practical how-to's on using a product or service but do ensure that educational content isn't just reserved for customers and delivered as an after-sale extra. Take care to put ample educational material out there for customers still trying to make that buying decision.
Response and conversion
Response campaigns are focused on results. That usually means sales, or generating marketing-qualified leads (MQL): people who are more than half-way along the road of making a buying decision. These leads can be passed to the sales team as a genuine prospect to be pursued. A communications strategy that's focused on response is aiming high, but some would argue that a marketing team who can't directly track their activities through to sales activity isn't earning its keep. Communications strategies that are based around response and conversion are becoming increasingly common, especially with the rise of content marketing tools that make it easier to track how engaged the audience is with a piece of content and to follow up in a targeted way.
Internal communications strategy and wider organizational goals
While internal communications may seem completely different, an internal and an external strategy share the same overall objective of ensuring organizational health. A solid internal communications strategy helps ensure better morale and better employee engagement in the overall corporate objective. The Local Government Association in the UK makes a useful internal communications strategy template available. Most importantly, it advises an organization to set objectives, as well as assess available resources, set a timeline, and identify anything that could put the strategy at risk. It's important to benchmark, with things like surveys to assess current employee engagement, as the internal team can return to these tools later to determine whether the communications strategy made a difference.
Don't see the strategy development phase as wasted time. Whether internal or external, your communication strategy gives you the time to think deeply about what you want to achieve and set targets you can measure your work against. It also gives you the confidence of direction and purpose, and an agreed plan you can return to later if you need to assess whether a certain tactic or campaign can help achieve the goals you have already set.