I’ve been in the communications industry for many years and I never get tired of explaining why communications strategies matter.
Whether you’re a government agency with a public information campaign, a small to medium business looking to build customer engagement or an education institution wanting to raise your profile, a communication strategy can make a difference.
A map = a strategy
I like to use the analogy of a trip and a map or if you’re really organised like me, an itinerary setting out your plans for each day of your trip.
My first question, would you head off on a road trip without a map or Google Maps? Just be warned Google Maps doesn’t work when you don’t have mobile coverage. We’ll come to that a bit later.
With your map handy you now know where you’re headed, what the stops along the way are, how long it should take to get to them and how to reach your final destination. Your itinerary sets out what you’re going to do in each of the places you’re visiting. Where you’ll stay, where you might eat, what you’ll see, the touristy sites. With that map and itinerary in hand, you’re confident you’ll get to your destination on time, safely, on budget and with the results you want which is to have a fantastic holiday and road trip.
A tourist or holidaymaker = a business or organisation
As a government agency or department, education institution or small to medium business, you want to know where you’re headed and what that journey looks like. You want to know you’re spending money on something worthwhile. You don’t want to waste your money without any planning. A strategy or plan, means you can get your communications campaign rolled out on time, within budget, your objectives met and all the markers of success.
That’s my goal. It’s why I do what I do. It’s why I love it. Having a goal, a plan and a result ticks all my boxes and makes me a very happy person.
Knowing your objective
Like with any holiday or road trip, you need a goal. Are you just wanting to get to the destination as quickly as possible or are you happy to detour along the way and spend some time soaking up the sites and attractions?
Consider your goal, what do you want to achieve from this campaign or communications project? What do you want your audience to do at the end of it? Do you want them to buy something from you? Or learn something new? Would you like them to engage with you? Are you trying to change their behaviour? Are you nurturing a long-term relationship or is it a one-off interaction?
Understanding your audience
One of the many reasons I’m so passionate about communications strategies and the value they bring to a business or campaign is they force you to consider your audience.
Identifying your target audience can be challenging. You might have a very niche audience and know exactly who you want to talk to or market to. Or you may have a very broad audience. Identifying, researching and targeting that audience is essential for having an effective strategy.
The beauty of a communications strategy (and it really is beautiful) is that it captures that audience, again in your guiding document. Once you’ve got that identified, you no longer have to make decisions on the run about your target audience. You know who they are and now we can work out exactly how to target them and what content to target them with.
Talking to your audience
Now that you know who you’re talking to, you need to decide what you’re going to say.
Knowing what to say to your target audience is a really important element of a communications strategy. What do you want to tell them? What are the important pieces of information you want to share? Do you want to inform, educate or sell? Are there different messages for different audiences?
All of this feeds into the type of messaging to use.
Consider your communication channels
Deciding what communication channels you want to use for your campaign is a really important step.
Firstly, what do I mean by communication channels? A communication channel is a way of distributing or sharing your information, that might be:
– social media – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter
– a digital approach like a website or app
– traditional media like print, radio or television advertisements, editorial articles
– outdoor advertising – billboards, shopping centre signage and
– much more
There are a lot of options depending on your target audience, your key messages, your objective and your budget. Your campaign might call for content on a lot of these channels, or just a few to best reach your target audience.
Know your audience
Earlier I mentioned that Google Maps doesn’t work when you don’t have mobile coverage. This brings me to an important point. When you’re considering communications channels to use for your campaign, it’s tempting and exciting to stick with digital and online only. That’s where everyone is these days. Well, not always.
This reinforces my point about knowing your audience.
Depending on your audience demographics and where your audience spends their time, not using traditional channels for your campaign can be risky. While most of us are online, some of us still use traditional media, whether that’s print, like newspapers and magazines or flyers, (I’m still a big fan of business cards), broadcasting, like radio and television, outdoor advertising, including billboards, bus stop and shopping centre signage.
Why do you think we still see so much of this material in election campaigns? Because it works. Political parties do their research, they spend millions on polling, voter research, databases in every MPs office to target and send letters and brochures, the printing, the corflutes. It does work. And that’s why they continue to do it, together with online communications.
What I’m saying is it’s important to consider multiple communication channels. Target your audience accordingly, but don’t limit your communication to just one or two channels, unless your research and target audience insights strongly indicate that.
A team effort
Communications strategies also matter when you’re working in a team. Sure, you might know where you want to go and have a pretty good idea of how you’re going to get there, but without a guiding document setting those things out, it can be hard for a team to work efficiently, successfully and happily. As you bring all the elements of a team together and their contributions, a strategy sets out how they feed into the overall objective and how it contributes to the result.
Knowing where you’ve been and whether it was successful or not is essential for the success of a communications strategy. A communications strategy includes recommendations on content and communication channels based on an understanding of your objective, target audience, your messaging and your budget.
But you need to measure those activities during and after the campaign. There are a number of tools to do this, giving you the information to decide whether to keep going, adjust the strategy or stop doing a particular piece of communications. As well as measuring your campaign, it’s important to report on your activities and determine if the campaign was a success.
By Katie Tilden, experienced communicator and content writer with a passion for fresh, affordable and engaging content without the jargon. Katie has worked in media and government communications for 17 years.
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