Your brand has a story to tell, news to share, and customers to connect with—but you may not know where to start with your communications efforts, or at least how to do it well and in a coordinated fashion. You need a strategic communications plan.
A strategic communications plan is essential for any company that desires to get the right message to the right audience in the right way. This organized plan puts a roadmap in place for cohesive, clear and effective messaging to help achieve your business objectives.
Without a solid plan in place, it can be easy for communications to get fragmented, saying one thing on one platform and something different on another, which can cause a confusing, inconsistent brand experience for your customers.
Follow the steps outlined below to create and execute an impactful, aligned strategic communications plan.
1. Develop communications plan
There are five key steps to take when formulating a strategic communications plan. Consider the five W’s: why, who, what, where and when.
WHY: Determine your goal
The first thing you need to ask yourself is, why am I communicating this message? Your objective might be to drive brand awareness, influence consumer opinion or increase sales. You should have this goal in mind when creating your plan. It will influence the tactics you choose to utilize, the call to action you employ in your messaging and who you decide to target. Also, setting measurable goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) is important to do at the outset, otherwise, it will be difficult to assess if your communications campaign is successful or not.
WHO: Identify your target audience
Who exactly do you want to reach? Simply wanting to reach ‘everyone’ is not possible and will set you up for failure. To be effective, you need to research your ideal audience segments and create a profile of their demographics, behaviors, preferences, perceptions, motivations and challenges. Consider the customer journey and what they’re feeling, thinking and doing when interacting with your brand. You should have a strong understanding of your current customers, potential customers and all other stakeholders you’re communicating with. Knowing this information will help inform how to best communicate with each different segment.
WHAT: Define the key message(s)
What do you want to communicate to your target audience? You must establish clear, well-defined key messages, aligned with the company’s goals and rooted in your overarching brand strategy. You can’t say everything, so prioritize the most important points you want to get across, otherwise you’ll overwhelm consumers with information and nothing will stick. When crafting these message points, determine the tone, voice and style in which you want to communicate. The messaging can be adapted to different audiences and optimized for different channels, but should remain consistent in telling the same overall story.
WHERE: Select the appropriate delivery channels
Where are the best places to disseminate your message and reach your target audience? This is where understanding your customers and their preferences come into play. Some may prefer to receive a detailed email, others might like a quick text message. Some may watch videos on social media and others may favor reading in-depth articles. Consider earned media, paid media and owned media, and keep in mind that you won’t be able to reach every audience segment through one avenue. Your message can (and probably should) be delivered through a variety of channels and tactics, such as:
- press releases
- media interviews with key outlets
- thought leadership
- social media
- influencer partnerships
- email marketing
- SMS marketing
- website/blog content
- traditional advertising
- digital advertising
- live events
- and more
WHEN: Consider timing and frequency
When should your target audience hear this message, and how often? If you’re promoting a limited time offer or a quickly approaching event, your communications will escalate closer to the date of the promotion. This will obviously look different than an ongoing awareness campaign in which you’re regularly communicating with customers on a weekly or monthly schedule. If you’re introducing a new product, you may want to give yourself time to tease it with your social followers or give the news media a preview first, before launching it to the public. Getting the timing right is paramount to successfully executing a communications plan and shouldn’t be overlooked.
2. Execute integrated plan
You now have a fully built out strategic communications plan taking into account your goals, audience, key messages, channels and timing, and it’s time to implement it. You must collaborate with all marketing functions to ensure the content is verbally and visually cohesive across every channel, and that it is all on the proper schedule to be disseminated. Your spokesperson, social media community manager and employees should also be prepared to jump into action with the proper messaging if needed. This integrated approach is vital—public relations must be aligned with advertising, and internal communications must be aligned with external communications.
3. Evaluate results
It’s critical to ensure you have systems in place to track the results of your communications strategy, especially the metrics that matter most to you and your business. Website analytics, media monitoring tools, social media engagement analytics, email metrics or even a more advanced customer data platform will help you keep a pulse on the efficacy of your plan. Don’t forget to listen to your customers and employees, who can give you valuable, qualitative feedback. Take the time to evaluate how the campaign is performing and make adjustments as needed.
Communicating with your stakeholders is an ongoing, never-ending process. Just as the marketplace, media platforms and customer preferences change over time, you should continue to refine your strategy to improve and enhance your communications efforts. Don’t let your messaging or tactics get stale or outdated, or you’ll jeopardize your relationship with your customers and risk them moving on to the next best thing.
Knowing what to say, to whom, where to say it, and when to say it, is key to an effective public relations and marketing strategy. Constructing and utilizing a well thought-out and strategic communications plan will ensure your brand messaging will resonate with your audience and ultimately drive business results.