– Antoine de Saint-Exupery
You know marketing your organization matters. You know measuring the results of your marketing matters. But do you feel confident that those marketing efforts are driven by a larger strategy? That what you say and how you say it are messages that consistently convey why your organization exists and what it does?
Too often, communication teams focus their marketing energy on executing tactics – eblasts, videos, ads, webinars, social campaigns, etc. – without first identifying how those tactics map back to a larger strategy. Sure, tactics are shiny. They show action. And many are measurable. But if you don’t know how they roll up into a plan that aims to help you accomplish big picture goals, then you may be wasting time and resources. It’s kind of like shooting at a target in the dark…a target that may or may not even be the right one for you.
What Exactly Is A Communication Plan?
A Communication Plan helps you make sure those tactics are worthy of your budget and time. It provides guidance on where to focus marketing energy in order to get the most ROI. It lays a roadmap for how to make desired marketplace perceptions a reality. It identifies the right messaging and gets everyone using that messaging.
So, what exactly goes into a Communication Plan? Here are a few critical elements:
- Positioning Statement: Communicates what an organization stands for and why someone should engage with it
- Target Audiences: Identifies the most important individuals and organizations with whom to communicate
- Key Messages: What target audiences should know about an organization
- Communication Strategies: 30,000 ft view of the most effective way to accomplish outreach goals and long-term recommendations
- Marketing Tactics: How to put the strategies into action. Prioritizes the most important activities to implement
- Measuring Success: Recommendations for what to assess in order to to determine what is (or isn’t) working
Need more convincing that developing one of these is an exercise worth your while?
Here are 4 reasons why you need a Communication Plan
1. Know Where You’re At
One of the most valuable elements of this process is what happens at the very beginning – research. Before you can build a plan, you first have to identify just where you’re starting from. Confirm what you’re doing well, where you have gaps, what the industry actually thinks about you, and (we love this one) what your customers say about you when you’re not in the room. This foundation work ensures that your Communication Plan addresses what it needs to – building on successes and tackling challenges. It’s how you can feel confident that tactics and strategies are built on evidence-based needs and opportunities.
This research can be in the form of interviews – calls with key staff, customers, prospects, and leaders in the industry. It can also take the form of surveys to gather input from a broader sample size.
Regardless of the course you choose, the important thing is to make sure you don’t skip this vital assessment step. It’s equally important to take the insights from this research seriously. Each perspective captured offers a piece of your organization’s reputation pie. After all, perception is reality. (As a bonus, this assessment work often uncovers problems and opportunities totally unrelated to marketing—but vital to the organization.
2. Avoid Guesswork
You need to constantly make decisions about what to do next with your marketing. Do we go to that conference? If so, should we sponsor? At what level? Our competitors are doing more on social media. Should we? New customers aren’t as engaged as we’d like. How do we change that?
A Communication Plan provides guidance to help you answer those questions. This increases your efficiency by avoiding guesswork on what to keep doing, what to stop doing, and what to start doing. In addition to other obvious benefits, this results in more confidence since you have a better idea of what to do whenever you arrive at forks in the marketing road.
These principles apply to messaging as well in confirming your key differentiators. Some organizations realize that they’ve been shouting the wrong benefits from the mountaintops to their key audiences.
3. Sing from the Same Songbook
“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” – Yuval Noah Harari
Many organizations struggle with messaging discipline. They have too many degrees of variation in how their values and services are described – sales says one thing, customer service says another. When all of those different messages float around, you lose your audience in competing narratives. Of course, the exact wording you use can vary from website to brochure to booth signage depending on the target audience and the channel used to reach them. But the core of that communication should be consistent and always reinforce the organization’s positioning and key messages.
Specifying what you should say and how you should say it are key elements of a Communication Plan. Committing to using the messages as a team helps increase clarity and consistency. It gets everyone singing from the same songbook, magnifying the resonance and volume of your collective message. How does that play out? It means the elevator pitch your sales team uses, the press release language that describes your organization, the copy on your website, the handouts at your conference booth and everything in between are all aligned and connected.
Since every communication touchpoint is an opportunity – a first impression for a prospect, a re-engagement from a doubting customer – make that opportunity count by reinforcing clear and consistent messaging.
4. Reduce Risk
When you put all of these things together, one of the strongest benefits is risk reduction across the board. On the messaging side of things, you’re reducing the risk of inconsistency and missed branding reputation opportunities. You don’t have to worry about misaligned language in sales collateral, website content and conference handouts.
– Nat Turner
When it comes to choosing strategy before tactics, you’re reducing the risk of spending time and budget on things that may not be helping you accomplish your goals.
By starting with strategy, you see things you otherwise wouldn’t.