Strategies: Part Five of the Modern Communications Plan

The strategy section is usually where people start. Resist the urge! Start with the first four steps: Identifying your vision, goals and objectives and ‘greatest accomplishment,’ your target audience and main channels. If you don’t go through those steps first, you could waste a lot of time developing a beautiful strategy that misses the mark. After all, there is no sense in engaging in a high-level strategy like social media, if you’re trying to reach someone who doesn’t use it. (Yes, those people actually exist.) Or, if they use social media, it isn’t where they go to buy insert whatever you sell here.

Common strategies include:

  • conducting media relations
  • engaging in community relations
  • launching a new community (online or in person)
  • holding events
  • attending or producing trade shows
  • launching a new “theme” for your company or industry or re-branding
  • creating your own channels (i.e. launching a magazine)
  • engaging or launching social awareness, philanthropic and corporate social responsibility programs
  • engaging in customer recognition
  • creating an awards program

Hopefully, this short list got you thinking what is possible. Next up? Tactics.

The whole communications plan template can be found here.

 

Measurement: The Most Ignored Section of the Communications Plan?

This section in your communications plan is one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored areas. You may be saying to yourself, of course we’ll be watching what we’re doing and see how well it’s going. But, do you know how you will go about monitoring and capturing the results from your communications work? And, once you see the outcomes, will you understand what they mean and the influence they are having? How will you track the results against your goals and objectives?

First, know how you would know you’ve reached your audience and reached them well. If your communications effort is a success, what will your audience learn from you, what will they understand and believe, and how will they act from now on?

From there, you can identify what is important to measure:

  • actual traffic, such as how often people visited your Web said or other online channels (social or otherwise), how many people attended your speaking engagement or stopped by the trade show booth and more,
  • level of engagement, such as number of comments on blog posts, retweets on twitter, questions at events, conversations going “viral” online and more,
  • extent of interest in your stories, which is often measured by media attention, attendance at speaking engagements, sign-ups to blogs, RSS feeds and more, and
  • a change in attitude or behavior among your target audience members, most often measured formally via market research or sales cycle changes.

Then, set up a monitoring system to track those results. A myriad of online tools exist for tracking traffic and engagement levels. But, we believe it takes a human being to monitor both offline and online conversations and messaging to see if the work is “taking hold.” Someone should be in charge of actively participating in the channels being used to communicate.

If I were to be asked for an ideal measurement scenario, it would include formal market research. Budgetary concerns often make the ability to conduct surveys, studies and focus groups difficult. But, by measuring attitudes and behaviors of your target group via formal market research before the communications plan is executed and then again after the effort, the level of change affected in your target will be much more apparent than just counting up number of media hits and retweets (as important as doing those things are).

Regardless of the measurements you will use, benchmark the results gathered against the milestones you’ve identified for the plan (in addition to goals and objectives) and see how results track over time. In general, communications activities do not produce results over night even in our fast-paced online world. Be sure to set up realistic goals for seeing results.

If you know your target audience well, you should be able to see if the results the communications effort produced are a substantial change or shift in your audience’s understanding about you (and their actions) or not.

Yet Another Part of Today’s Communications Plan: Choosing the Right Channels

This series exploring each section of the contemporary communications plan has forced me to think deeply about the way the world of image, reputation and visibility has changed in the last few years. One of the greatest changes has been in the number and quality of communication channels.

When broadband made audio and video possible, and platforms such as Facebook and YouTube became widely used, the communications game changed. Now, if it was possible, it was expected. We quickly learned we had to use (or at least explore) those channels or be left behind by competition or find the users themselves taking over the conversation about our companies, people and brands.

But, it also is not possible to do everything. How do you know where to put your energy?

Your choice of channel depends on who you are trying to reach, naturally. But, your decisions also must take into account your appetite and ability to manage interactive discussions, the complexity of your stories and messaging, and your capacity for developing content.

Now that the world has gotten used to such a rich and robust communications environment, it is a good time to pause and think. Which channels actively engage your audience in the way that you need and that will have active influence? (Active influence means you are causing a change and subsequent action. Passive influence means you may introduce them to new thinking but it doesn’t cause them to act – yet).

Three things to think about:

1. Start with the basics. Consider how your audience likes to get information. Through video, like YouTube? Via graphics, like infographics? Through editorial, such as peer-reviewed journals, traditional editorial media or other? Experientially, such as demonstrations at trade shows? From experts, like attending panels, speeches and other speaking venues? From their peers?

2. Make a list of all the channels that are possible. Traditional media outlets (trade, business, consumer), social media channels, industry trade shows and speaking venues, like TED, community events, and organizations, special events (that you organize), direct mail, e-mail, books, and more.

3. What do these channels require to be effective for you? Robust content in the right form and the right amount of interaction is key to making a channel work well. Be realistic about your capacity and resources. Identify where you may need more or where there are opportunities to remerchandise existing content.

This section does not need to cover every channel you may end up using. But, it should give some direction as to where you are going to spend your time and give guidance around what you will need to produce and manage.

Modern Communications Planning: The Target Audience Section

Continuing our series on modern communications planning, today we discuss the target audience. Or, to whom are you trying to communicate?

In my 27 years working in the communications field, I have found many organizations spent much time talking about how the proverbial “we” were going to get our ideas across to people “we” were hoping will spend time and money with us. In fact, most of the time was spent talking about what “we” want to say, and a smaller percentage of the time was spent talking about who was going to hear it. If this sounds familiar, it is time to reverse that trend.

Including a section that has basic information about your client or customer base, such as top-level demographic data, key market research findings, descriptions of their world, and other information helps keep your decision-making real world and relevant.

First, honestly answer how well you know your audience. You may believe you know them quite well. Sales force feedback, focus groups, surveys, and direct conversations give you good information. But, is it proving to be enough?

In  the book Transformational  Speaking, author Gail Larsen, offers the following four questions to ask yourself about an audience:

  1. Is your audience seeking information?  Is your audience moved by data? Do they just not know much about your topic and they want to know more?
  2. Is your audience seeking insight?  Are they just looking for what to do? Are they looking for someone to lead
    the way?
  3. Is your audience seeking to expand their imagination? Are they seeking to make something new happen?
  4. Is your audience seeking to be illuminated? Are they seeking to be changed at a deep level? Do they want to be moved?

These questions are mostly used before developing a presentation. But by knowing where your audience falls in the above four categories, you may now set the tone of all your communication efforts.

But, then, dig a little deeper before delving into the strategies and tactics portion of your communications planning. Answer the following questions about your prime target (your sweet spot customer):

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, leaving a legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Layer the demographic data and market research data on these answers to develop a one page profile of your target audience. Include:

  • Job title/where they fit into the organization
  • Where they get their information
  • Who influences them
  • What they need solved, advanced or changed, and why
  • What are they worried about
  • What messages would likely resonate with them (the tone, word choices, and stories)

You’ll find  that the communications strategies you choose will be (or should be) developed to fit the needs of this profile.

Step 1 of the Modern Communications Plan: Vision and Desired Achievements

Yesterday I offered a template for a modern day communications plan. If you haven’t refreshed your plan in the last 18 months, you may want to consider doing so.

I will blog about each section in the coming days. First up is identifying your vision and desired accomplishments. Also developing a list of goals and objectives is important. Determining these upfront will ground your planning and execution and ensure communications programs result in what you want and need.

Vision
With communications, an end is never truly reached. It is an ongoing effort. But, when do you know you’ve arrived at a place where you can say it is working? Write up your vision for the communications effort. Once reach, influence and action is obtained from your communications, what is the big result? What is the reputation and image you want to develop?

A good result of a communications effort for a nonprofit organization might be to reach “go to” status on all things related to their cause. For a business, it may be developing a level of authority or be seen as the most customer friendly of all competition. Regardless, name the reputation and image you want to have resulting from the effort. This segment of the plan keeps everyone on the same page and working toward the same status, character and standing in your market or industry. It is grounding.

Our Greatest Accomplishment
By listing a Greatest Accomplishment you are essentially telling everyone there is a specific goal you want to reach that will illustrate when you have “arrived.” What is the “holy grail” achievement that would show your influence is working?

An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to have introduced a new idea. For some businesses, getting on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (in a positive light, of course) is seen as the ultimate success. Whatever it is, give everyone something to strive for that is concrete and achievable. It is motivating.

Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the Greatest Accomplishment. What are the mile markers that show you are making things happen and are headed in the right direction?

Goals are milestones to reach, likes steps on a giant communications ladder. They include things such as number of followers, fans, likes and engagement levels from audience members. Other goals might be getting published, having so much traffic at a trade show booth, and holding a certain number of events to positive acclaim and more.

Objectives are things you create, such as sparking new conversations, new ways of thinking, and new levels of status and standing. Other examples include moving from proactively pitching the media to having the media reach out to you for commentary or being asked to be a guest blogger regularly. Regardless, list them as specifically as you can. It will keep the plan “working.”

On Monday, I’ll delve deeper into the Target Audience section.

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our clients’ overall communications and special projects. Each day I will blog about the main parts, including providing questions  that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

  1. Vision. This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete?
  2. Our Greatest, Desired Accomplishment.  This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve in one year.
  3. Goals and Objectives. This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (new creations, such as new conversations and ways of thinking or a new status).
  4. Target Audience. This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that describes who you are communicating to.
  5. Main Communications Channels. This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push out your information, thought leadership and ideas.
  6. Strategies. This section discusses the main strategies employed and why.
  7. Main Tactics. This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward.
  8. “We Won’t” List. This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to having a focused effort.
  9. Content Strategy. The section addresses how you are  going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.
  10. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling. This section should include your story and message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch on the organization or project to a few signature stories that illustrate what you are accomplishing or how you think.
  11. Monitoring & Measurement. This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored  areas, will go into measuring how well you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.
  12. Team Players. This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

We are open to your ideas, as well. If you believe a modern day communications plan should include sections we neglected to include, let us know. In the meantime, check back daily for the plan’s breakdown.

A Common Pitfall in Business Storytelling: Wrong Story Overall

Over the last few days I’ve written about the four major steps in organizational storytelling, modeled after Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. But, even with all the right elements in place, there are pitfalls to avoid.

For one, be sure you are telling your story to the right audience.  Or rather, have the right story for the audience.

Ensuring your story resonates with your listeners requires you know something about them. I am not talking about deep market research. Just some basic facts will do. If you are speaking before a group, are they from a particular industry? Have a common need, vision or issue? If it is an individual, do you know them personally? (If not, keep the story as universal as possible.)

For instance, if you are speaking to a group of people in the hospice industry do not tell a story about how your rock climbing injury kept you from reaching the top of Mount Everest. If you are a CEO and are lamenting about your contractor problems on your beach house before an audience that could never afford such a luxury, expect to miss the mark.

Universal themes are always the safest bet, unless you know the group or individual intimately. Being relevant is more important than being titillating.

Part Four Of Knowing Your Audience: Their Spotlight Pitch

The final installment of our 4 part series around knowing your audience for better messaging and storytelling is the most simple and most complex at the same time. It will require extreme objectivity, a modicum of honesty and a tinge of bravery. Here goes.

What would your customer’s spotlight or elevator pitch about you say?

  • Take a moment to enter a mental place of objectivity about your products and services.
  • Write down three key points your customer would say about you if they were trying to sell a friend on getting involved with you. (If you answered the 5 questions posted on Tuesday and conducted some “fly on the wall” monitoring from yesterday’s post, you should know these.)
  • Take out anything that you wish they would say, but probably wouldn’t.
  • Write up a 4 sentence spotlight pitch.

Now, what aspects of it should be included in your organizational story or business narrative?

Part Three of Knowing Your Audience: What do they say about you?

This is part 3 of a 4 part series on the importance of – and exercises for – knowing your audience before developing your story. Yesterday we discussed the 5 questions to ask about your audience.

Part 3 to fully knowing your customer, member or client?  Know what your customers say about you to others.

Smart leaders know that what you hear on customer surveys and even focus groups isn’t always the whole truth. The subtle difference between what they say to you and what they really think and report to others can be the intelligence you need to make subtle shifts in your presentations, speeches or messages.

For many years, retail outlets have hired “mystery shoppers” where owners hired individuals to pretend to be a customer and then report back on their experience. (Did you know there is a Mystery Shopping Providers Association?) But, there are other ways to be the proverbial “fly on the wall.” A few include:

  • Monitoring social networks, forums and groups for your name or product name.
  • Setting up a Google alert on your organization (and yourself).
  • Monitoring the comments section on media and blog postings that discuss you and your organization or products and services.
  • Simply asking the people around them (other vendors and other customers or members) what they say.

Asking them yourself via direct visits and calls and market research activities is important. But, knowing what they say when you leave the room is priceless.

Part Two of Knowing Your Audience: 5 Essential Questions

Yesterday, I discussed how important it is to know your audiences deeper than ever before.

Today, could you answer the following questions about your prime target, your sweet spot customer, the group or person you need to influence?

  1. What are the top 5 things on their minds right now? What is keeping them up at night? (e.g. keeping their jobs, growing their company, completing a project? Something more specific?)
  2. And, what magic wand do they wish they had to resolve their concerns, issues or challenges?
  3. What are 3 things that motivate them? What is most precious to them (e.g. time, money, health/vitality, power, success/admiration, security, comfort, legacy, making a difference/contribution)?
  4. What tone of voice attracts them? (e.g. humor/entertainment, serious business/security, urgency?)
  5. What was their defining moment or defining experience that led them to possibly needing you and what you have to offer?

Whether or not you are about to make a sales pitch, are getting ready for a presentation or speech, about to launch a fundraising effort or other activity, knowing the answers to these questions will make your stories and presentations and messages much more powerful. Take the time to answer them.