Develop Your First Communications Strategy (Part 2)

If you’ve never developed a communications or marketing plan before, the process can seem daunting. This two-part post is designed to help you create a short and effective communications strategy by giving you a condensed outline of just the essential elements that you will find in almost every communications plan out there. If you create a plan with only these items, you will still be well on your way to marketing success, and you can always add more pieces to it later as your confidence grows.

Start by reading Part 1, which outlines the structure of the communications plan, setting goals, and performing a SWOT analysis. The first two steps are like drawing a map of where you are and all of the possible roads for getting to your goal. Once you’ve performed those steps, you will be ready to write the final two parts of the communication plan, the implementation plan and evaluation methodology. The implementation plan is the equivalent of actually mapping out the directions to get to your goal, and the evaluation methodology is like a GPS monitor that confirms when you’ve reached your final destination.

Implementation Plan

The implementation plan has three sections that all fit together to form the core of your external communications strategy. Because the implementation plan is the only part of your plan that comes into contact with your target audience, the other three parts only matter to the people at your company; it’s probably the section you will spend the most time on. The main purpose of this section is to identify who the target audience for your campaign is, what messages you are going to communicate to them, and what channels you are going to use to distribute those messages.

Target Audience: The first part of developing the implementation plan is identifying the target audience. If your business is already operating with some level of success, the best way to approach this is usually to look at the top 10% of your customers in terms of revenue, or however else you would identify your “best” customers, and then find what they have in common. Once you’ve identified the common theme amongst them, you’ll know the kinds of people you want to attract with your communications plan.

If your business is not established, you’ll have to do some research to determine your target audience. Look for similar products or services to yours in the marketplace and try to see who purchases them most frequently. Create a short survey to judge people’s interest in your offering and share it with your social network. Then look for common traits among the people who show the most interest in what you do.

Messaging: Once you’ve identified your audience, you need to decide what you are going to say to them. We’ve covered many of the important aspects of writing effective messages in our “Keys to Copywriting” series. If you’re brand new to developing communications, it would be a good idea to read those more detailed posts before coming up with this section of your communications plan.

In general, the most important part of your message is that it approaches things from the perspective of the prospect. Your message needs to be centered on them. It needs to show how they will benefit from your offering, how their lives will have less stress, or how they will enjoy themselves because of what you’re selling. If, from their point of view, the prospect can’t see why your offer is a smart choice for them, it doesn’t matter how good your product is. If that prospect can’t see the benefits, they’re not going to buy.

Another key aspect of developing messaging is always being sure to include a call to action that drives viewers of your communications materials to behave the way you’d like them to. Whether that’s making a purchase, joining your email list, or referring a friend to your store, if you don’t tell people what you want them to do there is a good chance they won’t do it.

Communications Channels: After you know who your audience is and what you are going to say to them to convince them to take the actions you want them to, you have to figure out how to connect the two. Spend time researching where your target audience spends time online, find out how they learn about new products like yours, interview them to understand their behavioral patterns and desires.

Once you’ve got your results, find places where your audience both spends a substantial amount of time and is also receptive to new messages. If you sell a fitness product, you know your target audience spends a lot of time in the gym. However if they are hard-core workout enthusiasts who are completely focused on their training while they’re at the gym, that may not be the best place to advertise. Even though you have a large share of their time, you won’t have a large share of their attention, and that’s the critical part of making sure your audience receives your message. Channels can also be websites, newspapers, magazines, networking events, conferences, radio stations, the local barber shop, or anywhere else your prospects spend time and have their attention open.

Evaluation Methodology

The final piece of the communications plan is the evaluation methodology. This section outlines how you will know if you’ve reached your goals or not. It wouldn’t matter if you create the best communications plan in the history of your field, if you leave out this step you will never be able to tell if your campaign got the results you were hoping for or not.

This section also serves as a check and balance against the goals section at the beginning. If you are evaluating the performance of your entire campaign against reaching the goals you set, you will know what tactics are working and what tactics are not. This will force you to stay focused on results instead of sporadically jumping from tactic to tactic based on whatever you see as the latest marketing trend in your line of work.

Some goals are fairly straightforward, while others can be harder to track. For example, increasing conversions on your website is fairly simple to monitor. Most analytics software packages will allow you to identify the campaigns that deliver a visitor to you site, and will also track if they wind up making a purchase or not. With this information you’ll be able to evaluate whether or not your campaign improved your site’s conversion rate.

Other goals can be harder to monitor. “Soft” metrics like brand awareness can’t be measured with analytics tracking. The only way to evaluate awareness is through surveys. You will have to poll a segment of your target audience before your campaign to see how many people are familiar with your company, and then survey an identical segment of your audience after your campaign to see how many more people are familiar with your brand and if the increase met your goal or not.

Without having the proper methodology in place, you will have no way to evaluate whether or not your communications plan met the goals you identified in the first section. And if you don’t know whether or not the plan worked, you won’t know if you should continue to run it, fix problem areas that are under-performing, or discard it and start over from the beginning. You need the evaluation methodology to make sure that your strategy is leading you towards your goals. Without it you will almost certainly wind up somewhere other than the destination you outlined at the beginning of the plan.

Now that you have the basic format and instructions for developing a communications plan, it’s up to you to execute! If you run a successful campaign please share it with us in the comments, too.

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