Simply put, a strategic communications plan is a description of a company’s marketing and communications goals and activities. And it should be treated as an essential document for any company, especially a start-up. While every plan should include a few key sections (outlined below), there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that works for every business. A communications plan for a restaurant will be much different than one for a hospital, for example. But here is a snapshot of the crucial elements that every plan should include.
This opening section describes the nature of the business and how it plans to grow through strategic communications and marketing.
Arguably, the single most important feature of any communications plan is the background research and analysis. After all, how can you be expected to tell your company’s story if you don’t know much about the industry in which you operate? Generally this background research will identify the current market size, segmentation, target customers, growth opportunities, risks and competitors. In addition a SWOT analysis for the company itself would be helpful here.
Establish Your Mission, and Your Messages
Now is the time to define your brand, your products, your company and your value proposition to the market.
State Your Goals
Goals should be simply what you want your communications to achieve. These are specific, measurable outcomes: a percentage of market share, annual sales, growth into certain markets, etc.
Define Your Strategy
Strategies are the initiatives that will allow you to realize your goals. These should answer the question of “how” the company plans to communicate to its customers. For example, a restaurant might devise a strategy for becoming a go-to family gathering place on Monday nights, in the hopes of meeting its overall revenue goals. Or, a backup software company might create a strategy for focusing on a certain customer niche, like publishing companies or law firms, in order to support its own expectations.
Define Your Tactics
These are the tools of the trade. Identify the channels of your communications strategy here, such as social media, blogging, digital advertising, direct response marketing, or media relations. Be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to simply list a bunch of marketing channels – describe how they will be used. Consider the strategies you’ve identified above. Do your tactics support them?
Build a Schedule and a Budget
Now that you have a set of tasks to complete, put them on a schedule. Identify who “owns” each task, and list anticipated completion dates. Keep your team accountable and abreast of approaching deadlines. Also, is your marketing and communications budget in line with the strategies you plan to implement? Talk with vendors, publishers, printers and anyone else that can give you the necessary cost information to make sure what you’re planning falls within your budget.
Keep it Alive
You’ll put a lot of work into this plan. The last thing you want is to see it relegated to a dusty corner in someone’s office. Marketing and communications strategies evolve. You might have to prioritize certain goals over others. Test and measure what’s working and update your plan accordingly.
Today is picture day at my daughter’s daycare. In my unbiased opinion, she will be the most photogenic and adorable child present, partly due to genetics, but also partly due to the outfit my wife picked out for her last weekend at Ridgedale Mall.
I was along for the ride during this mission, and when I wasn’t checking my phone for fantasy football updates, I was giving nods of approval for the various outfits my wife considered. We were in some sort of chic designer clothing store catered to parents of infants and toddlers, so pretty much every outfit looked to be picture-day ready. We aren’t normally the type of parents to shop in such stores, but again: picture day. Out-of-state grandparents demand satisfaction.
When the decision was made, I had a conversation with the cashier that made me think about direct marketing, and how the quest for personal data seems to have become a never-ending struggle between retailers and consumers.
Cashier: Is that all for you today?
Me: Yes, thank you.
Cashier: OK, what is your email address?
Me: No, thank you.
Cashier: No problem. What is your phone number?
Me: No, thank you.
Cashier: OK. Are you a member of our rewards program?
Me: No, thank you.
And so on. Eventually I was able to hand over a credit card, take my item and leave the store. But the whole experience just left me slightly irritated. It’s not that I haven’t been through that song and dance before – indeed, nearly every retailer these days requests the same personal data if you so much as pop in for a pack of gum.
Now, I work in marketing and public relations. I get it. Customer loyalty programs are great for generating repeat business and showing appreciation for reliable patrons. Phone numbers lead to addresses which lead to direct mail offers. These campaigns can be successful, else they wouldn’t be so prevalent (more so all the time, it seems). But we don’t even have a land line. Our cell numbers won’t provide an address, and we certainly don’t want to receive offers via text message. Is there a risk that eventually there will be pushback from consumers? A polite “no, thank you” isn’t a big deal, but three or four for a single transaction, times many transactions over time add up and, if you’re like me, it sours the experience. Customers want to get in, out and on with their busy lives. The personal nature of the requests can be off-putting. Customer lists are sometimes sold to third parties leading to a greater supply of junk mail.
Retailers generally have to market to survive, and I’m not advocating they stop doing so. What I would suggest is smarter, more personal marketing that avoids holding up, or even badgering, every customer at the point-of-purchase. Also, a little employee communications coaching can go a long way. Instead of “What is your email address”, opt for a softer approach. “Would you like to provide an email so we can send you exclusive offers?” It’s more courteous, it’s transparent, and it becomes a two-way opt-in process.
Point-of-purchase data mining isn’t likely to go away any time soon. A few tweaks to the way retailers go about handling the process though could result in a better response rates, higher levels of trust, and in my case, less annoyed customers.
Regardless, I still can’t wait to see how the pictures turn out.