Communications Strategy 101: Get Your GAME On

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One thing that I often hear from executives is that they want to improve their corporate communications, marketing and public relations, but they don't know where to start. Perhaps the conversation begins with an executive saying they want a presence on social media, or they want to blog, or they just want to "get their name out there." How do you do it? How do you develop a communications strategy?

The answer: Get your GAME on.

While developing a complete communications strategy takes research and in-depth planning, one can make the first moves fairly easily and can quickly point the ship in the right direction. This process, which can take a few hours for a cursory approach or several weeks for a deep dive, focuses on four areas: Goals, Audiences, Messaging (and tactics) and Evaluation. "GAME," get it? (Don't feel the need to be snarky about the "T" in "tactics." It's my process, so I'm calling it "GAME.")

Goals. To paraphrase one of the greatest vice-presidential debate quotes of all time from Admiral Stockdale in 1992: "Who are we, and why are we here?"

What are your communications goals? The answer to this may seem simple, as it almost always points to sales growth, but let's be more specific. Is your business new and unknown (or just quiet, marketing-wise), and you would like to use communications to build name recognition? Are you well-known in the marketplace but have changed your product or service, so you need to educate an existing audience? Do you need to reach potential partners? Do you have a perfect handle on your marketing goals and need to flood the market with your message? Are there multiple related goals?

Take the time to identify your main communications goals. Hone in on and identify clean, measurable goals.

Audiences. Dollar-for-dollar, this is the most important aspect of a communications strategy, in my humble opinion. I have done the GAME exercise with dozens of companies, and almost every time, we come away with renewed focus on an under-served audience.

For the sake of brevity, let's look at a typical goal: A company wants to use communications to generate leads. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, not so fast. We need to answer some key questions about the audience. I like to start with current customers to identify the channels that turn prospects into clients. Who are these customers, and where did they come from? Did most of them come from advertising? Are most clients acquired from referral sources? Do you get your business from brokers of one kind or another? Take a hard look, and get specific about your customers are and where they come from. (If a business owner tells me that anyone can be their client, I'm usually eyeing the exit.)

Perhaps at the moment, many new clients come through some form of "broker" relationship. This can be clear in a business that receives real estate or insurance work from an established broker relationship. Or this relationship could include a law firm that receives referrals from other lawyers, who are paid a referral fee. Such relationships are often critical to businesses of all sorts, but they aren't necessarily the most profitable--because you have to pay the referral fee, commission or "consulting fee."

In many cases, businesses want to improve their communications with the end-user--and acquire customers directly, without a "broker."

So the end-user is one key audience, but you may also find that other trusted advisors to this audience may be in a position to make referrals without requiring commissions. I have seen this occur many times. Dig in as much as possible, and find those profitable audiences. Make sure you understand what motivates them and how they make decisions that impact your business. You can't know too much about these audiences.

Messaging (and tactics). So you have your goals, and you are getting intimate with your audience. What are you going to say, and how will you reach that audience?

Here's where you get to make your pitch. What makes your company, firm or product a better fit for your audience? What's the elevator speech for this audience? What problem does your offering solve that your competitors' products don't? Is this the time to pound away on better customer service?

For each audience that you have segmented, develop three to five main message points for each. These may cover unique product attributes, expertise, pricing or service--or some combination of these. Again, take some time and focus.

Next, review the multitudes of communications strategies available to reach your audience with your key messages. For example:

  • Speaking opportunities at industry conferences or association meetings
  • E-mail newsletters
  • Article placements in industry publications
  • Direct mail
  • Advertising on industry websites or e-mail newsletters and retargeting ads
  • A blog that promotes your messaging in an interesting and informative way

Evaluation. Once you have your messaging and your tactics down, how will you evaluate the program? What does success look like 12 months from now for a communications program?

In the PR business, this is often the Holy Grail: measurement. My recommendation is that you set realistic expectations and moderate goals. Look for ways to measure the cost of leads compared to other programs. Review the value of media placements and how you can repackage them as parts of marketing materials.

Remember to ask your clients and prospects how they heard about you and how they felt about the messaging. Track web traffic from e-blasts, blog posts and social media mentions. Compare this to other traffic, and determine overall effectiveness.

And don't underestimate intangibles. The credibility boost from media placements is a real thing, for example, though hard to put a price tag on.

Once you have your strategy set, pull together the right team to execute it.

Do you have a communications strategy for 2016? I would enjoy hearing about it. And let me know if you need assistance with your strategies and tactics.