Whatever your strategic communications challenge, this simple, 8-step process can improve your chances of success.
1. The Business Target
What is your organisation trying to achieve?
Start by defining your end goal as a quantifiable, time-bound objective:
Increase sales revenue by 11% to $500,000 by end Q3
Increase readership to 5,000 unique subscribers by December 31st
Raise $10,000 in charitable donations by October 12th
Note that if your business target changes, you need to change the rest of your strategy too – which means starting this whole process again.
2. The Behaviour Change
What do you want people to do differently?
Understanding which change in behaviour will contribute most towards your business target helps you to prioritise your efforts on activities that will deliver disproportionately greater returns.
No matter what your brand’s situation, the behaviour objective will always be one (and only one) of the following:
Penetration: encourage people to try or buy the brand for the first time;
Frequency: encourage people to use or buy the brand more often;
Weight: encourage people to use or buy more of the brand every time they use or buy it.
Note that repeat purchase falls within frequency.
3. The Audience
Who do you need to influence in order to bring about the behaviour change?
A person who doesn’t know your brand will respond to your communications in a very different way to someone who has been a loyal fan for many years.
For this reason, your audience is defined by your behaviour change objective, and is not a pre-determined input.
In keeping with the strategic principle of focusing your resources where they can deliver the greatest returns, you need to identify those people who will play the most influential role in determining whether you can achieve your behaviour change objective.
Think about this carefully – the most influential audience may not always include your consumers.
There will be times when friends or colleagues of your consumers; celebrities; regulators; social activists; or even your own rivals are more important.
No matter who it is, though – even if it’s corporate procurement – audiences are always people.
4. The Attitude Challenge
What does your audience think or believe now that stops them from behaving in the way you’d like?
If you want to influence people’s attitudes, you’ve got to understand their existing perceptions.
Audiences often share one key attitude that stops many of them from behaving in the way you’d like.
This can be as simple as them not knowing your brand exists, or it can be a more complex perception that your brand is only relevant to certain situations.
It can also be the result of perceptions about your competitors, so it’s critical to research these as well.
Speak to your audience and find out as much as you can about their attitudes and beliefs; the better you understand them, the easier it will be to address the challenge.
5. The News
What will you tell the audience to inspire them to re-evaluate the attitude challenge?
When you know what people think now, and what you’d prefer them to think as a result of your communications, you can craft a message that helps people to see an alternative perspective.
It’s best to start this step by identifying its end: what would you like the audience to think instead?
It’s important to note that this ‘message’ is not an advertising tagline or a slogan; it’s merely what you’d like people to think as a consequence of experiencing your communication.
6. Times and Places
Where and when will your news be most relevant to your audience?
This step is all about balancing reach and resonance.
Reach determines how many people in your audience experience your news.
Resonance identifies the times and places where that news will have the greatest impact on them.
Communications need both elements to succeed.
The best way to approach this step is to think about as many different aspects of your audience’s life as you can, and then identify the times and places within that where your news will have most relevance.
It’s important not to limit your thinking to conventional ‘media’: you can use literally anything as a communication channel, so long as it delivers your news to your audience.
What is the most effective way to bring your news to life in each of these times and places?
How will you deliver your news in each communication channel?
No matter which times and places you use, it’s critical that you identify a communications proposition for each activity.
A communications proposition is the benefit that the audience receives simply by engaging with your communication.
This can be as straightforward as entertainment or useful information, but you must always conceive it from the audience’s perspective; ask yourself, “why would they care?”
Making each activity worthy of conversation helps amplify your reach at no extra cost to you.
However, activities that inspire audience sharing require more powerful communications propositions: in addition to delivering individual relevance, you need to identify a reason why people would be interested in sharing the news with others as well.
When approaching this step, it pays to spend a lot of time understanding the why, rather than merely focusing on how to create the what.
8. Learn and Improve
What worked well, and what could you do better next time?
Measurements need to be relevant to your objectives.
Metrics such as ‘advertising awareness’ and ‘audience reach’ will only tell you part of the story.
A much more reliable approach is to identify whether you’ve influenced the audience’s attitudes in the way you had intended.
The process for doing this is very straightforward:
Before you begin any of your communications activities, measure the strength of the attitude challenge amongst the audience.
Then, once you have started to communicate, conduct the same measurement again, but add an extra question that identifies whether the respondent has experienced any of the communications.
Those people who have not experienced the campaign become the control group, allowing you to quantify the impact of each activity by measuring the difference in results compared to those people who have experienced the campaign.
Measurement on its own is worthless, though; it’s what you do with the findings that delivers value.
Use them to identify channels and activities that could have been improved, as well as those that worked very well.
You can then use these findings to improve all your subsequent communications.
Now that you’ve completed all 8 steps, there’s a good chance you’ll have delivered your business targets.
In which case, it’s time to…
Rinse and Repeat