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Communications Planning

How to create powerful business communications

What are the building blocks needed to create attractive, consistent communications that bring the abundant results you desire? Since communication is about people connecting with people, I have borrowed from the language that describes individuals to derive some principles for business. These include having a clear understanding of the personality, character, purpose, goals, and circle of influence of your business.

The most basic work you have to do is:

  • Know who you are
  • Know what you want
  • Know your audience
  • Know what they want
  • Focus on the point of intersection

Let’s look at the steps in more detail.

Know who you are

It is useful to define the personality of your company, because people relate to personalities much more naturally – and on more levels – than they do to a faceless list of products or services. Your company’s personality will determine the style of your communications and provide useful criteria for developing new products or services.

Use colorful, human terms to define your business personality. Keep it simple but meaningful – you’re trying to get the heart and soul of your company on paper. Some examples:

A toy store: Fun, imaginative, filled with the wonder of learning and discovery.

A global telephone network manufacturer: Ingenious, technologically acute, committed to connecting the world in brand new ways.

If you were to start working for one of those companies tomorrow, wouldn’t you have certain expectations of what the corporate culture would be?

As simple as it may look, this exercise is not easy to do well. Self-knowledge is a high attainment requiring honesty, authenticity, vision, and courage. If a company hasn’t changed its products or methods in thirty years and has a high turnover of staff, yet defines its personality as “vigorous, innovative, and caring,” you know you’re dealing with a company that is, at best, living in denial. Such a company would do well to redefine its personality, but this must be backed up with genuine reforms.

Note that this exercise is very difficult to perform when the company is a large, distributed concern plying more than one trade in unrelated markets. I was one of the first communicators to promote the concept of corporate and industrial advertising, particularly on television, because I believed in the benefits of projecting a memorable corporate personality. That was before big businesses began diversifying in sometimes bizarre ways, trying to cram heavy equipment manufacturing and canned peaches under a single umbrella. The many-headed Hydra is a tough beast to pin down. If you work for such a company, my advice is to define independent personalities for the individual businesses and keep their communications separate.

Personality versus image

Image is the projection of your personality. A company that changes its corporate image every six months is a company having an identity crisis. If you don’t know clearly who you are, how can you expect your customers and employees to know (read: care)? It takes a lot of time and money to establish an image. Start out right by basing your image on a clear personality profile, and protect it as you would any valuable asset.

Know what you want

Now we get into territory that is very familiar to executives and marketing departments: objectives!

The mission statement

I hope your company’s fundamental objectives are spelled out in a mission statement. The ideal mission statement crackles with energy and a true sense of mission. Here’s a test: when employees read your mission statement, do they (a) fall asleep, (b) get confused by the language … or (c) get goose bumps from the excitement it generates?

The mission statement is the vertical stake that defines the direction (vision) and character of your company. All communications from the company should be rooted in the mission statement, spreading its precepts horizontally to the different audiences you need to address. If an executive speech or a product brochure cannot be written effectively without departing from the company’s mission statement, that’s a signal that there is a disconnect between the intentions of the company and its actions.

Communication goals

At the next level of detail, knowing what you want involves spelling out your communication goals. These may be arrived at in a number of ways, with reference to particular sales goals or crucial messaging requirements, for instance. The key to success in this area is to be as single-minded as possible. The more simple, clear, and straightforward your communication goals are, the more likelihood you have of succeeding. This advice has held true throughout this century and becomes even more critical in a world where people are suffering from information overload. My best strategic advice is to keep your communications simple and to the point.

Know your audience; know what they want

Chances are, you wouldn’t spend much time telling your great-aunt Tilly about the problems you’ve been having with cross-linked files in your computer, nor would you try to share your best steak grilling technique with a vegetarian friend. Likewise, appropriateness of content and style is one of the great commandments of powerful business communications.

It is part of the art of communicating to construct a message that expresses the personality of the company, fulfills its mission and goals, and does so in a way that is meaningful – and motivational – to an audience of diverse individuals.

In broadcast advertising, you want to speak to the common interests of the audience (“Chocolate lovers!” “Asthma sufferers!” “Want to pay less tax next year?”), providing as much information as they need to know in order to make the decisions you want them to make.

In CRM and web advertising, targeting is a vastly improved science. The megadata currently available to large corporations assists them in serving ads, content and emails that are practically one-to-one. Consumer data including buying habits, media preferences, demographic and geographic profiles should inform the communication strategy. The frontline creative person is the copywriter, whose job it becomes to craft messages that will move a variety of individuals along the purchasing path.

Stakeholders

The typical corporation has several audiences or stakeholders that are affected by its activities and whose needs should be considered when planning the communications program. Among others, these may include:

  • customers: current, potential and past
  • employees: current, potential and past
  • suppliers
  • the public at large
  • financial audiences: investors, market analysts
  • special interest groups: environmental groups, lobbyists, industry associations, trade unions, etc.
  • legislative and regulatory bodies
  • the media
  • competitors – because they’ll certainly be watching.

Next: The elements of an effective communications piece >

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