you need a communication strategy

May 17, 2011

in communication

doubt and certainty

“what’s the value of creating a communication strategy?” a client asked me.

here’s the value: “you can work blind and hope, or you can plan and be certain.”

that wasn’t quite the involved answer he was looking for, so i spelled out the value in detail, beginning with the process.

the secret sauce of a communication strategy?

i hate to disappoint you. there is no secret sauce. what there is instead is a deep-dive discussion about what you’re trying to do. when you create a communication strategy, you define:

  • vision and objectives
  • guiding principles
  • target audiences
  • key messages
  • preferred communication channels
  • graphic identity
  • tone
  • timing (more or less concrete depending on the span of the strategy)
  • barriers
  • success metrics

when i work with clients to develop a communication strategy—whether it’s for the launch of a discrete program or a comprehensive long-term strategy for embedding wellness into the organization—i go through the same process. we talk about all that’s listed above, and we talk about it at length. i walk clients through a guided discussion to understand what they need to achieve and how they’ll know that they did so. this isn’t squishy stuff. we isolate specific metrics so we can track movement in understanding, perception and actions taken. in doing so, we talk about who in their organization needs to do what? what role do the employee and family play? how about the senior leader and the day-to-day manager? that leads to a discussion about what’s the unique motivating message for each audience and what’s the best way to reach them?

our conversation veers to silos, which we all know give us headaches and keep us from being successful. we’ll discuss whether we need a specific communication plan for bringing a person round to our vision. do we need to work with another department whose objectives align with ours? who needs to be part of our team? we isolate who or what might be a barrier so we can create a plan for overcoming.

then we define the right image and tone for what they’re trying to do and who they are. what do we want all materials to “say” to people who pick them up? how can the materials convey our key messages through their design alone? and whether it’s a discrete program or a long-term effort, we’ll nail down the timing at a high enough level to guide the future development of a communication plan.

by the end my clients have an overarching communication strategy that says this is what we need to make happen (objectives), this is who we want to see doing what (audience), these are the things we need to overcome (barriers), these are the main points we want people to always carry in their head (messages), this is how we’ll get our information out (channels and tactics), and this is how we’ll know it worked (metrics).

we know all this. but what’s the value?

sometimes the process raises questions while answering others. for example, you may discover that you haven’t a clue what current perceptions are about a program or how knowledgeable people feel about making nutrition decisions. you may realize you’ve never asked anyone—from senior leaders to joe schmo employee—about their priorities and vested interest in your success. if you knew this, you’d suddenly have their language to play back to them through tailored messages down the road. you’d also have input into your design and investment; you may even find yourself with allies who’ll help ensure your success.

because you took the time to create a communication strategy, you’ll unearth gaps in your information and know how to fill them. you’ll rally people around a vision you’ve developed with them. you’ll reach people with their language and through their channels. going back to my more succinct answer above, you’ll have a plan and be certain.

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[image: mister kha]


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