It’s easy to lose your way searching for that authentic, distinctive voice that will set your brand apart. You might stretch your messaging to adapt to the current news cycle, or devote yourself to a new social cause. In time, you might even look at your brand and not recognise it: it seems so far from what it once was.
If this sounds like you, you may need to build upon (or revise) your communication strategy. Whilst we don’t claim to have the magic recipe— as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communication- we can help you start from a strong position.
Below, we’ll walk you through five essential steps to building your communications strategy:
- (Re)discover your purpose
- Decide on your audience
- Define themes
- Map out your channels
- Outline your strategy
Ready to start building your strategy? We’ve prepared an easy-to-follow canvas to make sure you don't miss any important steps. Download it here:
1. (Re)discover your purpose
The world is a loud place, and most of it is noise. If you don’t agree, just try remembering the last post you saw on your Instagram scroll just now. As a communications professional it’s your job to create signal: to resonate with people.
An important rule to resonate with your audience is to be real. Audiences are more demanding than ever before. They insist upon transparency. Brands that don’t stick to their values, or simply don’t seem to have a deeper purpose than making money, are punished with oblivion. Brands with a clear purpose, on the other hand, thrive. Take brands like Ben & Jerry's and Dove that show their commitment to social or environmental causes through concrete action. In a 2018 report, Unilever stated that sustainable brands grew 69% more than other businesses under the same parent brand. These brands were also responsible for 75% of overall growth.
In an era of consciousness, only purposeful brands will survive. Learn more about how brand activism leads to long term success.
Our job as communications specialists is to create signal; and that starts with rediscovering your brand's purpose.
So before you get carried away with catchy puns for your Instagram captions, it's important to take a step back and define the core of your brand. Begin by doing a quick exercise with your team: shoot them an email with these questions:
- What is our company's purpose? Describe it in 3 words.
- What are our target audience's most important beliefs/values?
- What are the 3 main themes we're communicating as a company?
If you don’t find common themes in your team’s answers, it may be time to sit down and map out a strategy. As a team, it’s important to establish the same founding values that you want your brand to carry. A sit-down doesn’t have to happen all in the same room by the way. With most teams working partially or completely remote these days, check out MindMeister or Miro to brainstorm and visualise your ideas.
▲Using tools like MindMeister can help you map out your strategy with remote teams.
Gather your team and answer these questions:
- Why do we do this?
- Who do we do this for?
- What do we do this with?
- What do we believe in?
- What is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal we are working towards?
- Who are our thought leaders?
- What are the three key selling points of our product or service? What makes us different from the rest?
- What is our story- how did we come to market and what does that mean to us (and our customers)?
Having said this, listening to consumers and knowing how to innovate is as important. Being consistent doesn’t mean to stall and age. It means you know how to evolve your brand offer to keep it relevant for consumers.
If you’re looking for some inspiration to guide you through these questions, you might want to check out our eBook on Purpose. As a PR software company, we’ve seen thousands of PR campaigns and in this book, we gathered the most valuable lessons we learned.
2. Decide on your audience
We tend to spend so much time tweaking our copy that we lose touch with reality. When so many of our channels are indirect or digital, it’s easy to forget who we are speaking to. Who are the people between the anonymous numbers on Google Analytics? Our audience is human and wants authenticity.
Listening to your audience is one of the most important steps in your strategy. It gives you direction in your communication and helps you decide where to act.
Who is my audience?
Marketers and PR pros alike find it difficult to pinpoint their brand’s audience. Should messages be crafted for a specific persona or am I speaking to five different audiences? Diogo Pinheiro, former Global Communications Manager at Heineken, makes a strong case of differentiating your aspirational audience and your volume target. Your aspirational target is the type of consumer that embodies everything you stand for. Although it may be a very niche target, they are the ones who share the same core values as your brand. Diogo argues that this small group of people may not be enough to sustain your brand and drive business. Therefore, it is important to identify your volume target, which are your potential buyers.
When deciding which audience to communicate to, go for your aspirational target. They might not be the ones bringing in big bucks, but speaking to them will attract your volume target as it is the type of person they aspire to be. Communicate to your aspirational customer and the rest, namely your volume target, will follow.
▲ When deciding your audience, it is important to differentiate your volume target from your aspirational target.
Once you’ve defined your audience, you’ll need to start exploring that audience. What do they find relevant? What do they care about right now? A way to answer these sometimes complex questions is to dig deep into your audience’s mind. Allow us to suggest our favourite tools to help you in the process:
- Ahrefs: A good way into your audience’s mind is to track what they search for. Ahrefs is a tool that allows you to monitor how a keyword is being searched, view similar phrases, anticipate potential traffic to your page, and much, much more.
- Think with Google will help fuel your ideas with insight. Besides testing your site’s speed and learning more about your audience’s demographics, you can use this free tool as inspiration to find new consumer trends, latest data, and best practices for digital marketing across industries and platforms.
- Pulsar: A blog dedicated to analysing habits, trends, and most importantly, memes. Here you will find a clear picture of the present and an accurate prediction of what the future looks like.
- Q&A platforms like Quora and Reddit - which is the 18th most popular site in the world - are bound to give you insight into your reader’s mind. When you find out what people already know, you can add onto that with your content.
- Last, but certainly not least: Steve Blank, entrepreneur and startup guru, once said “There are no facts inside your building, so get outside.” While this is advice meant for product development, it also goes for developing your communications strategy. Nothing, not even the most cutting edge technology to aid you in your research, compares to sitting down with your audience. Observe them, engage in conversation, and study their behaviour. You might be surprised with what you find.
Once you’ve done the research, the next step is mapping out what your audience looks like. You can start by asking yourself:
- Who are they? Focus on demographics. How old are they? Where do they live? What degree of education did they receive? How do they speak? How do they dress? The more realistic you make these personas, the easier it will be to visualise them when creating a strategy.
- What motivates them? What is it that shakes them to the core? What do they believe in? What is their biggest motivation?
- Consumption habits: When or where do they receive your messages? In which context do they consume your products?
If your aspirational audience is rather young, you’ll need to figure out the next big thing in social media. That used to be Facebook, then Instagram, then Tiktok, and by now, that's probably already passé. We recently sat down with the 21-year-old CEO (yes, you read that correctly) of the media agency GoSpooky to understand how the landscape is shifting for Gen Z.
3. Define themes
Now that you’ve figured out your ‘why’ and your ‘who’, the next step is to define your what. What do you, as a brand, want to share with the world? In this step, you will choose the themes you want to push that will make your brand stand out from the rest. Start by analysing the overall value you are providing your clients.
Themes are different to purpose, which we have covered above. The former is the reason behind your story and the latter are the messages inside it. In other words, the theme is your purpose in action.
If your purpose is insatiable curiosity, like Virgin, or radical transparency like Everlane and Buffer, how will you let the world know? Put some action into your purpose by crafting themes into your communication.
▲ Everlane is an American clothing retailer committed to making their processes and pricing transparent to their customers.
Your strategy should be the driving force behind your brand messaging. This way, you will be able to tie your communication efforts together to achieve your goals. In order to create resonating content, keep your themes under three ideas that sum up what you want your audience to remember you by.
It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it
Now more than ever, audiences want to create an emotional connection to the content they interact with. The task of finding the right words to make your content click can be tricky. Nailing how you say something is equally, if not more, important than deciding what you say. Studies show an average person’s attention span has dropped to eight seconds. Well, the attention span differs depending on the task demand, but let's not go there. Point is, you don't have much time to express yourself. Using the right language helps.
Be strategic. Take your previously defined personas into consideration. How do they speak to each other? Are you keeping up with their slang? Are memes welcome? We gathered some guides and tools that might help you nail your tone of voice:
- Inspiration - We interviewed the editor of Big Spam, the newsletter that once used the word “anus” in their subject line and got a lot of people talking. Get inspired by their irreverent tone of voice.
- Guide - What’s the difference between tone and voice? Read Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide.
We rounded up more than 30 online tools that will help you hone your writing skills.
4. Map out your channels
As a PR pro, you’ve probably memorised the PESO model by heart. This Venn-Diagram, created by Spin Sucks founder Gini Dietrich, allows communications specialists to take advantage of and integrate different media channels under one holistic strategy.
We don’t mean to brag, but we recently interviewed Gini on the future of PR.
The PESO model identifies four channels:
- Paid media: Channels that require money to distribute your content or ads. That means social media ads and paid media partnerships, not necessarily big billboards or multi-million dollar Super Bowl ads.
Investing in acquisition on social media, for example, is a great strategy. But beware! All that glitters is not gold. Spending money on social media ads and seeing thousands of visitors on your page can just be vanity metrics that get you to invest again. If these visitors don’t spend a significant amount of time on your page, it was unqualified traffic to begin with. This probably means that you might be targeting the wrong people.
- Earned media: Channels that require relationships with (media) contacts who have established an audience. For instance: media relations, investor relations, and word-of-mouth.
- Shared Media: Amplifying content through an audience you’ve built. For instance, organic social media, review platforms, and forums.
Leveraging the power of social media channels is a great way of growing your audience exponentially. One creative way of growth hacking is to immerse yourself in conversation. For example, say you have the world’s greatest headphones to offer. Instead of simply searching “headphones” on Twitter, you should add the word “need” before it. That way your results will show potential customers that might love your product. All you need is a witty reply or a discount code to transform these conversations into potential leads.
- Owned media: Inbound channels which your company completely owns, and where an audience finds your content. For instance: your newsroom, content marketing, thought-leadership platform, podcasts, or brand journalism. Be wary of websites that offer spaces for your content, such as Medium or LinkedIn Pulse. If these channels go away, you will lose that content forever.
By strategically combining each type of media the PESO model has to offer, you will leverage individual advantages and strengthen your media relations strategy.
We gathered everything we learned after countless interviews with top PR pros in the game into a Media Relations Guide. Save it, print it, share it.
5. Outline your strategy
Now it’s finally time to tie everything together to answer your “how”. Your strategy outline is the place where everything you’ve planned comes together in one, colorful spreadsheet. With your Big Hairy Audacious Goal at top to remind you of where you want to go; visualising your specific goals, channels, and messages will allow you to get you there.
In order to make your communication strategy come to life, don’t forget to add a time frame for each action, a person responsible for it, and how you will measure its success. Some great tools our team uses to get the job done are Trello and Notion.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure
We know that’s the - sometimes terrifying - phrase that pops into our head everytime we hear measures. It’s easy to lose track of what’s important in PR by measuring ROI or other KPIs. So how do you measure performance and your team’s efforts all while keeping your CEO and investors happy?
Here’s an excerpt from our media relations guide that will ease your troubles:
Lag measures track the success of your objective, or your most important goal. You cannot influence lags directly. Lags are measures you spend time losing sleep over. They are things like revenue, profit, brand awareness, and customer satisfaction. They are called lag measures, because by the time you see them increase or decrease, that what drove the change is already passed. You can’t do anything to fix them, they are history.
Lead measures track the critical activities that drive (or lead) to the lag measure. They predict the success of the lag measure. The big difference with lag measures is that lead measures are directly influenced by your team: they are things like new contacts, news announcements sent out, completed campaigns. It’s very important to focus on lead measures you can directly influence. Lag measures are often easier to measure, and they represent the result we ultimately want, but without executing on lead measures they will bear nothing but frustration.
TLDR; lead measures are the buttons you can turn to make a difference, lag measures show if you turned the right buttons. Find the right buttons, and focus on those.
To help you get on the right track, here are some examples of objectives, and its corresponding lead measures and lag measures.
A roadmap for success
Once you have a solid base that reflects who you are and where you want to go, your communications strategy will get you there. Coordinating actions and messages will not only save you time and money but also energy and effort. Your results will show that having a brand that is true to its cause really pays off.
Sitting out to map out a strategy might seem time consuming and counterintuitive to brands that have been around for a while, but reconnecting to your roots and creating a new roadmap is always a trip worth taking.