Planning How Your Business Communicates with Your Target Markets

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Save time, save money, communicate better.

Entrepreneurs know that a business plan is critical for funding. Marketers know that marketing plans are key to management and success. Sales pros have a plan to approach target markets, they wouldn’t dream of selling without it. But what about communications?

Yeah, we’ve got a plan for that.

A true communications professional will have a document that shows what they have planned, when it goes live, and how long it impacts their audience.  Add budgets and hours, and you have a document that keeps every department in the company on track. With every dollar critical, it would be irresponsible to not have something in place.

Ideahaus-Communications-Plan-700

This is how we do it.

Developing a strategic communications plan is one of the client services Ideahaus has provided for more than 20 years. Although each plan has been unique, patterns and process have revealed themselves. With feedback from CEOs, VPs, marketing directors, entrepreneurs, sales professionals – and you – we continue to improve our process to what you see today.

A couple caveats from the podium: First, this only works if you follow the process. Improvising along the way voids my warranty that this will deliver a comprehensive, efficient and strategic plan. Second, you only get out of it what you put into it. Third, developing instructional tutorials and tools to help improve your communications take time and resources. Thanks in advance for contributing to our efforts. – kp

1. Review the categories of communications.

The first step is to create a list of the types of communication we’re documenting. Even in our meetings there’s an occasional, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that.” Throw everything in the pile to begin – even the improbable.

Now talk about each of them.

Why? Because the word “communications” is like the word “art.” Everyone has their own, slightly different interpretation of what the word means to them based on their experiences, and it skews depending on which department you come from. It’s a good idea to survey your team to see which types of communications your plan should include – you may be surprised at the answers. We start with the basics:

  • Marketing
  • Branding
  • Design
  • Advertising
  • Social Media
  • Multimedia
  • Internet
  • Public Relations
  • Events

Some companies may break out other elements, like Email or Direct Mail, but we categorize these under larger titles, including “Marketing” and “Advertising” respectively. The point is to break the sometimes overwhelming list of everything available into smaller, more manageable piles. Divide and discuss.

2. Document your communications assets.

Your documentation will start with the items in play already. Each department will have items that exist already. Assets that are bought and paid for, that can contribute towards a cohesive communications approach to each of your target markets. Document them all, and this means more than just your department’s assets: marketing, sales, events, web development, product development, etc.

This includes your outside agencies too: public relations, advertising, production, media – everyone.

KP: Want to find out what really exists and what doesn’t? Ask for it and tell them you may want to use it next week for something. You’ll find out quickly if it does exist, and if it’s ready to go.

3. Detail the assets.

Having a list of assets is a start, but what about the details? Sure we’re sending an email, but what’s it about? We have a Facebook Place page but how do I get to it? A little help here helps contributors recall and clarify, and starts to set direction for each element of the plan.

Many times you won’t know the focus or the audience for each piece. But sometimes you do. Or someone else may have plans or information, so ask. Account for what your company does know and you’ll identify what you don’t know. Even this rough estimate provides more information than previously available.

4. Schedule the assets in play.

Each of the assets of your plan will be released on a specific date to your target audiences. Which date? What time? And who is responsible? This is where consideration begins for:

  • Planning: How long in advance does this require? How long for approvals, budget, legal?
  • Development: How much time will this take to figure out?
  • Production: How long will it take to produce? Can you confirm?
  • Distribution: How long will it take to get to everyone who needs this?
  • Media: When will this run, where, and how much will it cost?

Ideahaus-Communications-Schedule

With these in mind, when can each asset be ready for release? Should you make a big splash (releasing all at once) or a steady ripple (something each week)? Talk with your team about the options that are available, about the strategy for releasing at different times, and, all things considered, what makes the most sense.

5. Estimate the impact.

The impact of communications in the market space tends to include more than just the day it was released. Email sent on Monday may not get addressed until Wednesday. Print ads breaking on the first in a monthly trade publication attract readers for at least the first two weeks before trailing off. Trade shows may last one, three, even five days with attendee recollection only through the following week.

Ideahaus-Communications-Impact

Discuss these with your team to realistically (1) estimate the impact of each piece with your target markets and update your plan to reflect the “coverage” created for the month.

(1) Some marketers have a hard time realizing one of their kids is uglier than another. Not every piece is going to be a star performer, and some are going to flop. David Ogilvy was noted for saying “Half of my advertising is wasted, and the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Be wary of false promises – set realistic expectations, and get excited when it performs better than expected. – kp

6. Estimate the investments.

Most companies have limited resources and even more limited budgets. Understanding the impact of a plan on your department early can prevent turbulence later and keep your team moving forward.

To start here, assign hours to every item. How long will it take to update the email? To update the social media platform? To edit the new video? Not sure? Guess. You can update this later, but with a first pass you can reasonably evaluate if your team can deliver on time.

And what about costs? Even salaried employees have a cost assigned to them. And entrepreneurs, your time is worth something too. “Sweat equity” is the capital you invest in your business to grow. Outside costs are even a bigger concern.

Paying attention to the plan now insures you have the help you need and the resources to get your message to your audience.

7. Develop your strategy.

A strategic approach to a communications plan means something different to everyone you’ll ask. Calling for it here tells you when you’re prepared to discuss strategy, but not how you should do it.

Some think it’s more than just being book smart or college educated. ROI is critical, but a good strategy also includes efficiency, communicating well, and the ability to get the most out of every opportunity.

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For example, when you have a scheduled event on the plan, promoting attendance through your Facebook fan page, Twitter account and LinkedIn status update makes a lot of sense. One element of content satisfying four requirements.

A collection of photos from the event can be uploaded all at once (minimal impact) or over a period of time to multiple social media sites, blog and web site (extended / maximum impact).

A scheduled blog post can be touted in advance across social media and email (creating interest), posted, then promoted again to drive traffic. Again, one element was applied over multiple requirements of the plan.

When the first month is planned, share it with your team, and share it with other departments. What do they see? What don’t they see? Inevitably you will receive feedback (good and bad) to improve the budget, schedule and most importantly the communications in the communications plan.

KP: Only do the first month to start. Once the first month is completed, plan the next three, then six, then a full year. I guarantee, a progressive approach to an annual plan will save unnecessary edits as you undoubtedly will learn more about your company, your target markets and how to best bring your products and services to market.

Get started with your communications plan.

Every company communicates better with a plan. And although this may be easier for the experienced, it’s crucial for every business, and in the long run it saves time and money.

Invest the time to develop your communications and you’ll gain a perspective that improves what you say and how you say it. And in communications, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Need help? Too busy? Contact Ideahaus.

Everyone needs a little help. Some people need a lot.

Buy a one-hour consulting package and we’ll walk you through our communications planning process to get your team started. Buy a five-hour consulting package and we’ll coach your team to plan your first draft.

Want to talk about what makes sense for you? Contact us – we’re here to help.

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