What is strategic communication?
Strategic communication is integral for businesses, and entails communicating a product, service, vision or mission, or competitive advantages, to enhance brand equity. The practice itself, requires careful planning and strategic communication should be aligned with the business strategy, goals and objectives.
Why is strategic communication important?
The practice of strategic communication takes into consideration the various stakeholders that are important to a brand or business. It encompasses both internal and external communication with different audiences.
From employees to shareholders, clients and governmental officials, the communication strategy and key messaging needs to cover all these stakeholder groups. In addition, a communication strategy allows for the brand ambassadors of the company, a.k.a. employees, to communicate unified messages to different audiences.
Why should businesses communicate?
In today’s world, with intensifying competition, businesses are obliged to communicate to remain top of mind. Even the most mature businesses still communicate and roll out marketing campaigns. Think Pepsi or Starbucks, two globally renowned businesses with large market share in soft drinks and coffee respectively, yet they still communicate with different stakeholder groups (in different ways of course).
With competing small, medium and big businesses vying for the same stakeholders’
attention, customer attraction and retention have become more challenging. In addition, turning existent clients to become loyal to the brand, requires careful planning, streamlined communication and exceptional customer service.
How can businesses start communicating?
The first step in strategic communication is the intention to act. However, the business and its leadership team must be committed to strategically communicate and see the value in it. Businesses must ask themselves:
1. Why do we want to communicate?
2. What do we want to communicate?
3. And why does it matter?
The second step is to address the current state of the business, adopting a bird’s eye view of the country, sector and industry. An assessment of the business model, the stakeholder groups, the products and services, as well as the competition need to be conducted. Businesses, together with their appointed strategic communication consultant, can look inwards and crate surveys to understand their business and team members better. Market research can be conducted to understand the industry and sector.
Questions every business should ask:
1. What is the long term vision of the business?
2. What are our star products and services?
3. How do stakeholders perceive us?
4. How is the industry / sector changing?
5. How are we different from the competition?
A great tool to use to analyze the business, is Porters Five Forces.
Once the findings are derived, a SWOT analysis should be conducted, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of a business, along with the opportunities and threats. The SWOT analysis is an integral tool to base the communication strategy on, knowing what to highlight and what to expect when publicly communicating.
The third step to get started with strategic communication, is to create a plan based on the research findings. Strategic objectives, channels and KPIs need to be set, along with a long-term plan (that can be adapted based on feedback and numbers).
Businesses should not be afraid to revisit their communication strategy and adapt or enhance it, based on what is working and what is not.
Business communication with stakeholders
Every stakeholder group has different concerns, needs, attitudes and behaviors. Knowing your audience is important to understand how best to communicate with them, the frequency, and what messages need to be relayed in the different forms of communication.
For example, shareholders may only need to hear from you twice a year in the form of meetings and annual reports.
On the other hand, customers may want to be updated with the latest products and services, and are most engaged via newsletters and social media.
Employees may feel they are unaware of the strategic direction of the company and are uncertain about their career paths. Team meetings and a weekly email alert may be the best way to relay the messages to them.
Each stakeholder group must be assessed to understand how best to communicate with them. Feedback and responses should also be taken into consideration to fine-turn your communication plan.
How can a business communicate?
At –ment, we like to utilize all the available tools to communicate with stakeholders. The more the messages are repeated through different channels, the higher chance the message will stick.
Businesses can use both digital and traditional channels to communicate with their stakeholders. From newsletters, emails, social media to events, as well as media engagements and town hall meetings. Each business needs to understand its stakeholder groups and how best to relay the messages to them.
7 steps for strategic communication plans – background and research
Strategic communication planning can be overwhelming if you do not know where to start. Here is a simple process to get you started:
1. About the business
2. Current state of the business, market research and findings
3. SWOT analysis
4. The business goals
5. Communication objectives
6. Stakeholder groups and objectives
7. Key messages
Communication plan questions
1. What do we want to communicate?
2. What channels are available to communicate?
3. Are stakeholders receptive through these channels?
4. How often should we communicate?
5. What is the budget for communication?
6. Do we have a knowledgeable team in-house to handle communication?
7. Or do we need external communication consultants and support?
Once these steps are covered and the questions are answered, proceed to prioritizing the activities over the coming months. Place the most important activities first (i.e. product launch, shift in strategy, new leadership etc.) and then add the events and activities that you are aware of in the coming months.
Each message, event or activity should be communicated on various platforms, with tailored messages.
At –ment, we work closely with clients as their communication partners, to effectively and strategically communicate.