If you’ve never developed a communications or marketing plan before, the process can seem daunting. This two-part post is designed to help you create a short and effective communications strategy by giving you a condensed outline of just the essential elements that you will find in almost every communications plan out there. If you create a plan with only these items, you will still be well on your way to marketing success, and you can always add more pieces to it later as your confidence grows.
This communications plan outline is designed to answer four key questions:
- Where are we trying to go?
- Where are we now?
- How are we going to get from here to there?
- How will we know when we’ve arrived?
If you can answer these four questions, it gives you a clear vision of the present, the desired future, and the path from here to there. Here is how these questions will appear in the communications plan:
Section 1: Goals
This section looks at the objectives and outcomes you would like to achieve from the communications plan. It answers the question “Where are we trying to go?”
Section 2: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT)
This section examines the company’s current situation and also evaluates which current market trends and predictions have negative and positive outlooks for the company. It answers the question “Where are we now?” as well as analyzing where potential problems and favorable circumstances could arise in the future.
Section 3: Implementation Methodology
This section evaluates the three main aspects of a communications campaign. It identifies the target audience or audiences, it defines the messaging for that audience, and then it outlines what channels will be used to connect the message with the audience. It answers the question “How are we going to get from here to there?”
Section 4: Evaluation Methodology
The final section outlines the criteria for examining the results of the communications plan to determine its effectiveness in reaching the goal outlined in the beginning. It answers the question “How will we know when we’ve arrived?” Without this section, you will never be able to tell if your plan worked or not.
Now that you understand how the communications plan will be structured, here is a more detailed look at what goes into each section.
The goals section is about defining the intentions of your marketing campaign. Too often, businesses will decide to launch a new effort without spending much (if any) time thinking about why they are really doing what they’re doing. What frequently happens is companies see their competitors doing something, like joining the latest social network, and in a rush not to be left behind they jump on board without taking the time to make sure that signing up actually has a legitimate chance of helping their business.
By forcing yourself to write down your goals in the opening section of the communications plan, you can often avoid making this mistake. The goals section forces you to identify the outcomes you are hoping to achieve with your communications plan first, rather than starting with the tactics — like joining a new social network — and then trying to make up a reason that it’s good for your business. Beginning with the end goals in mind forces you to make sure that all of your tactics line up to help you reach these goals, and you won’t waste precious time and resources on marketing tactics that may be popular but ultimately are not effective for what you want to achieve.
Examples of good goals:
- Generate $250,000 in total revenue next quarter
- Improve percentage of customers with repeat purchases to 60%
- Raise brand awareness within our target audience to 75%
- Increase our net promoter score to +30
After you’ve established your goals, which clearly identifies the changes you want to occur in your business because of your communications plan, the next step is to examine where your company is currently with a SWOT analysis and see if you anticipate there to be any major changes coming in the near future that will help or hurt your attempt at reaching your goals. This gives you a starting point and a map of the terrain between where you are and where you would like to end up.
Here is how to perform a SWOT analysis
- Strengths: List attributes of your company that are currently working in your favor here. If you have a high degree of customer loyalty and generate substantial repeat purchases, that is a strength. If you have strong customer retention, so that once someone becomes a customer they remain a customer for a long time, that is a strength. If you have better profit margins than your competition because of more efficient production methods, so you can sell at the same price as them but keep more of the money from each sale, that is a strength. Knowing where you are strong tells you places that you can build upon with your campaign.
- Weaknesses: List attributes of your company that are currently working against you here. You may have a poor conversion rate for new customers, or be a new brand in an established market and struggling for market share. You may have a competitor who uses offshore labor and is able to undercut your prices. Whatever your company is currently not doing well, you need to identify it before you can come up with a way to either resolve it or go around it with your communications plan.
- Opportunities: List future changes to the marketplace that you anticipate will happen and will be favorable for your company. For example, if you were an early mobile app developer, the increasingly widespread adoption of smartphones is an opportunity for your business. It means more customers will be joining the market every month, which gives you the chance to develop higher revenues if you can capture your share of that market. If you are an organic food manufacturer, the growing social trend towards eating organically grown food is an opportunity. By knowing where you expect there to be opportunities for your business in the future, you can develop a communications plan that leverages these opportunities to meet the goals you outlined.
- Threats: List future changes to the marketplace that you anticipate will happen and will be problematic for your company. For example, if you are Hummer, rising gas prices are a threat to being able to sell large vehicles with poor gas mileage. If you are Wonder Bread, the warnings about refined carbohydrates causing obesity and other health problems are a threat. By knowing where you expect their to be problems, you can develop a communications plan that tries to compensate for these potential pitfalls.
In http://nvlinens.com/, we will discuss the final two sections of the communications strategy, the implantation plan and evaluation methodology.