Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why You Need a Communications Strategy

So, what do I think of Digital Communications/Marketing? I put some of this material together for a client of mine. I recommended that he develop a blog roll that would be regularly updated and packed with targeted key words and phrases. A key element of his new business model is digital marketing and communication. So, we discussed the theories and why I think communications strategy is important in general.

I don't want to sound too preachy, but first, what has changed about communications, and why do you need a strategy, marketing or otherwise?

Technology and overall accessibility have empowered both the client, and the audience they seek to reach... we have transcended conventional "push" communications and gone towards a two-way dialogue featuring targeted, personalized and viral communications.

A solid communications strategy identifies the right opportunities, has the right tools and – most importantly – develops the right messages that will permeate the online, offline and wireless worlds.

It’s not just a PR or marketing exercise. It’s learning/optimizing how you develop your internal communication, as well as your customer- or outward-facing dialogues.

Whether it’s a business plan, press release, website, email, product launch or novel, there’s a story that has to be told, and it has to be told well/effectively for people to pay attention. Even if sales are your end goal, your conversion, there’s still a message that has to be relayed telling people the what, where, why and how.

As a marketer, this means I'm no longer marketing products or services. I'm marketing conversations and therefore need a conversation strategy that answers some big questions: What content will trigger the right dialogue with the right people and what media is taking place on? How do you keep the conversation going?

I am a big proponent of the idea that anyone can write, anyone can communicate... but can you do it well and in a manner that best relays your mission and vision? In the digital space, does it result in the desired conversion? With a solid strategy, it can and will.

The basic tenets I look at? Why is the client communicating/marketing the product? The Why means setting acute objectives. By starting with meaningful objectives, and ensuring that everything in the plan relates to those objectives, it is ensured that the plan is on the right track.

Who does the client want to reach? Carefully determine who their audience is. Not doing so yields one of the most devastating errors in Public Relations: Communicating for communications sake. I've worked with agencies who have done that: promoted strategies and programs that pitch certain tools and tactics, simply because they know they can bill a lot for them, and they're buzzwords/popular methods they feel they HAVE to pitch. This goes back to the acute objectives: Why, along with Who, can tell you a lot regarding what type of media, tools and tactics you should/can be using. If your audience isn't online or participating in social media, that's not necessarily the tool for you. If you want to build an audience there, that's a different exercise, but with your current goals in mind, where will your message be relayed best?

So, that brings us to Where: Where will the client communicate? What are the various channels of communication that will be used?

How will the client say it? This becomes the overall strategy and is supported by a series of action-oriented communications programs.

When will communications take place? This is the timetable that disciplines the entire plan, as timing can often mean success or failure of a program.

The whole "media is the message" adage is tested and true, yet the reality is that you have to remember to put some media back in to the message... or is it message in the media? Anyway, the point is that we have to remember the goal: In the digital space, how you relay the message is just as important as the message. In turn, the result should not just be getting that message across. Rather, it should be to strengthen lines of communication, further build relationships and ultimately garner the conversions you require. The same thing goes for marketing in the digital space. There's a misconception that it's "cheaper" because you're not buying space, or ads or time. But it IS time and resource intensive and require diligent attention, otherwise it can and likely will fail.

The media you use are important, so with regard to social media and all that implies (twitter, facebook, linkedin, myspace, flickr, youtube, etc.), my thoughts are that they are incredible tools that continue to evolve. Myspace came along, then Facebook, then YouTube (well, it came along earlier, but is being used more prolifically now), then Flickr (same idea), then twitter, etc. What was hot today, may be in decline tomorrow. But some other social media tool and tactic will be there to take its place.

Twitter rocks, in my humble opinion. I use it not only to network, but also to follow news, events, areas of interest, etc. There are multiple strategies with regard to marketing and communication via Twitter, most of which focus on one question: Why do people care about you? Why are they talking about you? Because you stand for something bigger than your own brand. Blogging, tweeting and other digital outreach is a strategic exercise. Talk about what you know, what you’re interested in, and people will read. Eventually they’ll also pay attention to what it is your company does.
That leads to key market research: Know who is talking about you and how. Social Networking is not just tweeting, facebooking, blogging or connecting on Linkedin, it’s about listening to what’s being said about your brand and your company, and the ability to join the discussion. It’s communications, market research and CRM bundled.
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