4 steps to effective, audience-focused communications

By: Kirk Theriot

Effective communication in the workplace is critical to driving positive results, meeting strategic goals, and creating a healthy work environment. Poor or nonexistent communications eventually become crippling to any thriving business. Disconnected and inconsistent consumer communications contribute to lost sales in retail as well as declining resources and donations for nonprofits.

The start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to review last year’s accomplishments and develop a plan for this year’s successes. Make effective communications a part of your overall business plan.

To get 2019 off to a productive start, we’re focusing on a series of posts addressing audience-focused communications, staring with an essential tool across all businesses. A communications plan is a road map for getting a message across to an audience, pinpointing who you need to get information to as well as when and how you intend to communicate it.

Here’s my 4-step plan to create an effective, audience-focused communications plan.

1. Review and define your overall communication objectives.

What do you want to achieve, when, and why? Examine what your organization stands for: its mission, values, and belief systems. Define organizational goals. Look closely at who your organization is serving. This process will help narrow and sharpen the focus for your communication initiative(s). Plans will (and should) vary widely based on specifically defined objectives for your exact purpose. Here’s a few examples:

Internal Corporate Communications— Objective: Develop a plan to better communicate the company DNA to its employees. Help personnel find meaning and purpose in their role in the company and to feel part of something that is bigger than themselves or a simple paycheck.

External Corporate Communications— Objective: Create a consistent brand voice and integrated branding materials to strengthen brand awareness, create a positive corporate culture for company, community and world, and help grow the bottom line.

Project or Corporate Initiative— Objective: Help drive a successful program. Good communication is the backbone of any successful project. Get everyone on the same page— clear, concise communications, minimizing confusion, and getting buy-in.

Non-profit Organization— Objective: Create a force to raise awareness and increase donations. Great communications both internally and externally can provide many benefits, such as helping personnel understand and adopt the mission of the organization, consistently brand the vision of the organization, and rally the donors.

Retail, Online store, Service— Objective: Launch a successful campaign. Consumers are savvy shoppers and respond to smart communications and branded materials. Marketing your goods and services with creative materials will get the results you’re looking for.

2. Identify and understand your audience[s].

Think of "audiences" as groups that you need to communicate with. Whether you need to communicate general day-to-day information, “big news" about major changes, or sales campaigns, effective communications understand and speak directly to their audiences. Know your audience by asking these questions: What do they need to know? What do they know already? What do they want to hear? What's their preferred way of receiving information? What will stop them listening to what you have to say? And how will you know that they have got the message?

Often, you may have one or more audience with different communications objectives. Clarify specific objectives for each audience. List all of your objectives (there may be several) for each audience in your plan.

3. Plan Messaging and Channels

Once you have clarified your objectives and got a full understanding of the different audiences that you need to communicate with, it's time to plan your message. We’ll break this down into two parts:

Wordsmithing and content creation— Create an outline to help define what you need to write in order to meet your objectives. From this outline, draft up copy for all aspects of the communications plan:

Spoken language— Define terms and language used to talk about the objective.

Written language— Develop the language used in basic and promotional communications.

Marketing language— Create professionally designed materials needed to carry out and promote the objective.

Media and publishing your messages—Specify how these messages will be delivered to best reach your target audience. Make a list of all possible communications channels and media options. You probably already use lots of great communications channels in your company, but think creatively and brainstorm unique ways to further reach your audience.

Depending on the communications objective[s], you may choose to hire a professional group to develop and create the actual materials needed to launch the objective. The work that you have completed to this point will be extremely valuable to that team. The deep dive into the goals and objectives of this exercise will guide the creative team to deliver targeted materials that will resinate with your audience and achieve your goals. This is how every project with a professional design or marketing team should start, but unfortunately, rarely does.

4. Test and Monitor Effectiveness

Even with analytics, company stats, and a great deal of thought, it’s easy to get it wrong. It's good to get feedback as early as possible and often through the development process to refine and focus the message. Test concepts with people from different audiences. Test to know if your target audience understand the messages, that they have "buy in," and that they are tuned in to the channels you’ll be using to publish the content.

During the lifetime of the communications objective, monitor program with timely feedback while fine-tuning current and future communication messaging and promotions. This will help steer your program towards success.