A framework for strategic marketing communications

You’ve probably heard of the “marketing mix”, a way of describing how companies can take their service or product to market.   It was traditionally referred to as “The 4Ps” (Product, Place, Price & Promotion), which nowadays is extended to “The 7Ps” (adding People, Process & Physical Evidence). NB The “promotion” part of the marketing mix alludes to all marketing communications not just promotional money-off “deals”.

So, one way of describing a “marketing communications strategy” is: a well-thought through way of addressing the “P for Promotion” part of the marketing mix.  Another way is it’s the communications-focused part of (overall) marketing strategy.  Overall strategy would consider broader areas such as market size, value proposition, pricing (another “P”), distribution channels (another “P”; Place) and financial goals, amongst others.  Even further up the food chain from marketing strategy is business strategy. 

We think of it like this:  business strategy >informs> marketing strategy >informs> communications strategy >informs> marketing communications (the tactical plan).

With that said, now is the time to look more deeply at the framework of a marketing communications strategy:

Situational Analysis

Gather internal and external information to provide context and background to your plan. This could include a media analysis about your organisation/brand and its positioning versus competition.  Feeding into this are your pricing and value proposition, routes to market, competitive activity etc; relevant information informed by your overall marketing strategy.

Define Communications Objectives & Goals (WHAT are trying to achieve?)

Establish your communications objectives and goals which, naturally, should support your marketing strategy and, ultimately, your business strategy. Write the objectives in words, specify the goals in numbers and make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).

Identify the Target Audience (to WHOM are we communicating?)

The target audience is a group of your potential customers to whom you are going to market your products or services towards. It can be described by behavioural and demographic attributes, such as age, gender, income, education  level, locality and hobbies (etc).  The following steps can help define your target audience: i) Survey and analyse your existing customers, ii) Conduct broader market research and identify industry trends, iii) Analyse your key competitors, and iv) Define your prime prospects who your messages will appeal to and convert.  Always be open minded and willing to change eg stay on top of trends and be very wary of new competitors who seek to disrupt a traditional market.

Develop Key Messages (WHAT do we need to communicate?)

Develop messages which communicate your story, in a credible and persuasive way, to your audience.  They should be i) clear, concise, compelling, ii) focused on the headlines (and a limited number of them; you cannot hope to communicate a hundred key messages!) and iii) consistent (they will need repeating to sink in).  Neither is this the place for detail, lots of numbers or jargon.  Customer research to generate insights and test communication effectiveness plays a key role at this stage.

Develop Tactics (HOW will we communicate, with whom and when?)

The tactical plan is the practical blueprint for your communications plan. The output is what the customer ends up seeing, hearing or interacting with.  The tactical plan details, month to month, the techniques and tools you’ll use to reach your target audience(s), who is responsible for doing what and the budget required.  Quite often a marketing budget is simply an annual pot of money to be spent (it’s allocated top-down not calculated from the bottom-up), so consideration will need to be given to doing the most effective things well (& often) and cutting out low impact activity.

Identify Measures of Evaluation (HOW will we know if we are successful?)

Metrics are important. Whether or not you’ve reached your organisational goal should be fairly easy to determine (did sales increase by 5 percent?). But applying metrics to determine if your communications tactics and strategies were ultimately successful – and what role they played in reaching your organisational goals can be difficult. There are, however, various options for capturing such data, especially in digital spaces. Whenever possible, apply outcome metrics (what did consumers do?) instead of output metrics (how many leaflets were sent out?).

Mid-Course Corrections

Always be prepared for change, and to change. Perhaps a new competitor/brand has entered your market. Maybe government legislation has changed.  Your board or boss has cut your budget.  What changes to your strategic and tactical plans should you make?

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