Creating an Efficient Marketing Communications Plan
By Renata B.L.Lerch
Communication is a key element of marketing in any type of business organization. From small to large businesses, profit or not-for-profit, in all segments; it is an essential part of business planning. Running an effective communications strategy allows companies to establish its brand, carefully positioning their products and services to a desired direction.
A thorough internal and external assessment is a starting point, bringing together the company’s communications needs and how they relate to competitors’ movements. Those elements help with the visualization of several opportunities to convey messages at a reasonable cost, in very efficient ways.
Organizing objectives and how to accomplish them is the following step, allowing business leaders and their teams to stick to the plan, resulting in strategy continuity.
Periodic revisions complete the plan, making sure that your programs are up-to-date as the competitive market evolves. An effective communications program should be clear and straight to the point. The following items will guide you through the development of your plan:
Highlight in this section your brand, analyzing your audience’s perception and attitude towards your company and its products and services. Scrutinize how you currently communicate with customers through all points of contact, from the moment they research your product or service through the post-delivery process.
Is your message consistent with your objectives? How do customers perceive your brand when calling or checking your web site? Does your packaging deliver the message you want to convey? Is your customer service prepared to answer questions properly? Have you created a customer relationship database to build loyalty?
Using your current points of contact with customers to position your company is vital. Once you understand and organize the communication flow through your company’s selling and delivery processes, it is time to assess the effectiveness of your advertising and PR campaigns.
How do customers learn about your business? Are you using targeted online and offline channels to advertise? Do you have an efficient PR campaign to take advantage of inexpensive publicity? Are you monitoring and incentivizing a positive “word-of-mouth”? Are your web site and customer service in synch with your advertising, promotions, and programs?
Obviously, your answer to some of those questions may depend on your budget, but leave any planning session for later on in the process. In this section, focus on analyzing what’s being done rather than what can’t be done.
List the top competitors’ products and services. Dissect their positioning and communications programs. Analyze their customer service, check their web sites, make calls, purchase their products, and experience how they express their messages through the entire buying cycle. Study what and how they communicate with the customers you are interested in. Are they advertising? Do they have a current PR campaign in place? How do they attract first-time customers? What are their product or service strengths and weaknesses? Collect their information so that it will help you build your message. You may consider a product differentiation strategy.
Use this section to nurture general actions that will deliver your positioning, and address your audience’s needs. Your positioning should be directly related to the company’s overall marketing goals. The information collected during the Current Assessment portion of your plan will give you plenty of facts to develop the best communication objectives for your branding stage and differentiation process.
List a minimum of two but no more than four or five key communications objectives for the period. Be specific, and try to make your goals measurable.
Some examples are:
Define your targeted audience and be as specific as possible. Learn where your audience is located, how they live, their standards and beliefs, what, how and when they use your product, what they like and dislike, and their buying motivation. Are there primary and secondary segments? Identify who and what influences them. Understanding consumer behavior is critical in order to successfully build your strategies and action plan.
Think about the concept and sentiment you want associated with your brand. These messages will deliver your strategies, positioning your brand through all media and points of contact with potential customers. Incorporate them into your marketing and sales materials and tools such as brochures, advertising, web site, call center, store locations, trade fairs, press releases, etc. Here are some examples:
identify the most important channels for your audience, the ones that are popular and would best deliver your message. As a home business owner, you want to maximize your dollars and exposure, reaching out to your current and potential customers at the right time, and with significance. Make sure the communication channels you choose are in line with your objectives, budget, and that they reach a targeted audience. Don’t waste money delivering your message to unqualified customers. And remember to take advantage of all points of contact with customers. Those are golden communication gates for branding, surprisingly enough often wasted by small and large organizations.
Key Strategies and Programs
Strategy is how resources are distributed and utilized to achieve your key objectives. Tactics are important to make the strategies action-oriented. List no more than five top strategies, and underneath each one, align tactics in support. Keep them organized with time schedules. That will prevent your team from losing track of the planned direction. For example:
Strategy 1: Utilize press releases to increase visibility to intermediaries and final consumers.
Develop monthly publicity actions on appealing topics to maximize the exposure of the services or products you offer. The information should be released by approaching journalists and/or issuing press releases to trade publications. Press releases are normally issued a minimum of two months prior to the program/event.
Strategy 2: Increase the percentage of online business within the selling channel mix.
Prepare a detailed budget chart, breaking it down by activities. Arrange year-over-year comparisons on dollars spent to evaluate results and calculate your ROI. A budget document shouldn’t be complicated to maintain; keeping it up-to-date will help you track results along with the Evaluation Plan.
In addition to the numeric targets, it is important to establish parameters to measure the effectiveness of your activities. Establish standards of performance to use as a benchmark, which will allow you to take corrective action, adjusting your strategies along the year. Examples:
Attach a calendar of activities and the timeline. There are many ways to organize it. A suggestion is to separate the activities by month, campaign, type of media and channel. See the sidebar for an example of a communications schedule for a local bookstore, organized by month and programs.
Revisions are necessary at least on a quarterly basis. Your competitors change directions periodically, and your team should be alert to any movement. Realigning your strategies will allow you to maximize your marketing efforts.
Example of a Communications Schedule, Organized by Month and Programs
Month of January:
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