Summer is a wonderful time to make yourself crazy.
Of course, that is not entirely serious, but the slower months before the sprint to year-end are indeed the best months to work on communication strategy—for the balance of the year and beyond. And strategy can make people nuts, since it is never an easy process.
All too often, strategy is confused with actions or approach. These are not the same. Strategy is the big picture of what you wish to accomplish and the overarching view of how you intend to reach your goal. The granular details of tactics can only be established when you first know your goals.
Think of it this way: “Increasing social media followership” is not a strategy. “Creating and leveraging shareable content as a means for engaging key audiences,” is closer to the mark. Even with that, there is a missing piece, one which communicators too often overlook. That ingredient is the overarching business objective.
There is a missing piece, one which communicators too often overlook. That ingredient is the overarching business objective.
Begin by focusing on what has been expressed as the corporate or organizational objective. Increase sales by X percent? Penetrate certain new markets? Build brand preference within specific market segments? Position the enterprise as preeminent for [fill-in-the-blank] (innovation; quality; social integrity; product performance)
Usually, such goals are not the exclusive purview of the communication and marketing teams, but these teams often are called upon to collaborate with others to “make it happen.” Using these goals as the point of departure is the first step toward reducing strategy insanity.
Next, consider the opportunities and challenges the organization faces. If at the mid-point of the year, profits are up, that represents an opportunity to build on this traction to reach the goal. If competitors are encroaching on established markets, that clearly represents a challenge. Delineate these and specify their potential impact on the ability to reach the goal.
A commonly, some might say overly, used approach to this part of strategic planning is the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). It’s fine if you go that route, but where does it take you? The fact is that while the information is useful, it doesn’t lead naturally to a critical next step – the creation of a communication strategy and platform. Delineation of opportunities and challenges is a far more straightforward and efficient consideration of what is possible and smart.
Expressions of strategy encompass objectives and correlate directly to overarching goals:
- “We will tell the story of our corporate values to advance understanding of our commitment to environmental stewardship.”
- “We will strive to put a human face on the company to increase customer confidence in our work.”
- “We will focus on Influencers who can help us tell our story with third-party credibility.”
Objectives come next with as much specificity as can be included. “Increasing awareness” is fine, but by how much, among which audiences, over what period of time, and calculated using which metrics? “Precision Objectives” contain this level of detail. They are more effective, directive and productive in the long run.
The next part of the strategic process is to identify audiences and messages that resonate for each. Care must be taken to ensure messages are not conflicting from audience to audience, but still supportive of the overall theme and positioning you establish.
Communicators who devote a part of their summer to strategy find they have a running start heading into the final quarter of the year and a platform on which to build for the coming year. Approaching strategy in a structured fashion can keep you from losing your way…and your sanity.