By Kristin Golliher, WildRock PR & Marketing Founder and CEO
When a great strategic communications plan fails to deliver desired results, do you ever pause to uncover why? This can be a missing step for a lot of practitioners but evaluating misses can be very telling – sometimes the answer is easy to see, and sometimes it requires a bit of digging. In this article, I’d like to dive into why some PR and strategic communications plans just don’t deliver and more importantly, reveal what you can do to solve it!
Fail #1: Lack of Strategy
Most marketing plans are simple. They begin with a goal, then work backward to define what steps and actions will produce the desired result. Calendars are developed, tasks are assigned, budgets are planned and off you go. Great plans comprise a critical foundation of marketing success. However, planning without a well-developed strategic viewpoint lacks the cohesiveness, effectiveness and flexibility to deliver true success.
What is a strategy?
A strategic marketing and communications plan aims to answer these high-level questions concisely:
- What’s our purpose in business and what inspires us each day?
- How will we be the best at it and what makes us unique?
- Who is our target audience? What do they want and how will we connect with them?
- How have we done things in the past? How can we think outside the box to achieve a different/better result?
Development should involve all key team members, collaborating to innovate and define purposeful answers to these questions. It provides a blueprint of what you want to accomplish and what sets you apart.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STRATEGY & A PLAN?
A marketing plan is a pre-defined series of steps outlined to meet a goal or objective. When one plan fails, you throw it out and develop another one. Meanwhile, a strategy can adapt with new insights, opportunities or challenges. Since no one can see into the future, a strategy gives your team a flexible framework to adjust and pivot. A strategy answers the “what” and “why” of your marketing and communications goals, while a plan defines “how” you will achieve that strategy. We believe that you can have both together in a document for one source of truth, but the overarching strategy should always guide the plan!
No STRATEGY = PROBLEM
Developing your “how” before your “what” and “why” puts the cart before the horse. With a clearly defined strategy, marketing activities fall into place, clearly identifying which tactics and initiatives will:
- Resonate with your target audience and build meaningful interactions and results.
- Work towards goals with cohesive, consistent messaging and outcomes so everyone is moving in the same direction.
- Illuminate your passion for your brand or offering to create team unity!
Without clear direction and cohesive goals, you’ll waste dollars and resources. But developing a strategic marketing and communications strategy maximizes your return and leaves flexibility for continuous improvement so you can remain nimble.
Even with a to-do list a mile high, taking a step back and re-evaluating what is truly important is a great way to ensure you, and your team are working on the RIGHT things that will drive the bigger business goals forward.
Fail #2: Unclear or Unmeasurable Goals
How can you determine a campaign’s success without a specific goal? We always recommend clear and measurable goals to give your team a pre-defined benchmark to determine success. These can be used not only to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing efforts but also your team.
It’s an industry best practice to set SMART goals when defining performance objectives:
- Specific: Set detailed goals that clearly define what will be accomplished. For example, if you want “higher customer satisfaction,” be very clear about what that means. A more specific goal would be, “a 25% higher rating in customer satisfaction reviews.”
- Measurable: Identify specific measurements when defining goals (for example 15% more sales, 500 new customers, 5% increase in click-through rates). Keep in mind certain goals may require new measurement tools to implement, such as enhanced website analytics, customer surveys, or social monitoring tools. Manually tracking can be incredibly burdensome for your organization.
- Attainable: Great goals should balance ambition and realism. Consider your resource of budget, team, time, talents and tools. Don’t forget to evaluate both internal and external capacities and talents.
- Relevant: Not all goals fit all companies. For example, a company targeting a small B2B industry, higher web traffic might not be a relevant goal. Instead, higher time on site indicates engagement for your niche audience. Consider what will be engaging and motivating for your target demographic so your goals are meaningful.
- Time-Based: Set deadlines for your goals. It might seem safer to leave timeframes ambiguous to avoid failure but remember, with a strategic framework, an earlier indication of problems gives you time to pivot and succeed.
Involve all team members, including your boss
When defining performance benchmarks, it’s helpful to gather input from all team members, including management. That way, all team members agree on how high to set the bar and even perhaps what correlating incentives could be earned. Usually, management is the most generous at the prospect of potential success. It’s helpful to evaluate historical performance data to determine what’s been achieved and identify goals for improvement. In addition, performing a competitor analysis also paints a picture of what’s possible in your marketplace. Once all players agree on where to draw a line in the sand, it’s time for work to begin. A tool we love for tracking success is DashThis, an automated marketing tool to help quickly create reports and drive towards goals.
Fail #3: Unrealistic Expectations for Your Strategic Communications Plan
A great strategic marketing and communications plan begins with a thorough understanding of your limits. Carefully consider a realistic budget and workload for your team members, then spend it wisely. In fact, realism promotes creativity during planning. If a big ad spend isn’t in your budget, a creative PR campaign or customer contest might deliver the greatest return on your investment. Sometimes the best inventions come from necessity.
Also consider elements like:
- Timeline—Do you have enough time to pull off this campaign? Are timelines flexible or does a product launch demand a specific date? Also, what’s the backup if timelines are missed due to product delays, shipping, etc.?
- Reality— Are your plans realistic? For example, while a celebrity endorsement might be a great idea, is it feasible? While SpaceX made it to orbit, that isn’t in the cards for most companies and that’s okay.
- Unrealistic Goals—Consider whether a goal is realistic for your timeframe and budget. Maybe you should set an ambitious goal for a two-year timeframe instead of one.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT’S REALISTIC FOR YOUR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLAN?
If you’re unsure about what is realistic for your strategic communications plan, look back over your past month or quarter. What did your team actually accomplish? Did they do it effectively or were they spread too thin? Did they stay on budget, or was that an issue? Develop a strategic marketing approach that you can achieve and execute with excellence.
Fail #4: Poor Targeting
When you target everyone, you reach no one. While it’s tempting to reach the masses, you should know your target market like an intimate friend—going beyond general demographics to understand what messaging, mediums and timing resonate most.
- Messaging: How do you want your brand to be perceived? Does this message evoke the desired emotion? More importantly, what do you want your audience to do? Consider calls to action that drive specific behavior. Never forget the power of a contest or promotion to convert impressions into a large lead list. Even a small giveaway drives much higher engagement from pre-existing spending on advertising, email marketing, etc.
- Mediums: How and where does your audience like to interact? What forms of entertainment or social media do they consume most? Do they prefer an in-person connection or a convenient online chat?
- Timing: What time of day is your audience most active? Online ads for teenagers should be scheduled for late-night hours, while lunch breaks might be best for working professionals. Also, consider seasonal timing if certain holidays, events or times of year are more advantageous. Great marketing without need might lightly impact your consumer, but well-timed, relevant messaging will always yield a higher conversion.
HOW TO DEVELOP TARGET AUDIENCES & PERSONAS
If you think your marketing has been too generalized, here are some tips for identifying your target audience and understanding their persona.
Effective content delivers the right content, to the right people, at the right time. Effective content mapping requires marketers to understand both the consumer’s characteristics and where they are in the buying life cycle.
The purchasing life cycle consists of three stages:
- Awareness—A person has realized and expressed symptoms of a potential problem or opportunity.
- Consideration— A person has clearly defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity.
- Decision— A person has defined their solution strategy, method or approach.
Create a fictional persona for your target audience and outline how key messaging might differ at different phases in the purchasing lifecycle. Also, consider what calls-to-action might help that person transition to the next stage in the process. Think about what resonates and keeps a consumer moving toward a decision.
Fail #5: No Follow Through on Your Strategic Communications Plan
Strategic planning requires consistent, high-quality execution to produce results. Team adoption is critical to implementation success. Involving your team during strategic communications plan development creates buy-in from the beginning. Take time to ask each team member what makes them feel the most excited, then delegate according to passion, talent and capacity. Ensure everyone clearly understands the strategy, goals, target audience and messaging. Consider where a new software tool or strategic marketing agency might save you time during planning and implementation.
Staying accountable to your communications STRATEGIC plan
Before work begins, pre-define performance evaluation, including analytics, measurement tools and frequency of check-ins. If your team can anticipate weekly reporting and performance evaluations, they will work harder to meet pre-defined goals. It also reduces defensiveness to schedule accountability check-ins as part of your routine instead of catching team members off guard. Pairing performance meetings with mini-strategic planning sessions provides a constructive method to improve underperforming campaigns.
Remember, when operating under a strategic framework, there is flexibility to pivot when certain elements of your campaign aren’t performing. Invite failure to be your teacher instead of an enemy. The famous degreasing product WD-40 built its brand around perseverance amidst failure—its proprietary formula took 40 attempts to master. Likewise, strategic marketing and communications plans evolve with each new insight, challenge or changing landscape.
At WildRock, we complement your talent, filling in gaps to complete the cohesive team needed to ensure your marketing and strategic communications plan succeed. Maybe a strategic planning audit will send your team running in the right direction or perhaps execution support can ensure follow-through. Your business rocks and we are here to help!