Last week I attended the 2015 Business Communicators Summit (BCS), sponsored by the International Association of Business Communicators (Kansas City chapter). More than 100 local communication professionals attended lectures and breakout sessions led by a group of highly successful business communicators who shared their knowledge and expertise.
A prominent theme for the day was that in order to succeed with business communication, a company/organization needs to do three things: clarify, simplify, focus. This relates to every form of communication you use in your business: internal, external, advertising, marketing, and social media.
Before you can even think about a communication strategy, you have to clarify what you want to say. Figure out what your story is and how you want to share it. This seems relatively simple, but many businesses struggle with this as they try to be everything to everyone. Some businesses want to use every form of marketing and every new social media channel, without a thought to whether or not it makes sense for their business, marketplace, target demographic, etc.
But how do you clarify your story and how you want to say it? According to BCS keynote speaker and founder of Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi, you figure out who your audience is and you develop a content marketing strategy around what they want to hear, and not what you think they want to hear.
- Create Customer Personas
- Determine the “persona” of your target audience(s). Who are they? What are their top priorities when visiting your store? What will add value to their visit to your store? But remember, if you have different audiences you’re targeting, you will have a different mission statement for each audience.
- Create Value for Customers
- Give your audience something of value every time you communication to them. Don’t communicate just to communicate.
After you figure out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, you need to develop a communication strategy.
- Do the groundwork
- Good communication starts with hearing and understanding. Listen to what your customers want and tailor your messaging to those key areas.
- Research-based, unifying narrative, simple
- Part of doing the groundwork is research. Be sure that your communication strategy is based on actual research of your customer base and not simply what you think you know about them.
- As you begin to understand what your customers want and need, you create a unifying narrative that tells your story and meets those needs. You don’t stray from it to chase down the next big thing. Of course it can change with changing environments, but try to stay consistent with your messaging and your rationale behind your messaging.
- Always keep your communication as simple as possible. Avoid jargon, lengthy explanations, and unnecessary information. You want to convey your expertise but you don’t want to venture into TL;DR territory.
This leads me to the second part of the theme: simplify. When you’re creating your marketing strategy, understand what the “big idea” is for the overall strategy. I can be one word, one sentence or one paragraph, but keep it short and sweet so that you don’t go off in too many directions.
Take that big idea to everyone involved in the communication process: leadership, marketing/communication team, managers and staff. Make everyone a stakeholder in this big idea you’re trying to communicate. According to BCS speaker and founder of Willoughby Design, Inc., Ann Willoughby, “If everyone is a stakeholder, your chances of success increase.”
Finally, we come to the idea of focus. You’ve clarified your story, your audience, and your value proposition for that audience. You’ve simplified those ideas into one “big idea” that will guide your communication and ensured that everyone involved is on the same page with that big idea. Now, it’s time to focus.
Your communication has to be consistent across all channels, to both your employees and your customers. This focus must also be applied to the writing you include to this communication, whether it be print, online, radio/TV or in-store signage. BCS speaker and founder of JBSmith Communications, Julie Bartles Smith, conveyed the importance of writing for readability. This is where avoiding jargon and finding simple, clear, concise communication will mean the difference between getting a clear message out to your employees and customers, and muddling the message so that nobody really knows where you stand.
If you set communication standards at the beginning, you force yourself and your employees to focus on the content, rather than what is the right way to convey your message. This consistency will also build trust with your audience. They know what to expect from you every time they receive communication from you. The consistency will also create a clear, easily identifiable brand and store identity. And the best part? It will create a smoother work process as you move forward with new communication.