Marketing Communications Strategy and Reducing BreakdownsAug 18, 2022
Will a marketing communications strategy help sales and prevent breakdowns?
Simply put... yes. Documenting any strategy can make a significantly positive impact on whatever the focus may be in that context. Here we're talking about marketing, but there's a larger document you may also need in your business that some people refer to as a corporate communications plan. Do you have anything like this for your team and business?
Before getting into the details, let's pause to ask why we should be talking about communications strategies. For me (Candice), this topic recently came up when I started reading Amelia Bedelia to my toddler.
The story of Amelia Bedelia's incredibly silly and over the top mis-interpretations of her chores list make us laugh out loud. One of my favorite moments is when she reads, "Put the lights out" and interprets that to mean putting the lightbulbs outside to air. Say What?! 😂
As a business owner and consultant, the most important skill for me to hone regularly is communication. So while Amelia Bedelia makes me laugh, it also causes me to pause and think... can this happen with clients, partners or team members? Have I clearly communicated the "chores list" to my team? Are clients truly comprehending what they need to do for our working relationship to be successful?
These key questions led me to consider the relationship between marketing communications and corporate communication strategy. If you have never documented your communications strategy for your business, I invite you to go down a little rabbit hole before summer is over.
What's the Difference between Marketing and Corporate Communications?
Of these two phrases, one is focused on promoting your business while the other is focused on internal communication. However, both are necessary and directly tied to each other.
- Marketing communications strategy defines how a business will reach their target market through various types of communication.
- Corporate communication strategy defines how a business communicates with employees, customers, suppliers, and investors.
We're very familiar with how to build a strong marketing communications strategy (aka marketing strategy or marketing plan) here at Beckmann Collaborative. That is core to so much of what we provide our clients. However, this process and document is really a sub-section of a business' corporate communication strategy. Think of corporate communications as a larger umbrella document that includes marketing, sales, customer service, internal operations, public relations, board updates, vendor/supplier communications, etc.
What is a marketing communications strategy?
Marketing communications strategy is what a company uses to plan how they will reach and connect with a target audience using various types of communication. This plan includes detailed descriptions of your message, the mediums (i.e. email, blog, social media), your audience (ideal customer), and how you measure success (goals and KPIs).
If done well, your marketing strategy will clearly define your brand's voice in a way that anyone in the company can easily comprehend and is closely tied to your business' brand values. The same goes for understanding your target customer / audience. And a good way to test this out is by asking someone in a customer support position to tell you about the brand and the customers. Your "front line" team members may know a lot more about your customers than you do. However, there may be breakdowns around who you are as a brand.
A communication breakdown can happen because of individual perception, biases, assumptions, motivation, and context. Your marketing communications should be clearly understood by team members, customers or clients, prospects, vendors, partners, and the wider world.
Breakdowns happen when there is confusion between what people say and what others hear - especially from leaders. Often there is a breakdown between what leadership says the brand represents verses how it actually shows up for the team, customers, and public. Unfortunately, we see more and more news stories that reflect the "do as I say, not as I do" leadership approach and how it fails the business. Let's use Twitter as an example...
1. Twitter's brand value of serving the public conversation talks about how they provide a "free and safe space to talk." In the early days of Twitter, the leadership referred to the platform as the free speech wing of the free speech party - indicating they had no political leanings, rather their aim was to provide an open forum for all thoughts, ideas and opinions.
2. There is a Civic Integrity Policy which aims to "curb the spread of misinformation" about elections in countries around the world. Interestingly, Twitter has recently updated this policy.
3. A Twitter whistleblower (former Twitter head of security) "suggest that contrary to its stated intent, Twitter chronically under-resources efforts to protect the discourse around elections on its platform, and that the problem is far worse abroad than it is in the United States." This Twitter whistleblower has shared company documents that counter the brand's claims of creating a free and safe space to talk.
4. They are labeled as part of the "Big Tech" thought police by mass media companies. The integrity and misinformation policies seem to be targeting conservative influencers including politicians. Twitter suspended a U.S. Senate candidate after she published a tweet saying, "Women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women."
What can we learn from Twitter's marketing mis-steps?
Most obviously, their brand values do not align with their actions. If this company aims to filter content as heavily as has happened in recent years, then it is time to re-write their marketing communications strategy and significantly update the brand values to match their actions. Companies grow and evolve, and as that happens your branding and marketing most be adjusted too.
Beyond marketing and public opinion, think of the impact that this misalignment of values and actions has on the Twitter team. Imagine you were someone whose job was to recruit new developers or to promote a business where these kinds of things are happening. How would you feel about your job? Would you be embarrassed to talk to friends outside of work about what you do? Would you be motivated to show up fully at your job?
When Leadership Communications and Actions Align
On the other end of the spectrum are the companies working hard to clearly and consistently communicate with all parties (team, investors, customers, partners, and the world). One example is a company based in Austin, Texas - Sailpoint.
1. Sailpoint's Core Values are defined by Four I's. Innovation, Integrity, Impact, and Individuals. Throughout their website and external communications, these values show up everywhere.
2. Voted Best Places to Work in Texas. The team clearly agrees that Sailpoint is a good place to work, because that is what they reported to U.S. Best Workplaces.
3. They talk about the Sailpoint Way, which is somewhat "unsaid" because it is so clearly understood among team members. This reflects how actions within the workplace positively impact the individual team members. That, of course, also shows up in their marketing materials and the success of their sales efforts.
Defining Your Corporate Communications Strategy
Communications both internally and externally are vital to your success. If you have not yet defined a communication strategy for your team or your marketing, then now is a very good time to start. Your goals is to create a framework for communication with employees, customers, suppliers, and investors.
When done properly, your corporate communication strategy can help leadership to quickly identify and solve the communication issues within your business. This big-picture can make reputation management and marketing much smoother. It all begins with the people whose attitudes and actions influence your success the most.
Your Corporate Communications Strategy will be unique to your business. It should at least cover these key areas:
1. Leadership's Goals: What do you want to achieve in the long and short term for this business? This is vital when there are investors and multiple leaders. However, solopreneurs can definitely gain value from documenting their vision as a preparation for the future.
2. Employee Insights: Do you know what the team really thinks of the business? The larger the company gets, the harder this can become to track and truly understand. Somewhere around 10 employees is where is begins to become a challenge. At that point, you may want to conduct interviews. This is an opportunity to learn about individual perceptions, biases, and motivations - all of which can impact communication.
3. Customer Experience: Have you ever held a focus group or interviewed customers? Even for smaller companies with only 10+ customers, this can be extremely valuable to do. When you are thinking about launching a new product, marketing campaign, or just aiming to better understand customer perception of your brand, do the easy and logical thing - Ask Your Customers.
4. Partner / Vendor Input: For many B2B companies, partnerships are vital to success. Do you know why certain partners refer you less often than others? Or maybe why they have never referred you ever before? This is an opportunity to strengthen relationships while unclogging some referral sales pipelines.
5. Process: After gathering intelligence from all of the key people, the decisions around how must be made. How do you communicate with customers about x, y and z? When do you communicate with team members about their work quality and how? When there is a new product launch, what are the step by step processes that need to be followed to communicate about it to each of our key players? If there is a "crisis" of sorts (i.e. security breach), how is it handled?
Here is a helpful article from Feedough talking through more details about corporate communications strategy.
Communications Breakdowns Can Be Costly
The cost of poor communication may be high. Creating detailed and effective strategies your company can implement (and regularly update) reduces the risk of communication breakdowns.
You may not have any sort of corporate or marketing communications strategy in place today. The idea of it may trigger you to duck and avoid. Biting the bullet now and getting the process started can be the difference between the kind of valuation Sailpoint has (quite high and positive) and Twitter (under scrutiny and creating insecurity).
As marketers, the Beckmann Collaborative team focuses on guiding clients through the development of a marketing communications strategy. And while that is one important part of your overall corporate communications plan, it is not the only thing to include. You may need to work with a business coach or human resources expert for additional guidance around handling the strategy for the most successful team, investor, and partner communications. Of course, we know a few fantastic companies we can refer you to. Feel free to reach out and we can talk about what your company needs.