Now more than ever, the business world is a crowded place. Companies of all shapes and sizes are competing for the attention of customers, media and stakeholders. So how can you stand out from the crowd when developing a communications strategy for your independent business?

When you sit down to create your communications strategy you need to understand that you are not just competing against businesses that are exactly like yours. The free economy means that you may find yourself among the likes of large international corporations (such as Amazon) just as easily as you could be trying to figure out how to differentiate yourself from your local competition. What this means, in reality, is that you need to have a very clear position within the market you wish to compete in and you have to be effective in presenting it to your customers, the media and any stakeholders you may have.

Where to start with your communications strategy?

1. Define who your stakeholders are

This sounds like a very straight-forward request, and it can be, but you have to take the time to think about each of them individually.

Your customers

Whilst developing your initial marketing plan, you will have described who your ideal customer is. Ensure that you capture this detail again with your communications strategy so that everyone in the business knows exactly who they are trying to communicate with.

The Media

Identify which media you will want to develop relationships with and how you want to use them to deliver your communications. These days the media is more than just newspapers and magazines so take a look at all the different media stakeholders that you may think are important to your communications strategy.

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Relevant websites
  • Bloggers
  • Vloggers

Other stakeholders

Your business will affect, and be affected by, many different people and groups. It is important that you identify each of these groups of people so that you can tailor your communications to them to either get their support for your products and services or to reduce their concerns around it.

Examples of these types of stakeholders may include distribution partners, your business bank, local groups, churches, councils or schools. Which types of external stakeholders affect your business will be dependent on what your business is offering and how it may affect them directly.

2. Define your communications objectives

You will need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your communications strategy. Are you trying to convince stakeholders to support a particular initiative with the community? Do you want to promote your business to new customers? Are you wanting to raise awareness for a specific cause?

Once you know what your communications goals are you will be able to craft strategies to achieve them and, crucially, you will be able to assess how successful your activities have been.

3.  Define your core messages

While you will have one overarching story about your brand it is highly likely that you will have a set of messages that you want to communicate with your stakeholders. These messages may also be different for each stakeholder type that you have defined as important in your company’s success.

The best way to approach multiple messaging for your business is to identify which are the most important, or valuable, messages. These will become your core messages and all your communications should relate back to at least one of them.

Ensuring that your communications are directly related to your core messages keeps all your marketing and spokespeople on track, delivering the same stories regardless of the channels being used. Consistency in your messaging is key to building a solid brand.

4. Choose your communications channels

This is an important section of your communications strategy as without the correct communications channels no-one will get to hear about the core messages you have created.

Each communications channel that you select has to be relevant to your key stakeholders. It is not necessary for you to use the same channels for each stakeholder type. Crossover may exist between some channels and stakeholder types but each stakeholder should only be contacted through the most relevant of these channels. This helps you to manage your communications budget more effectively and generate a better return on investment for your efforts.

5. Define your communications budget

As much as we would like to think that the media will want to run a story on our business for free, this is seldom the case. Other forms of communications cost money too so it is imperative that you allocate budget to achieving your communications goals.

To optimise your spend, it is advisable that you prioritise your communications goals and attribute your budget to each goal accordingly. This will help you decide which communications activities to tackle first based on the expected return on investment from each.

Make sure that you take a realistic approach to allocating this budget as the more significant and harder a goal is to achieve, the more investment will be required to do so.

6. Measure your results

Now that you have put in the effort to create a communications strategy and execute it you need to establish how successful it has been. It is not always easy to measure but monitoring the outcomes that you have defined earlier in your strategy will let you know where you need to make changes, which campaigns have been successful, and which activities are best to remove from play.

Communications play a significant role in defining your business. It deserves the time and attention needed to craft a robust communications strategy. And remember, just as no two businesses are identical, neither are communications strategies.  Design yours around your business needs only. And if you require any help bring it all together please get in touch.