Our recent posts have been about cultural intelligence; today we’re going to toggle over to the other half of what Five Directions offers: help to design clear, powerful, and effective communications with your constituents or customers. Though qualitative research and strategic communications may seem unconnected, they actually go together quite well, like yin and yang, like peanut butter and chocolate.
In a word, it’s all about Relationships. (And how fitting, for Valentine’s Day!)
Whether you are a solo entrepreneur building your own business, a nonprofit staff or director, or a part of a corporation, one of your most important goals is to build a good relationship with your audience and to inspire them to become engaged and invested in your mission. To do this, you need to understand where your audience is coming from and what’s important to them (this is where cultural intelligence and qualitative research comes in), and then to communicate in a way that really resonates with them. The keys to a good relationship are deep listening and observation skills, in tandem with mindful communication.
To work with the second half of the equation, we like to use an approach called Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC). Simply put, what holistic medicine is to health care, IMC is to marketing. It is relationship-based rather than formula-based, and it places a high value on the characteristics and needs of the customer (or in the case of a nonprofit, the member or supporter).
IMC draws on a wide variety of “channels” to reach people, including print, radio, television, and web advertising; direct mail; press releases; promotions and event; and of course the more interactive Web 2.0 social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this one. Just like a DJ strives for the right mix that will move her audience to dance, IMC is all about finding the combination that will click for your particular business or nonprofit.
How can you begin to create an integrated marketing and communication plan? Here are three questions that can help you in the early stage. They are deceptively simple – you may think you know the answer to each right away, but thinking more deeply and getting feedback from others will raise the quality and accuracy of your answers and consequently of your plan.
1. What are your goals?
Are you trying to build a new audience? Encourage more participation from a current audience? Spread an idea? Sell a product? (If so, at what volume?) To build an effective marketing and communications plan, it’s essential to be clear on what your desired outcome is. Your goals should be as specific and observable as possible.
A special note if you are in a nonprofit – a marketing/communications plan should always be created in conjunction with your strategic plan (or after its completion), and it should serve the overall goals of the organization. It’s easy to get excited about the idea of getting more supporters or members and dive right into a message campaign, but don’t get caught in a position where your marketing is driving your mission rather than the other way around.
2. Who is your audience?
Who is your target audience? Who is the most influential or effective group that will help you to meet this goal? This is important – you’re not trying to reach anyone and everyone, otherwise you’ll have no idea how to most effectively work with limited resources (such as time and money) to meet your goals.
For example, if your nonprofit is membership-based and most of your members are over 50 years old, you may decide that it’s important to gain more younger members. So your target audience for a marketing and communications campaign might be people younger than 30. This group tends to be much more involved with social media like Twitter and Facebook, so your marketing mix will probably contain more of this. Conversely, if you were trying to reach people over 60, a better bet would be to advertise in magazines such as the AARP.
3. What is your message?
The message is designed to achieve the goals chosen in step one, and takes into account what will be most compelling to the target audience specified in step two. It should be clear, simple, and concise.
Just because a message is simple doesn’t mean that it isn’t packed with meaning. For example, one of the most effective messages in the field of cultural change organizations is “Buy Nothing Day,” created by Adbusters/Culture Jammers. This gets right to the point, and it’s been very effective at raising awareness of the harmful consequences of consumerism, which was the desired outcome of the creators. In the 20 years since its inception, Buy Nothing Day has gone from a fringe idea to gaining widespread recognition.
Fenton Communications is one of the nation’s leading advertising and communication firms. They offer this guidance:
“The target audience is the most important critic of your message and approach. It is essential to go with what is most effective in reaching your key audience, not what most appeals to those within your organization.”
This is where you may want to use some qualitative research methodologies to better understand your audience and test your messages. Some of the ways you can do this include individual interviews, focus groups, and online surveys.
To learn more about how to set up a Relationship-Based Marketing and Communications plan for your small nonprofit or business, check out our free “Field Guide for Connecting Your Wonderful Thing to the World.”