Understanding What Is Communications Strategy

These days there is a lot of discussion about marketing communications and communications strategy, I have sat in on many discussions, had input into them and been ignored many times.
07 Nov 2015 10:40
Understanding What Is Communications Strategy

These days there is a lot of discussion about marketing communications and communications strategy, I have sat in on many discussions, had input into them and been ignored many times.
And the thing I see in almost every case is a lack of understanding what “communications strategy” means.
I would assume that most MBA graduates have a reasonable working knowledge of what this concept entails.
But it is so critical to the success of a business in promoting itself, that it should be a specialist position in any large company that uses the concept of “marketing”.
In Fiji, sadly, it is not seen as that important.

Why is communications strategy so important?
The best answer is found in a book by Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland. In this book a little girl called Alice and a large white rabbit wander around together.
At one stage, following a yellow brick road, they come to a place where the road splits and Alice asks “which road should we take?”
The deeply insightful answer from the rabbit was “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do fine”.
Unfortunately, that’s the attitude of many marketing people. And the role of a strategist is to tell you the best road to take.

How do they do this?
There are a number of steps, all designed to create a good understanding of who to talk to and what they need to hear.
It involves finding out the answers to some basic questions.
The first step is to understand what you are selling. It could be a product, an idea, a behaviour or maybe an emotion.
It is important to understand clearly, it is important to define the single most important thing about what we are trying to sell, and the relative position of other attributes that make up a purchase decision.
Sometimes what you are selling is not the product but an attribute. Some products help people to be sure of themselves in public, so you are selling self assurance, some car brands make people feel confident.
In many cases the attribute of the product is an intangible. Then we need to know who we are talking to.
One biscuit manufacturer once answered this by saying “everyone with a mouth”.
True, but not very helpful. Again, the better the target is defined, the better the message will be and the information will help with the choice of the most effective delivery media.
Simple things are really useful- male or female, young or old, socio-economic group, lifestyle group, urban or rural, education level.
You can never know too much about your target group. Media audience research in Fiji is not too subtle but you can often rely on intuition to help find your target.

What they think now?
The next question is “what do they think now?” Here you need to understand attitudes, habits, emotional attachments to the item, where, when and how they use it.
Get to have a deep insight into why they have chosen this particular thing.
Then you need to know “what do we want them to do?”
There are many things that could be beneficial to the brand, such as use it more often, use more each time, use a bigger pack, use it in different ways or in terms of attitude, get more information, change, make it stronger, use it differently.
The list is much longer, but you get the idea.

What we need them to think?
And the final question is “what do we need them to think?”
Media communications is used to get the target audience to change attitudes or to reinforce and build existing attitudes and all the previous steps were to help to understand “what do we need then to think?”
Now you have a solid foundation on which to build the program to place the product (idea, behavior, emotion) in the most effective position.
All communications programs are required to mould one thing- attitudes. Once you clearly know what those attitudes need to be, the rest should be easy.
If you have the right foundation then whatever you do in terms of execution (the way you deliver the message and how you dress it up), will achieve a positive result.
But is a positive result good enough? It is only good enough if it is the optimum result and to achieve that result the message needs to have high impact, talk in the language of the target and be relevant to the desired result.

Fijian case
A classic case in Fiji was the launch of pre-pay for Vodafone. Prior to this, mobile calls were charged to a monthly account.
You had to go through a lengthy application process, provide credit references, often have a credit limit, and several other things.
The commercial that was created had a very simple, very strong idea. The commercial was silent. There was no voice or music, just type on the screen.
The type said “this commercial is about nothing. No credit application, no credit check, no deposit, no references, no pay slip”.
And it was one of the most successful launches Vodafone ever ran anywhere in the world.
Because the sound stopped on the TV, people in the house would come to see what was wrong, the silence reinforces the message, it had amazing high recall levels (because there was nothing else on TV like it) and it was totally focused on the benefit.
The only issue was that, when it was presented, Vodafone executives asked, does this mean the commercial will cost nothing”.
There are hundreds of ways a commercial can be made to stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately, as we see all too often, the thing that makes the commercial stand out gets remembered, but not the brand or the proposition.
And that makes the commercial very ineffective.

Strategist in Fiji
One of the other success stories of communications strategy in Fiji is James Datta, who worked for many years as the face of a homewares company (three different brand names but the same company).
Yes, he made product commercials like everyone else, but consumers saw James as a guarantee that if there was any problem with their purchase, James would get it sorted out.
Over time James became an icon for trust.
Program placement, commercial length, newspaper advertisement size, white space, use of color, radio commercial style, frequency, music, the voice selection and many other elements all go to get the best result.
And we haven’t touched the social media yet, a whole new set of challenges, opportunities, and ways to make a difference to the brand or product image.
And sponsorships, which, if creatively selected and promoted can be a wonderful stimulus for the brand.
But don’t make the decision on what interests you; find out what your target audience likes.

Ultimate importance
All of this is why a communications strategy is so important. Every element of the communications package has to have synergy and every element has to talk the targets language.
And when you are presented with a communications strategy and executions always ask “what is the idea”.
Because the thing that will give the communication impact and a long life is the idea.
And the last thing you need to do is measure the finished advertisement against the communications strategy to see if all the baxex are ticked.

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism.

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