In a world where we are more connected than ever with friends, colleagues, and businesses, it is key to have an external communication strategy that makes you a part of the conversation. If you are not constantly present, you will lose customers to competitors that don’t shy away from making themselves known.
Steve Harvey of creative agency Fabrik Brands in London defines a solid external communication strategy as follows:
“External communication strategies are the methods you use to capture the attention of the public…initiating a conversation with the world that exists beyond your business. That means they include everything from social media marketing to presentations for shareholders and customer service.”
The difference between external communications and targeted marketing campaigns is that the former looks to make the brand known to a larger audience, whereas the latter looks to focus on a specific audience.
However, the more wide-ranging approach can prove difficult to get right. As US-based PR firm, Rave Agency, formulated it:
“Merely communicating your message to a broad audience without any strategy…will likely result in failure. Brands need effective communication to survive. For communication to be effective, a strategy with outlined objectives needs to be established”.
This brings us to the next topic. Let’s find out how you can make a difference for your organisation and create a winning external communication strategy.
What is external communication today?
Your external communication is an attempt to speak to as many people as possible about your business. It needs to reflect what your target audience cares about. With that in mind, it should include the following elements:
Some organisations handled the pandemic better than others. Firms like the Spanish Banco Santander showed the world their agility and proved their commitment to employee wellbeing. They enabled all 26,000 Spanish staff to work from home before the government even announced a national lockdown. This was a sign of expert crisis planning, which will certainly play a key role in communications strategies across the board, especially following the events of the last two years.
Reintroduction to the audience
The pandemic has changed the way most of us live and work. We interact with brands differently than we did prior to March 2020, so now is the time to reintroduce yourself as a business. Even if you can no longer rely on the loyalty of customers from before the coronavirus era, there are opportunities to appeal to many people who might be new to your brand.
Issues of sustainability are high in the minds of customers, and you need to show them that you are on the same page. This was confirmed by a recent McKinsey study:
“European consumers want a stronger focus on sustainability and the environment—and they want industry stakeholders to act accordingly.”
If you are going to sway consumers towards your brand, you must show them how you are embracing a more green, environmentally friendly way of working and how you envisage it affecting the battle against climate change and similar risk factors.
Diversity and inclusion
The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in the US brought the subject of racial segregation back into sharp focus. From that incident and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, the discussion widened to include questions of where society is in terms of diversity and inclusion. This sparked debates not just about race, but about gender equality, treatment of those with disabilities, LGBTQ rights and more.
It makes sense that a business should reflect the society in which it works and the broad customer base it wishes to attract. Therefore, diversity and inclusion will form an ever more important element of external comms.
How to develop an external communication strategy
1. Define your mission statement
Your mission statement is the North Star of your communications strategy. It guides you in the right direction. Whenever you develop a message to send out into the world, you should check that it aligns with the values and goals instilled in your mission statement and you will achieve the consistency you need.
2. Define the objective
Work out what you want to achieve with your strategy. It could be that you want to bring in more customers, but it could also be for brand-building or another reason altogether. You should understand why you are communicating so you can work out how to achieve that objective.
3. Know your audience
External communications typically target a broad audience but, within that, you need to focus on the different groups you want to talk to. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. You need different types of website content or advertising copy to talk to your investors compared to your customers. Both are important to consider in your strategy, but both want to hear different information and in a different manner. Remember who you are communicating with before you send out any message.
Analyse your organisation’s current situation
To know how to move forward, you need to understand where you are now. There are three key elements to help you assess your current situation. They are:
- PEST Factors – These are the political, economic, social, and technological elements that could affect your business, positively or negatively. Work out how you would handle a change in any of them so you can be agile if the change does occur.
- SWOT Factors – What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? How can you communicate your strengths, fix your weaknesses, make the most of your opportunities and turn threats into more opportunities?
- Competitors – Rank yourself against your competitors as objectively as you can. How do you compare? What are they doing that you are not and vice versa?
Establish your tone of voice
The best external communications plans are instantly recognisable as coming from the brand in question. That’s why you need to develop a tone of voice in your messages that sums up what your brand is and does, in a way that engages with the people you want to talk to. Don’t copy your competitors. Make it your own.
Choose the right platforms to distribute
There is no point in trying to employ the same key messages over every available platform and network. It is not an efficient use of time, and you should instead concentrate on the outlets that will best reach the audiences you want to engage with.
For customers, these might be your blog articles, social media profiles such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, podcasts, stories based on your press releases. For investors, you might try videos, newsletters or webinars, for example.
Involve customers and employees
Both customers and employees can be great ambassadors for your business. They have access to social media where they can provide word-of-mouth recommendations.
A happy customer sharing their experience online can be indispensable to your external comms. Their friends, family and followers will trust their first-hand experience more than any type of branded message.
Your employees have the inside scoop on the business, so their recommendation shows others that they are proud to work in the organisation.
Determine how to measure success
To understand how successful your strategy is, you need to be able to measure your progress towards your goals. Otherwise, you will not know when to keep going with a plan and when to change course for a more effective external communication strategy. Pick KPIs that will allow you to measure the impact of your communication strategy.
Tips to improve your external communications strategy
Customers like to feel that they are heard and seen, so try to put yourself in their shoes when communicating with them. Investors want to know that you understand their hopes and fears, too. Listen to both audiences and learn about their concerns, their interests and how they feel. Then, reflect that in your messaging.
This shouldn’t be a one-way street. Be sure to respond to feedback so that it becomes a conversation, and your stakeholders feel included.
Know the value of repetition
You want to make sure that people remember your brand’s message, so you must keep putting it in front of them. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that. However, this requires you to constantly look for new ways to communicate that message so that you don’t annoy your audience.
Keep it simple and short
People are busy. They don’t want to read through reams of reports or listen to podcasts that last longer than their commute. They also don’t want to have to spend additional time trying to understand jargon and unnecessary technical language.
Your messages should be short, to the point and easy to understand. You are trying to spread the word about your brand, not overwhelm people with unnecessary information.
Always deliver value
It can be a massive turn-off to be the target of an external communications campaign from a business that offers no value. It is instantly forgettable if it adds nothing to the recipient. You won’t be successful if the message doesn’t interest them, make them think, solve a problem, provide them with social currency to pass on to their friends or have some other way of making them feel that they were enriched by reading, watching, or listening to it.
Align internal and external communications
When you attempt to create a consistent brand identity for your business, it needs the input of both internal and external stakeholders. There is no point in creating a brand image externally, only for customers to engage with employees and find that this company culture is only an image. Everyone needs to buy into your message to make it authentic.
If you communicate your brand values internally in the workplace, they will be seen by an external audience too. Employees need to feel that the messages the company puts out reflect their experience too to act as brand ambassadors for the business.
Creating a cohesive external communication strategy can be a challenge but it is incredibly valuable. With so much choice in the market, customers and investors need to know what you stand for, how you can improve their lives and why they should shop with you or buy your shares. Standing out from the crowd is key, as is making sure you communicate with stakeholders using the external communication channels most likely to reach them and listening to what they have to say too.
Hopefully, we have helped you come up with some ideas on how to move forward. If you want to engage customers and shareholders with quality, secure and professional video communications, try Company Webcast.