Why we question the value of marketing communications
I recently had a conversation with two colleagues about why people don’t value marketing communications and branding identity. We concluded that some organizations focus on doing the work vs. looking at their goals and breaking down how to achieve them—which should include creating an effective communication plan. Maybe it’s a question of thinking “build it and they will come.” If that approach has worked for your organization without a communications strategy, please write me; I would love to learn more.
Our conversation centered on the quality rating and improvement systems in early childhood education, which is a national movement to evaluate and observe, recognize and reward, and support and communicate the level of quality in early childhood programs. The focus tends to be on the details and mechanisms of the observation and evaluation process of the child care programs that an organization will undertake when they are implementing a quality rating and improvement system. What are the standards they will use to evaluate the programs? How will they develop these standards? What works, what does not? How will you benchmark quality? What will it take to do this work?
It’s true that all of the tools, staff, and standards of this work are really important and should be a major focus of any quality rating and improvement system. However, not understanding why you need an effective communication strategy that connects the value of a quality rating and improvement system to the larger mission will stand in the way of achieving your goals.
When you are focused on the mission, the work, and the politics of getting the job done, the role of an effective communication strategy is not always clear in the day-to-day. Yet, the communication strategy is just as important as the work you do to achieve your goals and fulfill your mission. Without a communications strategy, you will not have identified the different audiences you need to reach; or know the right messages that will connect to those audiences, or have a detailed plan of methods and tactics of how you will get them to understand, value, and support the work you do.
Key components in a communication strategy:
Know your audiences
You have to identify your audiences first. Who are the people you need to connect with so you can reach your goals and achieve your mission? You also have to understand the burning questions the audience has about your work, anticipate their objections, and identify what they see as the benefits of what you do.
Connecting audiences to your mission
Using quality rating and improvement systems as our example, childcare providers and parents who have children that need childcare are the two key groups you need to focus your communications strategy on.
Childcare providers may have questions about a quality rating and improvement system like:
- “What is a quality rating and improvement system?”
- “Why do we need one?”
- “Who are you?”
- “What is quality?”
- “How are you defining quality?”
- “We already have a quality program; why do I need your evaluation?”
- “We are happy with the way things are; why should we participate?”
- “What will this mean to our parents?”
- “What do I get if I participate?”
- “What happens if I choose not to participate?”
- “Is participation mandated?”
A sound communications plan ensures you anticipate and address these questions.
Identifying the focus of your communications
Prioritize the questions you need to address. This work is best done by working directly with the audience through focus groups, roundtable discussions, community meetings, online surveys, or whatever you think will give you a deeper understanding of their points of view.
Create your communication plan
Once you know your different audiences and how you want them to connect to your work, develop a detailed plan of your goals, your target audiences, and the messages, methods, and tactics you will use. Don’t forget to outline who will do this work and how you will measure your efforts.
Why communications matters
The role of communication is to position the work you are doing in the minds of your audience. If you want this connection with your organization to be a positive one, you must allow for two-way conversations, lots of listening, and be certain your communication strategy connects to what matters most to the audience you are trying to reach.
Understanding how to connect to your audience in a positive way is key. In this example, I am sure that childcare providers care about quality and delivering great care to the children and parents who are their clients. This, however, does not mean they will immediately see a connection to your goal of having lots of childcare centers enrolled in the quality rating and improvement system, so you’ll want to consider how to communicate this benefit.
Your communication strategy involves putting yourself in the shoes of the audience you want to reach. Providers are a key audience because without their participation, your organization will not be able to achieve your goals.
Making a communication plan a priority is key to success
Sometimes when you are so close to the work you do, it can be easy to forget you have to communicate why it matters, and that the audience you are trying to reach may not have the same point of view. Your communication plan is the glue that connects your organization’s goals and mission to your audience. Invest the same energy into a communication strategy as you invest into other core components of the daily work, and you will build a mission-driven organization that lasts, connects, and thrives.