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It’s an age-old question. Do great campaigns come from strategy or execution? The pragmatic marketer knows the answer is both. The more interesting question is often, “Where does the strategy come from?”
Sometimes a great strategy actually comes from iterating potential executions. While this can sometimes result in a winning approach, it’s best not to leave the discovery of a winning communication strategy to chance.
Perhaps the brand team leaves the strategy up to the agency. Maybe the agency is deep enough on the business, has a very skilled strategist, and is able to write the strategy. How confident do you feel that you can leave your strategy to outsiders?
Or perhaps the brand team gives strategic direction, but the direction sounds more like business objectives than communication strategy (e.g., “drive trial”). The brand leader has unknowingly left the agency partner to pursue just about any creative direction they please.
Your best approach is to take direct responsibility for your strategy. Yet, if you haven’t written very many strategies or briefs, you might be wondering where to start. Read on for a walk-through of thought process, and an example template you can use to write a winning communication strategy. I’ll also use H&R Block as an example to bring to life the concepts throughout this article.
1) COMMUNICATION STRATEGY STARTS WITH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
Similar to brand positioning, a great communication strategy comes from a deep knowledge of your target. Assuming you have already identified your target, you then need a specific insight that you can leverage. The insight should present two opportunities to be useful for communication strategy:
- Opportunity to better serve the needs of the target consumer/customer
- Opportunity to grow the brand/business in some way
Based on the above criteria, you may uncover multiple opportunities. For example, the tax firm H&R Block might discover a couple of key insights during research (hypothetical for illustration purposes):
- Consumers who self-file unknowingly make mistakes. If they used professional services, they’d save money and H&R Block would bring in new customers.
- TurboTax customers say it takes longer to fill out the forms versus H&R Block. If we educated consumers about this advantage, we could steal market share.
Once you have insights and opportunities to work with, now is a good time to download the communication strategy template and use it to follow along with the next few steps.
2) IDENTIFY THE COMMUNICATION OBJECTIVE AND CURRENT BEHAVIOR
With insights in-hand, you now need to make a specific choice as to what your objective is. There are two types of objectives:
- Business objective—includes objectives such as “grow share,” “increase sales,” and “drive trial”
- Communication objective—a.k.a., marketing objective or behavioral objective
While the business objective is helpful for context, the communication objective will actually drive the communication strategy. This is a behavioral objective. What do you want the customer/consumer to actually do differently as a result of the communication? The answer is your communication objective, and goes into the “Do Tomorrow” box on the template.
Using the H&R Block example, a communication objective might be to get consumers to switch to using H&R Block walk-in services.
With the objective in mind, now you need to outline the current behavior you are trying to change. So, what is it that the consumer is doing today that you want to change? On the template, place the answer in the “Do Today” box.
Again using the H&R Block example, the target audience currently does their own taxes.
Once you’ve filled out the top row of the template, you now have the behavioral foundation of a communication strategy. You’ve identified both what the consumer does today, and what you want them to do tomorrow. For example, the H&R Block template shows:
- Do Today: Do their own taxes
- Do Tomorrow: Switch to H&R Block walk-in services
3) DETERMINE THE MINDSET SHIFT REQUIRED
You cannot force a consumer to change their behavior. Instead, your communications can only influence their mindset. A shift in mindset potentially results in behavior change. This is a fundamental premise of marketing communications. Now, your task is to translate the communication objective above (desired behavior) into a message that is motivating.
Start with what the consumer does today and ask, “What does the consumer think today that results in the current behavior?” Ideally, this is discovered in research. Once you determine the answer, write it in the “Think Today” box in the template.
In our H&R Block example, self-filing of taxes might be the result of the mindset that filing taxes is simple, and consumers are unaware that they aren’t saving as much as they could.
Next, look at the “Think Tomorrow” box and write down the mindset required of the consumer/customer to actually change to the desired behavior. This new belief is your communication strategy. It’s a core message that should be the strategic underpinning of your campaign messaging.
Again, let’s look at the H&R Block example. In order to get consumers to use walk-in services, consumers must believe that no one (including themselves) can save them as much money as H&R Block professionals can:
- Think Today: Filing my taxes is simple. I can do it myself.
- Think Tomorrow: No one knows how to get more of my money back than H&R Block professionals. <– Communication Strategy!
4) USE THE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY AS THE BASIS FOR YOUR CREATIVE BRIEF
Your communication strategy (Think Tomorrow) should slot directly into your creative brief as the core benefit/belief to be communicated to the target audience. I won’t go into depth about how to write a creative brief here. But, generally speaking, less is more.
Here’s what I suggest as the most critical components of a good brief. Much more than this is usually too much. Good briefs typically fit on a single page:
- Background and Business Objective—Keep it short.
- Assignment—What is literally being made, including formats and quantity/size/length.
- Timing—When production must be complete.
- Budget—The funding available to complete the assignment.
- Target Audience—With whom we will communicate. Include enough specifics to paint a clear mental image. In addition, include the detail needed to find the audience (e.g., for media planning).
- Communication Objective—From “Do Tomorrow” in your communication strategy template.
- Key Insight to Leverage—This often comes from “Think Today” and/or “Do Today” in the communication strategy template.
- Core Benefit/Desired Belief—From “Think Tomorrow” in your communication strategy template.
- Reason to Believe (RTB)—The specific product/service features or attributes that serve as proof that the core benefit is true. A great one is all you need, but you can have more than one.
- Legal Mandatories—Self-explanatory. Often there are very few true mandatories. Keep this list as short as possible.
PICK UP THE PEN
You now have a method and framework to come up with your communication strategy. One that is focused on changing a specific consumer/customer behavior. It takes practice to develop this skill. So, pick up the pen and start writing.
If you don’t have many projects that allow you to practice, do what we did here with H&R Block. Click here to see the ad campaign that our example was inferred from. Similarly, find a piece of advertising you admire and work your way backwards. See if you can infer the strategy behind the execution and lay it out in the communication strategy template.
Your best campaign starts with you. So get practicing.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.