Communication Strategy – What Is It and How to Create One
Communication – it takes place at all times and in all places. And although we should have perfected it through our constant use, we are far from it.
And if misunderstandings can occur on an interpersonal level, what about on a professional level when companies communicate? A well-thought-out communication strategy is, therefore, a must for every company!
Table of contents
- What Is a Communication or PR Concept?
- For What and When Do You Need a Communication Strategy?
- Definition of Communication Strategy
- Putting a Commnuication Strategy into Place
- How to Create a Communication Strategy
- What Did We Learn?
What Is a Communication or PR Concept?
In order for a company to be perceived as credible and trustworthy by the intended type of audience, it needs a consistent external image.
Through digitization and the increased use of social media, companies are faced with the challenge of presenting their corporate identity across as many channels as possible in such a way that the external impact is classified as exactly that – consistent and authentic.
So how does a company communicate as successfully as possible?
An almost indispensable way is the creation of a communication concept, which exclusively defines the communication of the company.
It is based on the company’s policy and marketing goals and has the target group and potential users firmly in focus.
Only emotionally appealing, strategic communication ensures a trustworthy corporate perception in the long term.
The concept is a theoretical basis, the model for achieving communication and marketing goals. It clarifies the methodology, identifies the most important stages, and visualizes your success. From it derives a strategy for practice.
The advantages in brief:
- Written presentation of all relevant information and factors
- Holistic view and targeted planning
- Elaboration of concrete goals
- Concentration on essential steps
- Guideline for orientation
- Possibility to control deadlines, budget and success
- Simplified and consistent mediation to third parties
For What and When Do You Need a Communication Strategy?
Strategies can be found in many areas, such as politics, the military, and, of course, very much in business, where they are defined as “a course of action planned by the company to achieve its own goals”.
So once the company has defined the current state, the target state, and also the target group in the communications concept, the appropriate strategy is developed from this in order to achieve the goal. The concept determines which goals are to be focused on in the first place.
The strategy now describes the details, i.e. measures to achieve the goals. In most cases, a strategy is designed for a period of two to three years and describes the way and the many aspects of implementation.
After all, it’s not just about verbal communication. As the communication scientist Paul Watzlawick already recognized, there is never no communication.
Communication also takes place through facial expressions, gestures, and behavior, i.e. a language that does not require any words. Accordingly, it is never possible to communicate only content.
Every statement is linked to a relationship aspect, which can be perceived positively or negatively by the recipient.
Definition of Communication Strategy
Communications scholar Klaus Merten put it this way in 2012:
A strategy is the robust planning of a plan of upstream decisions to optimally achieve a goal, the enforcement of which is immunized against disruption.
You have to read it twice, but it hits the nail on the head: stay on course and allow for disruption. Distinguishing strategic action from mere goal pursuit is more than tactics, even in communications.
Putting a Commnuication Strategy into Place
To communicate effectively in any situation, you need strategic direction. Here are a few exemplary use cases:
- The communication strategy is the basis of communication annual planning, so it serves to set the course for the entire communication management in a period of time.
- A defined communication strategy is needed for sub-areas of marketing, e.g. for internal communication, but also for certain delimited fields such as marketing for product launches or innovations.
- A defined strategy serves to guide process-related communication, such as in the management of change processes or major projects.
In the case of processes relevant to the stock market, such as mergers or acquisitions, convincing communication strategies are often required.
In particular, they must meet the requirements of the capital market and investors and also take into account the influences of the markets.
How to Create a Communication Strategy
Developing, implementing, and maintaining a communications strategy is not easy, but it is immensely important. The process is divided into three main stages, which should be repeated continuously to check results and adjust them if necessary.
- Development and formulation of the communication strategy
- Communicating and marketing the communication strategy
- Monitoring the success and further development of the communication strategy
Stage 1: Developing and Formulating the Communications Strategy
The first stage of the process is also the most difficult in the overall strategic process. This is where the communication strategy is developed and defined. To avoid facing an impossible task here, it is best to follow the steps below:
Definition of Corporate Goals and Corporate Strategy
In the beginning, there is an examination of the initial situation, the corporate goals, and the overarching corporate strategy.
At the top goal level is the corporate purpose. It is described by the mission (and vision) of the company, i.e. the definition of the basic orientation framework for the economic activities of the organization. Under the mission fall the questions:
- What are we?
- Why do we exist?
- What do we stand for?
- What do we believe in?
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses of the Company
In order to position the company in the best possible way, strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats should be known.
By means of a SWOT analysis (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/risks analysis), the company’s situation can be assessed and profiling opportunities discussed. Above all, the expectations of the target groups and stakeholders vis-à-vis the company must be taken into account here.
Describing the Current Situation and Formulating Demands
Based on the results of the SWOT analysis, the current communication situation is now described. What is the current perception (of the company/division/brand), what is the reputation?
At the same time, the fundamental demands on communications management should be clarified.
- What should it accomplish?
- How should the company be perceived?
- What tasks can corporate communications take on?
- What should change as a result of the communications strategy?
This is where the communication goals come from. An exemplary question for the creation of a communication goal, which is aligned with the company’s goals, is: How can the means of communication contribute to an increase in sales?
But be careful: a communication goal is only meaningful if it can be achieved directly and independently of others.
Deciding on a Communication Strategy
By examining the various communication options, the decision for a specific communication strategy is developed. Questions for this are, for example:
- What are the most promising options for achieving the communication goals?
- Which option can be implemented well or less well?
- Which type of communication suits the company and the brand?
- What aspects are particularly relevant with regard to the corporate strategy?
The answers to these questions can then be used to define priorities and focal points for communications work. Now these focal points should also be used as guiding ideas.
The best way to do this is with a simple, catchy, understandable story that is in line with the brand.
Strategic Communications Planning
The subsequent planning of communication measures fills the roughly outlined goals with suitable messages. Measures are planned with a view to deadlines and resources.
The main focus here is on developing a longer-term plan of action that specifies exactly which messages and topics will be sent to which target group in what form. An editorial plan makes it easier to structure the measures and not lose track of them.
For example, the plan for the communication strategy via social media could look like this:
- Which post goes online on which days?
- What message does it send to the target group?
- How will it be distributed? As a video, as a link to an ad, as a simple post or as a picture from the company ?
Important for the personnel sector would be:
- Which online job board does our target group frequent?
- How long should the ad stay up?
- How should the ad be designed to reflect the corporate culture and communication policy?
Can events also be considered in order to address talent directly?
- Which event is suitable for which target group?
- When will it take place?
- Who will be there to represent the company?
- Can he/she convey the company’s messages well to the outside world?
Very important: a budget should be calculated for each measure. Costs, such as labor hours incurred in designing job advertisements or through presence at recruitment fairs, should definitely be taken into account.
Agencies may also need to be involved. They don’t work for free either.
Once all the measures have been budgeted and approved, nothing stands in the way of reliable implementation.
After all, the crux of a communications strategy is not only factors such as customers, brands, and sales, but above all continuity and professionalism.
Stage 2: The Communication and Marketing of the Communication Strategy
Now begins part 2, the communication, explanation, and internal marketing of the communications strategy in the form of board meetings, employee events, presentations, and individual discussions.
Corporate communications will only be consistent and promising if all corporate divisions relevant to communications know, understand, and accept the communications strategy and apply it to their own activities.
One example – the human resources area: topics such as employer branding or employee communications generate a great deal of public attention and influence the company’s communications profile.
Acceptance of the communications strategy in this area is therefore essential and in the interests of the company.
Stage 3: Success Monitoring and Further Development of the Communications Strategy
With the help of defined key figures and indicators, it is now possible to measure and optimize the success of communications and marketing.
Appropriate performance measures should also have been defined for the communications strategy when it was first developed, in order to keep an eye on whether the respective communications goals are being achieved.
Above all, it is important that the corporate strategy or the marketing or project strategy has also been effectively supported.
It is incredibly important to regularly review communication strategies to see if they are proving effective or need to be adjusted. Communications work must not only be effective, but also efficient. If its impact is not reviewed, it is worthless.
What Did We Learn?
Without a concept and strategy, everything is nothing.
- Credible and good corporate communications are based on a well-developed communications strategy.
- The communication strategy needs a systematically created concept that reflects the company.
- The process of elaboration should not be abbreviated!
- A defined strategic communication minimizes risks.
- Every strategy must be actively communicated and tellable. A credible story is therefore useful.
- The company’s strategy and communication policy must be accepted and taken into account throughout the company.
- A communication strategy is a part of the communication concept. It is not identical! The difference lies in the complexity. The communication concept is complex, whereas the communication strategy is simple.