Elements of a Communication Plan & Steps to Create Yours
Nowadays, having a communication plan is necessary, crucial, and beneficial for any business. Throughout this article, we will go over the different reasons why we say this. But, most importantly we will explain what are those key elements of a communication plan and how you can create your own.
Have you ever stopped to think about why TV series manage to capture the attention of such large audiences? Millions of people have seen Prison Break, Breaking Bad, or The Crown. But, why? They all have a team with a plan and very specific goals to meet.
The same goes for a communications plan. Read on and, in the end, you’ll have all the resources you need to develop a communications plan for your business.
What Is a Communications Plan?
First things first. What is a communications plan? What purpose does it serve? Only when you understand both answers you will be able to create and use them efficiently.
So let’s get down to business. A communication plan is a tool designed to enable an organization to achieve its business objectives. This happens thanks to the different strategies and actions that make up the plan.
Basically, it is about sending messages through different media to a clearly defined audience.
The key to success for any plan is to have a good understanding of who the target audience is, what are the most efficient channels to reach them, and what type of messages resonate best with them.
If you don’t have these three points well mastered, then it’s really possible that all your efforts will be wasted.
8 Elements Of A Communication Plan
A good communication plan has eight elements. Below we will explain them all in detail. But keep in mind that once you master them well, you can definitely take your communication plan to the next level.
1 Diagnosis As the Basis of Your Plan
Whether you are going to create a marketing strategy plan for a small business or for a large company, the first thing you will need is a diagnosis.
Just as doctors first listen to and observe their patients before they say anything about their illness. They ask them questions. They listen to them. The marketer must understand, in detail, the current state of the brand’s communications.
A good diagnosis includes both what has been done in the past and its results, as well as what is being done now. In addition, you should always keep in mind where you want to get to. What are the goals to be achieved? Once you have the diagnosis ready, you will be able to start developing the communication plan.
To help you at this point, we share four different ways to “diagnose” your organization.
Analyze the Communication Strategies that Are Already in Place
In this step, you will focus on understanding what communications efforts are currently being made.
To do this, we recommend answering the following questions:
- Does your company have a blog? A YouTube channel? A podcast?
- How often do you publish content on each of these channels?
- Does your company have a presence on social networks, and on which ones?
- How many articles, posts, or tweets do you publish on each platform?
- How often do you share content on each platform?
- What is the company’s goal in sharing that content?
- How many followers do you have on each social network?
- Do you interact with followers, and how often do you do so?
- Do you have a database for email campaigns?
- How often do you send out newsletters?
Keep in mind that to answer these questions you must do a detailed review of your digital channels. Once you have completed them, you will have a better idea of what efforts are currently being made and which are the most effective.
Assess Your Company’s Reputation
By analyzing the company’s reputation, you will be able to know where the company stands in terms of its image and how it is perceived by different audiences. This information will allow you to be in better conditions (tone, channels, and message) to communicate with each of your target audiences.
Nowadays, constant monitoring of your brand’s reputation has become more important. Technology has made it possible to increase the speed at which messages are disseminated. The slightest mistake can damage the reputation of any company.
The Monoprix Controversy
An example of this is Monoprix. A few years ago, Monoprix was at the center of a controversy. The fact is that an incident occurred with a young blind man who was accompanied by his guide dog. This man wanted to shop in one of the brand’s stores. But he was unable to do so because the store manager did not allow animals to go into the store.
As you can imagine, this lead to a big argument. The manager called security to forcibly remove the young blind man and his guide dog from the store.
If this had happened fifty years ago, perhaps the local press might have picked up on it and reported it. However, it would not have become such a public case and Monoprix’s reputation would not have been so badly affected.
But, as it happened in a digital world, the whole incident was recorded and posted on Facebook. Can you guess what happened next?
The video garnered more than six million views, so many that even the national press picked up on the story. The retail chain, beyond the hundreds of hate messages in each of its publications, experienced very complicated moments that put its trajectory and reputation in check.
We are living in an era in which the Internet has given anyone with a smartphone and a wifi connection a voice and a way to express their opinions. Not in vain, companies must be on constant “alert” and monitor what is being said about them, their brand, products, and services. The slightest mistake can ruin your brand.
Assessing Your Brand’s Reputation
Now, once you start assessing brand reputation, there are seven areas you should stop at:
- Products and services
- Level of innovation
- Vision and leadership
- Governance and employee care
- Financial performance
- Emotional appeal
- Corporate social responsibility
The goal of this analysis should be to strengthen the company’s image and reputation in all of these seven areas. The stronger they are, the more protected the company will be when a reputation crisis arises. Ask and evaluate where your company stands on each of these points.
Stop to find out how satisfied your customers are with your products and services. Evaluate whether your employees are happy with their roles within the company. Check how the brand manages to relate to customers on an emotional level. And learn how the company contributes to social responsibility.
All this data will allow you to discover and determine which areas should be prioritized. For example, you may have planned to communicate a new product. However, if you discover that the company’s employees are not happy. Your priority should rather focus on defining a strategy and actions that seek to improve employee well-being.
Remember that so far, you are working on completing the diagnosis of your business in order to define the actions you need to take.
Analyze Your Competitors’ Brands
During this phase, you will need a comparative analysis of your company and its main competitors. For example, if your company is Coca-Cola, you need to know what Pepsi is doing. Also, do some digging into what customers think and say about Pepsi.
By knowing what Pepsi is doing, you will be able to understand if its strategy is working. This information can also serve as inspiration when creating your own communication and marketing strategies. Attention, this does not mean that you just copy what the competition does. But it does mean replicating good practices adjusted to the needs and values of your business.
The way to stand out is to check what your competitors do but do it better. Knowing their game and taking it to a higher level. Working harder, but more strategically.
Analyze Your Environment
Analyzing the environment in which you find yourself is the last step to completing the diagnosis of your organization. It is the one that will allow you to understand the threats and opportunities that are present in the company and that can help you to enhance your communication strategies.
There are two tools you can use to analyze and better understand your environment: the PESTEL analysis and the SWOT matrix.
Below we explain briefly what each one is about. But if you want to go deeper into one of them, don’t worry, there are a wide variety of resources on the Internet that can help you.
The PESTEL analysis consists of six parameters that can affect your company: political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal. Each of these has a high impact on the operation of any organization, hence the need to monitor them regularly.
The SWOT matrix is composed of four elements to consider: weaknesses, threats, strengths, and opportunities. Knowing the environment, opportunities and threats will make the difference between success and failure for your company.
To help you better understand the consequences of not taking into account the environment in which you operate, we would like to share a series of examples.
Controversy at the Delhaize Supermarket
The first example we will examine is the controversy over the Delhaize supermarket chain in 2019. For some time now, the issue of environmental conservation has been gaining importance. Many have joined the fight against the use of plastic, and the era of zero waste is here. In fact, even customers are becoming increasingly aware of the sustainability of the products they consume.
However, Delhaize did not take this into account when they launched a marketing campaign. Basically, what they did was that for every €20 purchase, customers received Lego-like plastic pieces for children to build figures.
The plastic pieces were placed in plastic trays and then packaged in plastic bags. That is, there were two plastic pieces wrapped in plastic. The vast majority of customers did not like the fact that they received plastic for each of their purchases.
The Case of Le Slip Francais
On the other hand, an example of a successful campaign is the case of Le Slip Francais. This company, dedicated to textile products made in France, is popular for its use of social networks. In fact, they have a great marketing team that is dedicated to listening to their customers and taking advantage of opportunities to boost their communication.
There was a time when the company created a campaign inspired by the seventh season of the Game of Thrones series. It was an image of a men’s underwear, made of leather, with the caption “Winter is Coming”. Since the series and the slogan were so popular at the time, this campaign was a complete hit.
To close this first point on the diagnosis of your company, remember that this will be the basis of your communications plan. A bad study of the environment, the competition, or your stakeholders can cause your efforts to end in failure. While a good analysis allows you to create the basis for all your marketing efforts and actions.
2 Brand Positioning: The Key to Communicate With your Audience
What is your company about and what are its goals? Knowing the answers to these questions is key to being able to work on the positioning of the organization you represent.
In fact, the mission, vision, and values of your organization must be present in every communication you issue.
Know Your Company’s Mission
The mission is the raison d’être of any company. It is the reason you wake up every day. You are able to fulfill that mission when you bring value to your customers and provide solutions to their problems.
Some of the best examples come from big companies like:
- RyanAir, allows its passengers to travel to European destinations at affordable prices.
- Netflix makes it easy for its subscribers to watch amazing shows and movies conveniently.
- Slack improves and streamlines companies’ internal corporate communication.
What about you? What is your company’s mission?
Know Your Company’s Vision
The vision of the company is what you are trying to achieve. The ideal you aspire to. An organization’s vision is made up of ideas about how you want to influence the world.
For example, Facebook’s vision is to have an ultra-connected world where every person can communicate with others anywhere in the world.
Or for example Ikea. Their vision is to create products that improve the daily lives of many people. Spotify wants to be a cultural platform where musicians can fully express their potential, and everyone can have an immersive artistic experience.
Keep in mind: the company’s vision is much more powerful than its mission.
A communication manager must know the company’s vision in order to know how to achieve it. Are you clear about the company’s vision and what are you doing to achieve it?
Know The Company’s Values
Finally, you need to know the values associated with your business. What is most important to the company? What are the elements that the business considers most crucial? Values guide the company’s behavior; therefore, as a communications manager, you must memorize them and understand how to apply them in the different actions you take.
Not knowing the organization’s values puts all communication strategies and actions at risk. It may happen that some of them are not aligned with the principles that drive the company’s actions.
Airbnb As A Source Of Inspiration
An example in which the communication strategies are perfectly aligned with the mission, vision, and values of the company is the case of Airbnb.
Airbnb’s entire mission, vision, and values can be expressed in its logo: the Belo. The company’s mission is that every person can book accommodation anywhere in the world at affordable prices. At the same time, owners have the opportunity to generate revenue.
While the vision of this business is to provide its users with the feeling of being at home anywhere in the world. Whatever accommodation the user books, an Airbnb is always going to feel much homier than a hotel room.
And finally, Airbnb’s values boil down to three things: People, Place, and Love. When these elements are combined, the result is a wonderful symbol: the Belo.
Airbnb’s logo embodies its mission, vision, and values, and also shapes all communications. It is easy to conclude that the brand’s communication strategies are in line with Belo. This is thanks to the clarity of the brand positioning they have achieved over the years.
Whenever you have doubts about the communication plan you are developing, go back to the company’s mission, vision, and values. These three elements will give you the clarity you need to understand what best fits what the company hopes to achieve.
3 Goals As A Source Of Inspiration For Your Communication Plan
As humans, when we communicate with other people, we do so not only for the pleasure of communicating but also because we have clearly defined goals. We have or need to achieve something. The same is true when a company communicates with its target audience.
Therefore, when you are going to start working on your organization’s communication process, you should do it knowing very well the business goals.
Answering the questions: What do you hope to achieve? What is your objective? This will be the key to understanding what steps or actions are necessary to achieve the goals you have set.
However, you must always keep in mind what are the strategic objectives of the company and what are the objectives at the communications level. The two should go hand in hand. But, in practice, they are different.
Business Goals VS Marketing Goals
How do you distinguish one from the other? We explain it briefly:
By strategic objective, we mean the overall objective that the company wants to achieve. For example, when Apple launches the latest iPhone, the strategic objective may be to sell as many units as possible in order for the company to generate maximum profit.
Now, as a communication manager, you should base your communication goals on the company’s objective. So, if Apple wants to sell a large number of iPhones, it’s your goal to make as many people as possible aware of the new model. Therefore, the communication objective is to publicize the latest iPhone model.
Having made this point clear, it is important for us to remember that, at the communications level, there are different objectives you can pursue. For example:
- Recognition and awareness: publicize the company, its products, and services, and make sure people are aware of the brand.
- Adoption and emotion: find a way for the public to adopt the company’s vision and relate to the brand on an emotional level. The goal is to build relationships and generate loyalty.
- Attitude and behavior: encourage the target audience to patronize the company’s products and services. The objective of the communication strategy is to provoke this expected behavior.
Understanding in detail the objectives you want to achieve within your organization will make it much simpler and more straightforward for you to take the next steps and start putting together your communications plan.
Tips to Set Your Goals
Some practical tips that will help you complete this point successfully are:
- Don’t forget to define your communication objectives taking into account the organization’s goals.
- Make sure that the objectives you have defined are truly communicational. For example, “increase sales” is a sales team goal.
- Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives. We recommend you review the SMART methodology.
- Always work taking into account the budget and resources you will need to achieve your communication objectives.
Up to this point, you already have the diagnosis ready and you know how you want to position your company and what are the objectives to achieve. Now it is time to start determining your target audiences.
4 Who Is The Target Audience?
Part of the success of a communication plan is due to a good understanding of the target audience. The more personalized the messages, the greater the chance that the users will take the plunge and buy the products or services you are offering.
To do this, it is essential to take the time to find out what interests or motivates them, what they need, what their objectives are, and what media they use. Making the audience feel identified will help you awaken their curiosity and invite them to find out more about how you can help them have a better quality of life.
Remember, an organization can and should have different audiences. To help you define yours, we offer you a list of the most frequent profiles:
- Financial analysts
- Commercial objectives
- Potential customers
- Potential customers
- Executives and managers
- Public figures
- Government members
- Government officials
- Local businesses
- Residents near your business
- Non-governmental organizations
The key to effective communication comes from your ability to empathize. Remember that you have to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand how they feel when presented with certain information. What motivates them?
5 The Message: How To Make It Stand Out?
It is one thing to know to who you want to send your messages, but it is quite another to make those messages stand out and be memorable. To do that, you need to know what’s going on in the minds of your potential buyers.
Jonah Berger wrote a book entitled Contagious: Why Things Catch On. There the author explains six elements to create better messages that are efficient in attracting your target. These elements, also known as STEPPSP, are:
Understanding social currency is easy. Basically what the author is trying to say here is that people want to give a good image of themselves when they are among other people. While there are many ways to do this, one of the best ways is by being mindful of how we speak.
The things you say can affect how others perceive you. Therefore, if you want others to find you interesting, you must be able to say interesting things. When constructing your message, you can ask yourself if you have a way to arouse your audience’s curiosity.
The context in which the message is sent is as crucial as the message itself.
For example, you’ve finished your tube of toothpaste and you tell yourself that the next day you’re going to buy a new one after work. However, the next morning you are in front of your sink and realize that you forgot to buy a tube of toothpaste.
The trigger here is the sink. It’s when you find yourself in front of it that you remember the toothpaste… And that pushes you to act accordingly.
The same is true for your product or services. You have to find a trigger that encourages a certain behavior in your target audience.
For a message to be truly effective, it must also be able to provoke emotions in the people who receive it.
The author explains that the best way to enter a person’s mind is not by speaking to the intellect, but by relating to them on an emotional level. Therefore, for your message to be remembered, it has to hit the emotions of the users.
Exposing audiences to the same message several times increases the likelihood that they will remember it.
An example is Apple’s MacBook. MacBooks have the logo on the back of the screen. This lights up when the computer is turned on. Now, what’s so special about this? Because it is illuminated, the Apple logo is much more visible compared to how other brands display theirs.
If you want your audience to remember your brand, make sure your message is visible and that your audience is exposed to it as often as possible.
Beyond broadcasting messages loaded with interesting information to others, you should also focus on making them useful. Every time you as a brand speak to your users, you should do so by providing options to help them solve their problems or make their lives easier.
When constructing your messages, make sure they always have practical value for the recipient.
Finally, stories are another extremely important component of messages. Generally, people like stories and we remember better the information that was given to us in that context.
At Sortlist, we recommend that, whenever possible, you build your messages around a story. This will allow them to stick in the minds of the people you send them to.
6 Tools To Reach Your Audience
Today we must understand the importance of the smartphone. It is enough to see people on the street to realize that the vast majority are using it in one way or another. There are those who are having an online meeting, others listening to a podcast or a video, others chatting, and there are those who are browsing an application or social network.
As you can see, there are many uses for it. There are many tools they provide us with. It is your job to understand how your target audience uses it.
When developing the strategy, choose the most appropriate tools and communication channels so that you can get the expected results.
7 The Best Time To Send A Message
Once you have decided which channels or tools are the most efficient to connect with your audience, you must then clarify when is the best time to do it.
We recommend that you use your calendar and start planning the messages to be sent and the activities you are going to carry out. Take into account the preparation and execution time for each one.
8 The Budget And The Good Use Of Resources
As the leader of a business or a department, you will always need a budget for your communication plan. This is what’s going to help you execute the necessary actions and achieve your goals. The marketing department works the same way.
In this case, when designing your communications plan it is important to do it by taking into consideration the total amount you have available. This way, the actions and strategies proposed are feasible and will help you achieve the objectives you have set.
In this process, there is a crucial question you should ask yourself as a project manager: How much is the budget for the communications strategy to be implemented?
Keep in mind that at this point you should not only limit yourself to estimating the amount to be invested. You must also consider the other resources you may need. Such as time, talent, skills, and the different tools you will need to successfully execute your communications campaign.
These two variables (money and resources) are crucial to put in place a successful strategic marketing plan. But the truth is that a talented team is much more important than financial resources.
Even with a small budget, a well-skilled and educated team can make the most of what they have. Conversely, no amount of money can make a mediocre team great.
Communication Plan: NordVPN Case Study
Your strategy and your communication formula must correspond to each other in order for you to achieve your goals. Strategy is the method you adopt in order to achieve your desired future. The art of planning, as well as the use of your resources to the maximum, is what will allow you to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
For example, let’s take the case where you want to get from point A to point B. This could be from your home to the grocery store. To make this trip you have different options: you can go on foot, by bicycle, by public transport, by car, and even by hitchhiking.
The same goes for your communication plan. You have to see the big picture and choose the best strategy that allows you to get to where you want to be. A concrete example that we can analyze is the case of NordVPN.
NordVPN’s Communication Strategy
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. NordVPN is a company that offers its users maximum protection while surfing the Internet. It helps prevent its users from becoming a victim of a cybersecurity attack, and to access web content that is not accessible in their geographical area.
Now, how did NordVPN become known? The company went for a unique strategy through a series of YouTubers. They sponsored a group of YouTubers in exchange for integrating a short presentation about NordVPN in their videos.
It was a very effective strategy because the YouTubers already had a good relationship with their audiences. We’re talking about celebrities like Pewdiepie, Phil DeFranco, Boogie, and Alec Steele. Their viewers trusted them, so when they recommended this service to them, viewers were much more willing to try it.
Now, let’s go back to the chapter where we talked about objectives. Do you remember the difference between the company’s strategic objective and the communication objective of the communication manager? Well, here’s a good example to explain it better.
In NordVPN’s case, the strategic objective was to grow its user base. Meanwhile, at the communications level, what they were looking for was to publicize their VPN service through YouTubers.
NordVPN was able to get more than eight million views from just a few videos. This case shows us that it is crucial to find the right strategy and make the most of it in order to implement your communication plan effectively.
If you have done all the groundwork (diagnosing, understanding your positioning, developing your objective, knowing your audience, and creating your key messages), then the strategy should be much more effective.
Communication Plan example: Elon Musk’s Evaluation Method
Can we compare a communication plan to a rocket launch? Let’s look at the example of SpaceX. This company, led by Elon Musk, aims to send humans to Mars in 2024. So far they have made it clear to us that building rockets, getting them off the ground, and landing them is complicated.
But how has SpaceX managed to turn its many failures into successful missions? The answer is quite simple, but the task is really complex: measuring and controlling every variable.
In order for SpaceX to achieve the desired result, they examined every single step of the takeoff and landing process. In this way, they have gained a better understanding of what needs to be improved in order to achieve their goal.
This is the kind of mindset you need to approach your communication plan. To do this, we always recommend that you take the time to review your strategy in detail. This should be done both before and after the launch.
In addition, before launching the communication plan, you will have to determine how you are going to evaluate the results obtained. In other words, identify the performance indicators or KPIs.
On the other hand, here is a list of questions you can ask yourself once you have launched your communication plan. Each of these answers will serve as a basis for you to build your next plans.
- Have you achieved your objective?
- Have you followed your strategy?
- Was the strategy effective? How?
- Did you reach your target audience?
- Were all the key messages sent?
- Did you follow the program?
- Did you make the most of your budget?
- What did you learn from the campaign?
- What were the challenges you faced?
- Were there things that could have been done better?
- What did you do well?
- What did you do wrong?
Congratulations! Now that you know the elements of a good communication plan, you are equipped with the knowledge you need to put together your next communication campaign,
In Summary: Creating Your Communication Plan
Although this guide may be a bit long, it covers each of the key elements of a good communication plan. Remember that in order to start building your business plan you must know and take care of certain details.
The starting point will always be the diagnosis. There you will be able to have a good knowledge of the efforts and results that have been made, and are being made, in terms of marketing and communication.
Then you will have to review the current positioning of the organization, the business and communication objectives, the environment in which you move, and the public you want to reach.
With all this information you will be able to move on to the next stage and start defining the key messages you want to deliver, the strategy to follow, and the tools to use. Finally, you should leave everything in black and white with a fixed plan in a calendar and estimate the cost of the whole project.
We hope you find this guide useful. If you have any doubts about how to work your communication plan, let us know and our team will help you get the perfect partner for this case.