When important changes occur or a crisis hits, your business must provide timely updates and clear messaging to employees, customers and suppliers. The sooner you create a communication strategy, the sooner you will be able to use it when the need arises.
Why take the time to plan a strategy? Executed without thoughtful planning, communication can actually have a negative effect on how your business is perceived, or inadvertently reinforce incorrect information.
During a crisis like COVID-19, communicating in clear and reassuring ways with your customers is extremely important.
They are more likely to trust and support you through difficult times, staying loyal even when circumstances are challenging.
Editor’s note: Penny for penny, email continues to be the smartest choice for regular client communications that actually get read. Create separate email lists for employees, customers and suppliers with GoDaddy Email Marketing.
Map out your strategy in 6 steps
No one can think clearly in a crisis — whether it’s fire, flood or sudden supply chain disruption. Make it easy on yourself but mapping out your communication strategy now.
- Consider your audience.
- What do they already know about this topic?
- What is their preferred medium or channel?
- What obstacles could prevent your message from being understood?
- What tools could be useful?
- How can you measure your success?
Before we dive into the process, let’s define a communication strategy and explain how it differs from a communication plan.
What is a communication strategy?
A communication strategy is a high-level direction or “the big idea” of what you want to share. Developing this strategy simply means getting clear on what you want people to know, in a general sense.
For example, you could create a communication strategy for what to say to employees, customers and business partners during a crisis like the COVID-19 virus situation. Other examples could include responding to news that involves your company, or communicating organizational changes such as layoffs or sudden changes in leadership.
You can find communication strategy examples, including templates here.
What is the difference between a communication strategy and a strategic communication plan?
A communication strategy is “what” you want to do, while a communication plan is the “how.” Once you are clear on what idea or message you need to communicate to your customers, you can create a plan with specific steps to do so.
To quote brand strategist Mynhardt van Pletsen “... our strategy helps us understand what it is we want to do, and our plan lays out how we will practically go about doing it.”
How to create a communication strategy
Now that you understand that the goal of a communication strategy is to answer the “what,” let’s walk through the planning process step by step.
1. Consider your audience
Who are you trying to reach? Who needs to hear this information and why?
This is an important step because different groups will need different information. For example, in the case of a supply chain interruption, customers will want to know about how long the delays are likely to be. Shareholders will likely be far more concerned about the long-term effect on their investment.
2. What do they already know about this topic?
Now that you know who you’ll be talking to, consider how much they know about the topic before you begin delivering information to them. Otherwise you run the risk of not giving enough detail or providing information that’s not helpful or relevant.
3. What is their preferred medium or channel?
This is another important step, since your message won’t be received if your audience lives on Facebook but you send your message via LinkedIn.
Once you decide where your audience likes to get their information, you can create messages for each channel. A " target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">content calendar can help you stay organized and ensure you carry out what you planned for each channel.
4. What obstacles could prevent your message from being understood?
Think about what could hamper your efforts in advance. Are conflicting messages already circulating? Do you need to correct inaccuracies first? Does your audience have easy access to the channels you hope to use?
Remember that your audience may need to hear or see a message multiple times in order to absorb or understand it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming one email will get the word out effectively.
5. What tools could be useful?
The best tools are those that help you reach your audience in the best way for them to receive and understand your message. They may include, but are not limited to:
- Your business website
- Social media accounts
- Newsletters (mail or email)
- Online collaboration tools
- Project management software
- Town halls or workshops
By sharing your message on all of these media, you increase the chance that more people will see and absorb it more quickly.
6. How can you measure your success?
Measuring the effectiveness of your communication strategy is an important step, as it may help you make changes, correct missteps or add to the plan as needed.
You might do things like measure open rates on emails, assess how swiftly they were opened, or which parts of the message were downloaded or read.
If communication happens in person, you can watch for body language to assess if your message has been received. If the communication was provided by other means, a survey might offer the same insight. Questions asked by your audience can also help you gauge their understanding.
Don’t forget your plan may need to change depending on how circumstances around you change.
Repeat for different audiences
Your plan can be adjusted for customers, vendors and employees, as these groups will likely need different versions of the information.
It’s helpful if those creating the plan understand the difference between internal and external communication plans, though in a crisis it is possible that these lines can become blurred.
These keep your employees informed and reassured via messages that address their specific concerns. A crisis might affect their employment, their security, and have a direct effect on their families, so having an internal communication plan is important.
External communication plans will help you communicate with external stakeholders like customers and vendors who will want to know what changes they can expect in how you do business and how long the changes are likely to last.
Internal communication may end up shared publicly, so focus on what people really need to know and who they trust to deliver the message.
Create a communication strategy now
One of the best investments you can make right now is the time you spend preparing to communicate with your customers, employees and partners. A communication strategy can help you lead in difficult times by delivering the right information to the people who need it when they need it most.