Is your business misunderstood?

You might need a new communications strategy.

At the risk of talking myself out of a job, I will now make a bold statement: communicating about your own business seems like common sense. To many, it’s instinctual, particularly if what you’re communicating relates to your bread and butter. You’re the expert on your business; you know exactly what you want to say.

Where the strategy comes, is in finding that magic connection between what you want to say and what your audience wants to hear. More importantly, it’s about making that connection an emotional one. Does your audience trust you, look forward to hearing from you? Do they relate to you, or associate you with something warm and fuzzy? That’s engagement.

I’ve worked with businesses, big and small, that are incredibly good at what they do, but are lacking in social currency. This is not a great place to be, as it doesn’t protect you from the threat of competitors offering a better service, or the same service at a lower price.

The key to building this currency is effective brand communications. These days, the proliferation of free, automated online tools means there is so much you can do in-house. But with the endless information, tools and advice out there, where do you begin when thinking about how to approach your communications strategy?

Firstly, define your brand

As a business, you serve a purpose. You solve a customer problem. This is your value proposition, and it is essential to defining how you are meeting the needs of your end user.

But what makes your business unique, what gives it personality? This is your brand, and in a nutshell, it tells people how you want to be perceived.

Jerry McLaughlin of Forbes magazine hits on an important point when talking about brand;

“…your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”

This is true – brand is not a tangible thing, but it can be extremely valuable when done correctly, and extremely detrimental if not managed.

When defining your brand, look for inspiration from your product or service itself, or from the story of how your business came about. What are your passions, what do you do best? Your organisational values will play a big role, as how you communicate within your business will impact to the way you communicate externally. These days, consumers want transparency, so spell out these business values through your brand and live them day in, day out.

Paint a picture of your audience

This might seem obvious, and it kind of is. But you’d be surprised how many businesses focus on promoting what they do, without thinking about how it will speak to their different audiences. And yes, you may have more than one.

Research, interview and pull together insights about your audience. Consider how they think and feel, what they find frustrating, what they enjoy doing, where they spend their time. This process will help you to pinpoint where your customers’ ‘pains’ and ‘gains’ are, i.e. what their problems are, and how you can solve them.

Empathy mapping can help you define what your customers want and need

Empathy mapping is a process that helps you to define how you might best connect with your audience.

People are complex, and only through thorough customer research will your communications be translated into something that speaks directly to them.

Woo them with stories

At the heart of it, great communication is about storytelling. Supplement commercial messages with brand stories that will make your audience fall for you. Think about the Virgin brand – not nearly as compelling without Richard Branson as protagonist. A great story can inspire, build connection, change or even polarise opinion.

This recent example from the University of Western Sydney is a fantastic example of how a great story can communicate important values about your brand…

There are so many options to execute brand stories, and not all need to be Oscar-worthy shorts. A great communications piece can take many forms; just make sure that whatever you create is relatable, personal and speaks to how you want to be perceived.

Speak on their level

Any communications strategy must consider how your audience wants to receive their information.

A traditional piece of print collateral will be much more effective than a fancy new app for an audience who is not tech savvy. This is where your research will come in handy. Conduct an audit of your current communication channels and consider how effective they are in reaching the right people.

Be willing to try and fail

As American author, entrepreneur and marketer extraordinaire Seth Goodin says, “Once you realise that failure is certain, it’s a lot easier to focus on impact instead.”

You won’t get it right every time, and often your messages will need to be refined and reworked before they hit the mark. The important thing to focus on here is not to be afraid to test and see what works. This is particularly relevant in the wonderfully impermanent world of digital, where a tweet is gone in the blink of an eye, allowing you to experiment with different approaches.

If you’re a one-person show, remember to set yourself a goal around communications that works for your level of expertise and capacity. Doing one or two things well will be much more effective than a scattergun approach.

Images courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

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