A few weeks ago, I met with a potential client who was managing a company in the service industry. He was looking for a marketing consultant who could help him improve his communications with his current customer base. He explained his needs over coffee. He wanted to create a monthly direct mail piece – big postcard-sized – that would feature some of his services, strengthen his client relationships, and encourage sales. The direct mail piece also needed to be an invitation for an event. In addition, he wanted to design a brochure that would describe his services in more detail and feature his staff using small pictures and quotes.
At first, he seemed to know exactly why he wanted to create those communication pieces. But he often fell short when I asked him questions like: “What do you primarily want to achieve with the monthly direct mail piece?”, “What do you know about those on the receiving end?”, and “What will be the company brochure’s core message?”
When I drove back home I realized that small business owners, marketing executives, and the like tend to jump to practical solutions too quickly while planning a communication piece. What needs to be done to ensure the creation of an effective communication piece? Before you can move on to the fun stuff, like writing text, selecting pictures, choosing colors and layout you need to:
1) Determine your goals
2) Identify your audience
3) Summarize your message
4) Choose your communication medium, and
5) Build in a mechanism for measurement
Determine your goals. First you need to know what you want to achieve with your communication. Do you want to generate awareness of your business, promote a specific service, connect with your customers, educate the community, or something else? The business owner in my example wanted to realize several goals with one direct mail piece. Achieving more than one goal is possible. However, if you do not prioritize goals you risk diluting your message and decreasing the communication value.
Your goals will determine what and how you will communicate to your audience. Here is an example. The business owner could have had the following goals: “generate X number of RSVP’s to event Z and strengthen the relationship with the current customers.” Or, the business owner could also have identified the two very different goals: “sell X number of service B and create awareness of the whole range of services that the company offers.” Depending upon his goals, the resulting direct mail piece would have been very different in terms of text, visuals, tone, and look and feel.
Identify your audience. The next step is to determine with whom you intend to communicate. Are they customers who just started buying your product or service, loyal customers who have done business with you for years, potential customers, your employees and their families, stakeholders in the community, or somebody else? You may want to reach out to different audience groups with one and the same communication piece. To create a strong communication, though, target one audience group (or a few audience groups at most) when deciding on wording and tone. If you try to communicate with several audience groups at the same time, especially when these audience groups do not have much in common, you risk diluting your message. Just as you would approach your best friend very differently than an acquaintance, you need to use different communication styles with your audience groups depending upon your relationship.
Summarize your message. Next, to focus on what you intend to communicate, summarize the gist of your message in plain language. It may sound like a no-brainer, but the message needs to align with your goals to ensure that your communication piece will achieve the goals. If the business owner in my example wants to: “generate X number of RSVP’s to event Z and strengthen the relationship with the current customers,” the core message of the direct mail piece might have been: “we value you as customer, we would like to see you again, please join us at event X where you can expect A, B, and C.” Obviously another choice of goals would have resulted in another message and communication piece altogether.
Choose your communication medium. Now that you have identified the goal(s), audience group(s), and core message, it is time to determine the communication medium through which you will communicate. Would a postcard, an advertisement, a newsletter, an e-mail announcement, a formal letter, or another medium meet your communication needs the best? Let me give another example. Assume that the business owner wants to increase sales (goal) among potential customers (audience group), but he does not have their addresses. In this case, a flyer inserted in a magazine that targets his potential customers may be a better choice than a monthly direct mail piece.
Build in a mechanism for measurement. This is easier said than done, but if you can measure the effectiveness of your communication piece, it will help you evaluate and improve your communications. After all, creating and distributing a communication piece requires time and money. You need to tie your method of measurement to your goals. If the business owner in my example wants to increase event attendance by sending an invitation to potential customers, he can build in a mechanism during the registration process asking participants how they heard about the event. On the other hand, if the business owner’s goal is to increase the sales of a specific service, he might offer potential customers a discount coupon printed on a direct mail postcard. These measurements may not be very accurate, but at least they will give an indication of effectiveness.
When you plan to create a communication piece, control your urge to start right away. Instead, take a deep breath and determine your goals, identify your audience, summarize your core message, choose the best communication medium, and figure out a method to measure success. This way, you will guarantee the creation of an effective communication piece.