Four Questions Will Keep Your Strategic

I often work with people who have little background in communication and social marketing, but they’re wildly enthusiastic about rolling up their sleeves to create a website, a blog, a Facebook page, or a brochure. I always hear, “Everyone else has them—shouldn’t we?”

In truth, these tactics may not be what’s needed. Tactics are like “spaghetti on the wall;” we throw them up and hope something sticks. To  increase the likelihood that your outreach efforts will work, ask four simple and iterative questions to ground your choices in strategy.

Four Questions

1. What do you want people to do that they are not already doing?

Note the operative word in this question: do. When I ask clients what they want to accomplish with their communications, I usually hear something like, “We just want to raise awareness about our programs and how important they are.” This may be an important first step. After all, it’s hard to get people to take action if they’re unaware of your issues and your work.

But raising awareness rarely prompts real change. For that, you need to know what you ultimately want people to do as a result of your campaigns or outreach efforts.

For example, do you want persuade policymakers to improve recycling in your city? Attract parents to your parenting classes? Get local professionals to become volunteer mentors? Questions like these drive action. They help you define goals that are strategic and measurable. From here, you can craft the messages and choose the tactics that are far more likely to move the needle in the right direction.

2. Whom do you need to reach for your goals to succeed?

If you’re tempted to say “everyone!” then it’s time to step back and get specific. Marketers call this “audience segmentation,” and it’s based on any number of factors that might include demographics, current behaviors, perceptions, beliefs, and values. For instance, the priorities of a single working mom raising three young children while holding down two service industry jobs is a far, far cry from those of a school board member who is up for re-election. You may need to reach both of these people, but you can be sure that they won’t respond to the same message in the same way.

Let’s say you’ve set out to increase vaccination rates for children entering school for the first time. Your most important—or primary—audience will probably be the parents of those children. Not all parents are the same, however, and you may need to segment the universe of “parents” even more based on demographics, culture, and language in order to tailor your messages and tactics appropriately.

You may also identify other critical “influencer”—or secondary—audience segments such as pediatricians and even school principals.

If your list of unique audience segments seems overwhelming, it’s time to prioritize. Whom do you need to reach most? First? Where is the “low-hanging fruit?” Prioritization will help you make the most of limited time and resources.

3. What will persuade your audiences to take the action you want them to take?

This question, and the next, requires that you put aside your assumptions about your audiences and do a little research. You need to understand—and respect—their realities to craft messages that resonate.

Great messages match their values, solve their problems, and provide the credibility (data and stories) that they need to hear. Great messages describe benefits that will make sense to them while addressing any potential barriers to action. Great messages also include a realistic “call to action” that drive audiences to take the desired next step.

None of this is possible until you truly understand your audiences.

4. How—and how often—will you deliver your messages?

Your research will help you answer this question as well, and your answer will be based on where and how you are most likely to reach your audiences, as well as when they will be most receptive to your messages.

This question helps you choose the right tactics for your outreach. The options are many, including this (very incomplete!) list:

Channels: One-on-one meetings, emails, phone calls, bulletin boards, websites, blogs, text messages, television, radio, print, social media.

Activities and Events: Press conferences, community town hall meetings, school board presentations, awards luncheons, sporting events, family fun days, health fairs.

Materials: Fact sheets, promotional materials, restaurant placemats and coasters, PowerPoint presentations, posters, flyers, PSAs, church bulletins, billboards, advertisements.

Even if you aren’t ready to create a comprehensive communication plan, you can rely on these questions to stay strategic. After all, a little thoughtful strategy now will help you avoid missteps down the road.

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