As a product manager or marketing director a key responsibility is to develop and implement an effective marketing communications strategy. One place to start is with a communications audit.
An audit is a review of all current marketing and other communications vehicles to answer some basic questions:
o What are we saying about our company/brand/products?
o Is the message consistent across formats and audiences?
o How are we presenting the information?
o Who are we talking to?
The results of the audit should help clarify the communications strategy and provide a framework for future projects.
The simplest way to begin is to gather all existing materials and lay them out on a big conference table. Materials would include product and corporate brochures, product packaging, business cards and letterhead, annual reports, advertisements, direct mail pieces, investor kits, and website screen shots. Even things like internal memos, press releases, promotional items, company t-shirts or hats, and PowerPoint templates should be included.
Once everything is laid out, some basic questions can be answered. First, do all the items look like they are from the same company? Is there some consistency in layout, use of color, and fonts?
Second, is the company positioning clear? In other words, if you asked several people to review a number of your communications and tell you what they perceived to be the company mission or value offering, would the answers be consistent? Or would it depend on what pieces were reviewed?
Third, what are the key messages that are being communicated? Are those messages coherent, or fragmented? Are the messages consistent with your intent?
For many businesses, the answers to these questions are not encouraging. Fragmentation and inconsistency are common, especially as an organization grows and as communications responsibility becomes dispersed.
Unless there is someone within the company charged with maintaining an overall vision, and empowered to enforce guidelines and standards, it is often unavoidable that the communications water gets muddied.
Some may say, “So what?” There is a feeling that as long as each entity within the firm is communicating effectively with its own constituency, there shouldn’t be a problem except for marketing purists. The fallacy with this argument becomes obvious once you begin talking to various stakeholders within the organization, as well as customers and investors who are either getting the wrong message, or aren’t sure about what the message is in the first place.
The communications audit is really only the first step. Understanding the impact your messages are having requires research, and developing a process for ongoing review and implementation integrity requires dedication.
It’s one thing to give lip service to communications consistency, but quite another to put in place the means to make it happen. By regularly reviewing your communication strategy, and evaluating your materials to ensure they are meeting your goals, you will improve message clarity and better meet the needs of your customers, investors, and employees.