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ADVISOR: How to plan a strategy

Updated: 17 October, 2010

Marketing and communications are all about planning to make deliberate choices about what you communicate and how you communicate. It seeks to eliminate random and unplanned actions that can lead to misadventure.

How do you identify your mission and write your strategy and communications plan?

Firstly we suggest you regularly put aside sufficient time to plan and then keep planning. Secondly, you should consider using a marketing professional but, at the very least, you should involve a group of trusted people to brainstorm to create your plan. Think about staff and selected outsiders for this.

The planning process is essentially a progressively reducing and simplifying one. But that must progressively be broken down to important and simplified morsels because the brand and communications ultimately connect with audiences in very simple and fundamental ways.

The illustration is a simplified demonstration of the planning and activities process.

This diagram model was developed by FRESCO for three primary reasons. Firstly, most people start their planning at the ‘activity’ level (the ‘engine or motive elements’). However, this step must be informed by a ‘strategy’ (the steering wheel to give direction). Secondly, the ‘strategy’ is often regarded as the most difficult to write, but it is made easy if there can be a straightforward appreciation of the first step – ‘vision and objectives’ together with ‘understanding’ together in equal measure. And thirdly, planning is a cycle to provide regular planning, action and analysis of results.

The following headings are used as a guide for writing a communications plan. Depending on the particular project they may change slightly in order and emphasis.

1. Vision & Objectives

Your organisational objectives for the brand should evolve out of the overall planning and development work.

Usually, we write this as three or four short points. They are the key organisational things you wish to achieve, taking into account the opportunities to be fulfilled, or problems to be solved. Be careful not to confuse "doing things" with "where you want to be". In other words forget, for the moment, about what you think you might do - focus on how you want it to be.

Try to keep the objectives realistic but, at the same time, don't assume that smart marketing and communications can’t overcome current obstacles.

An example of an organisational objective might be – to increase the amount of donated money from the corporate sector.

2. Understanding (Situation Analysis)

A simple way of answering part of this is to compile a SWOT analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

This should include everything that is, or might, impact on the problem/organisation; barriers to success, market analysis, audience perceptions and organisational analysis.

Specific points to consider are; trends, stakeholder factors, pricing, resources, past communications activity, etc.

All existing hard data and research should be reviewed along with anecdotal evidence from stakeholders.

You may find there are issues that you find difficult to answer or quantify, but the important task, initially, is to at least make a note and perhaps identify it as an area requiring further investigation or discussion.

An example from the situation analysis might be – only 5% of your stakeholders have regular contact with your organisation.

3. Communications Objectives (completed after 1 and 2 but part of ‘Vision & Objectives)

These are all the things the communications activity must achieve. Essentially this will consist of three or four points that we would wish the tools of communication to achieve. They must be realistic and if possible, measurable, taking into account known factors and available resources.

An example of a communications objective might be - to increase the level of total brand awareness, among all people in our target audience, to 45%.

4. Strategy

Here we do the thinking and planning. The strategy is the steering wheel that gives the entire process direction for the later development of communications activity (the engine).

Brand positioning, the unique selling proposition, communications vehicles, strategic themes and guiding principles are established.

An example of a strategic communications point might be - to concentrate more effort on a particular target audience and then use our successes to leverage other groups later.

5. Audiences

We need to identify those people who should be part of the solution, which the communications will be designed to address. It might not merely involve obvious primary targets, such as the users of a product or service. There are very likely to be other influencers or stakeholders who might play a primary or secondary role.

Often it is a good idea to identify a primary target group and then other secondary groups, if necessary.

6. Activity (communications and delivery)

These are all the things you’ll do to achieve your communications objectives. Typically, this step considers communications vehicles, but also every other possible area of your organisation that communicates your mission and brand values. We would encourage you to make a list of everything you can think of.

Communications are made from five considerations:

Getting the right messages...

To the right people...

At the right time...

By the right method...

Using appropriate resources.

Make sure that the points you’ve settled in the ‘strategy’ step are actually carried through into the ‘activity’. It is a common fault to ignore the strategic pointers when deciding on the communications aspects, so be disciplined here.

7. Results and analysis

You need to consider how you will know you are achieving our objectives. It is important to consider this from the beginning because it forces everyone involved to be accountable - what gets measured gets done.

The evaluation needs to consider the organisational objectives, communications objectives and factors contributing to success or failure and ensure that there is a robust method of assessing progress so that adjustments and improvements can be inserted into the planning cycle.

When using an online plan and social media, you do of course have unprecedented tools for campaign monitoring and measurement.


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If you like a personal response to any questions this Advisor article raises, please contact Fraser Carson here.

About the author

Fraser Carson is a respected communications and social media consultant, and commentator. He has particular experience and interest in community building, the not-for-profit sector and business development.

How to plan a strategy

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