There are two fundamental questions when designing or evaluating a communication or content strategy. These are ‘does this align with our wider business strategy? (will it make the boat go faster?) and ‘does this align with the aspirations of the people we want to influence?’
Brands come unstuck when the answers to those questions aren’t the same.
The role of a communication or content strategist is to close that gap and find the sweet spot where brand ambition and customer needs elide. To do this, we need to look simultaneously inside and outside like an organisation’s own Janus, the two-faced Roman god.
But will Brian in sales like it?
Colleagues and clients rarely come to the approval table without prejudice.
We’ve worked with a Chair who challenged a plan that had already been signed off based on a conversation they had on a golf course, been asked to lead a content plan that had been dreamt up by a sales team based on commercial targets rather than any audience insight and worked with an operations director who’s aversion to specific colours meant they wouldn’t engage with a brand strategy until those colours had come out of the deck.
None of those views was based on whether we were aligned with company strategy. Where personal bias risks clouding professional judgement, the role of a communication or content strategist is to be an organisation’s North Star, aligned to organisational goals and purpose and able to recognise the difference between a useful and legitimate challenge and one influenced by personal baggage.
This means having a deep understanding of business strategy, being an expert in your craft and having the trust of leadership to be able to challenge effectively.
It’s critical to have alignment at the beginning of the process because a slight gap now – ‘a concession we can live with’ – can over time become a chasm of misalignment and misunderstanding that takes your company off course. And by that time no-one can pinpoint where it’s gone wrong making it difficult to fix because you’ve lost sight of where your strategy is broken.
At JW Squared, we use a model designed to minimise this issue, that starts with agreement on the key business aims and then links every part of our strategy to a specific goal. This becomes a framework for development, resourcing and for the creative process and helps stay on the biggest priorities.
How will it work in Workington?
In addition to ensuring your comms stays aligned to company strategy, it’s even more important to understand the environment where your messages, messengers and content will land. Whether an internal or external audience, your approach should be shaped by knowing them inside out. And in today’s digital led world, where the most influential conversations shaping your reputation may not come from your company leaders, and where it is hard for brands to break through digital filter bubbles, you earn the right to be part of those conversations with relevant, trusted content and a unique point of view.
We use our three C’s model to ensure that our strategies are targeted and effective. We Collate by listening and gathering information about the most relevant conversations and influencers in your world. We then Curate to turn that information to valuable insights and a unique point of view. The final step is to Create a strategy, plan or digital content to take our clients to the audiences and conversations that matter most.
So, the next time, you are staring at a blank piece of paper with a strategy to write, don’t forget to look inside and outside your business for insight, inspiration and intelligence.
Jane Wilson is former CEO of the CIPR and MD in ENGINE, mhp’s brand and reputation practice, Jane has held senior in-house and in agency comms and marketing roles building brand reputation during transformation and disruption.
Joanna Wells is former VP Digital Content at Viacom working on MTV and Comedy Central, Joanna A passionate creative solutions leader with global expertise in entertainment and youth content, editorial, marketing, branded content and commercial.