Making Your Communications Relevant

Communication and Media IconsIt sounds so simple and it’s definitely common sense, but you’d be surprised by the number of people who create communications that are not relevant to their audience.  The aim of this article is to give you a few pointers on ensuring that your communications are relevant and therefore receive the desired response.

Before you put pen to paper there are some important questions you need to ask yourself.  Once you have the answers clear in your mind then you can begin creating your communication.  Until you are sure you have all the answers it’s best not to pick up your pen!

Do you understand the goal of your communication?

If your communication is going to be relevant then it must have a goal, a point.  This is usually any action you may want an audience to undertake and/or the outcome you hope to achieve through the action.  In order to understand you goal you need to ask yourself what you are communicating, to whom and why.

What are you communicating to your audience and why?

What is the subject (the what) and the message (the why) of your communication, for example:

Subject - The launch of a new product line
Message - You need all employees to be familiar with the marketing materials of the new product line when answering the phones to customers responding to the campaign mail out

In this example the subject (the product line launch) in itself is not the most important aspect of the communication.  The message to your employees that they need to be familiar with the marketing materials of the new product line is most important as this requires an action on their part to familiarize themselves with the marketing materials ahead of customer calls coming in.

A key mistake many people make is putting the emphasis of their communications on the subject rather than the message of their communication.   In the example it would be easy to write far too much about the new product launch and add in the message as an afterthought at the end of the communication.

In the following example we illustrate how you can have the same subject, but a different message and how this change of message drastically alters how you would think of wording your communication.

Subject - The launch of a new product line
Message - You want to share the great news with your employees

In the example above there is no direct action required of the audience as a result of the communication.  Your communication therefore has less urgency than the previous example and is more of an internal marketing piece than a specific call to action.

Often communicators get caught up in internally marketing their subject rather than delivering the essential message that needs to be conveyed, thus at best diluting the relevance of their communication, at worst ignoring the message completely.

Do you understand your audience?

Knowing who your audience is, what messages they need and how best to communicate to them is another vital step you need to take before writing any communication.

Who is your audience?

You may have several different messages on the same subject which are aimed at different audiences.  For example:

Subject - The launch of a new product line
Message - Managers need to ensure that they have shown the new marketing materials to their teams by X date
Message - Internet team needs to send the marketing materials live on the intranet and internet by a certain date
Message - Marketing team needs to initiate mail out on a certain date
Message - All employees must be familiar with new product line ahead of internet launch & marketing mail out

As you can see from the example above there are four distinct messages with four distinct audiences.  Targeting your messages to the right audiences helps to keep your communication relevant and ensure the right actions are undertaken by the right people.

Why will your audience want to receive your communication?

A key mistake made by many people is to assume that your audience will be as interested in your communication as you are and to the same level of detail.  When writing communications it’s important to step out of your own shoes and into those of your audience.  It doesn’t matter whether you understand your message, but whether the audience does.

To make a communication relevant to an audience it has to be crafted in a way that ensures they understand why it is important to them and how taking action will benefit them and if applicable how inaction will have consequences for them.   Using our example of the product line launch we can analyse the importance to each of the different audiences and what the benefits of action and consequences of inaction in the table below.

Audience Why it’s important/
Action Required
Benefits of Action Consequences of In-action
Managers They need to ensure all their employees are aware of the marketing and web materials If all their employees in their team are aware more sales/good customer feedback, supporting a good review and bonus situation A lack of knowledge results in poor customer feedback and possibility of decreased sales and could reflect badly on the manager at review
Internet Team They need to ensure that they are primed to load the materials onto the intranet and internet at a specified time The materials are available to the right audiences at the right time ensuring a successful launch of the product, increased sales and the continued good reputation of the team If the materials are not available this could delay employee familiarization and ultimately the product launch, thereby decreasing possible sales and damaging the reputation of the team
Marketing Team They need to ensure that they are primed to issue the marketing mailing at a specified time A well planned product launch where the physical mailing goes out backed up with online presence and fully conversant employees to deal with any incoming queries, resulting in increased sales and continued reputation of the team and company Failure to launch the campaign as advertised internally will damage the reputation of the team, decrease possibility of sales and increase possibility of employees losing interest if the campaign is held up for too long.  If the product launch has been pre-publicized this could also have a negative impact externally
Employees They need to be aware of the new product line and familiar with it when the calls start coming in from customers If they are aware of all the new product lines they will be able to make more sales and receive good customer feedback, supporting a good review and bonus situation A lack of knowledge results in poor customer feedback and possibility of decreased sales and could reflect badly on them at their next review

What do you want your audience to do as a result of receiving your communication?As illustrated in the table above their is a ‘call to action’ for each of the different audiences, i.e. as a result of the communication you send to them there is something they are required to do that will have benefits if completed and consequences if not.

Any communication that requires action from its audience needs to make sure that a ‘call to action’ is featured prominently and as close to the beginning of a communication as possible.  For example let’s look at how we might word the manager’s communication in our new product line example:

To: All Managers
Title: ACTION REQ: New Product Line Launch – Employee Familiarization

Please be aware that we will be launching the new Product line shortly (for details please see <link to previous article> and <link to online materials on intranet>).

We need you to hold team meetings by <date> to go through the marketing materials with your teams so that they are familiar ahead of any customer enquiries after the launch on <date>.  Please make every effort to ensure that you meet with everyone in your team and that they know where to find the materials on the intranet.

The internet page will go live on <date> and a week later the customer mailing will go out.  The online materials will be available on the intranet from today for employees to view and physical copies of the marketing materials will be issued to each manager in the internal mail, which you should receive by the end of the week.

Your support in ensuring our employees are ready for customer enquiries is vital to the success of the new product line launch and marketing campaign.  This is a great opportunity to drive more sales!

Marketing Director

As you can see in the title we explicitly start it with the suffix ‘Action Req’ and the title gives a brief outline of the subject and action required.  In the first paragraph we succinctly address the subject (the new product line launch) without going into extraneous detail, but providing a link to more information for those who are interested. The second paragraph is the most important, it provides the call to action, explaining not only what needs to be completed, but also giving a deadline (something that is often missed out!). The third paragraph outlines key information in the timeline of the launch and availability of materials to managers and employees to help them in completing the action. The fourth and final paragraph is a positive reinforcement of the importance of the manager role in the success of the product launch and campaign and the benefits to them in increased sales if it is a success.

Have you chosen the right method of communication?

Just as the messages to your different audiences will differ so may your method of delivering your communication.  There are a number of factors that affect the communications channels available to you, but it is important to ensure that you choose a channel that your audience is familiar with, reflects the importance of the communication and is the most cost effective and least time consuming where possible.

Have you evaluated your channel choice against your audience needs?

For instance using our new product line launch example, the director of marketing might hold 121 face to face meetings with the other directors to take them through the launch and subsequent online and direct marketing campaign.  Though this is a time consuming process, 121 face to face communication is the most effective way to transfer in-depth knowledge.  As there are only 12 directors on the board 121 meetings with each of them is feasible for the marketing director and worthwhile for such an important topic.  However, the managers number around 150, there’s no way that the marketing director would be able to get round them all in time before the launch, nor would it be good use of their time.

So for the managers we might chose to send an email (see example earlier) and perhaps have a presentation and Q&A session at the management forum that is happening before the launch.  This method ensures that significant importance is given to the message of the communication and that managers are given an option to glean more information in a face to face setting, but one that is not as time consuming as 121.

Depending upon the size of the internet and marketing teams responsible for the online launch and customer mailing respectively, the marketing director may decide to hold a meeting, or if the teams have been heavily involved in the project (likely in a large organization) then a regular update at project meetings and a confirmation email of the respective details should suffice.

Finally we have all employees.  It’s important to remember that this message could be the most important one for the company.  Therefore an intranet article explaining what is required will be posted after the managers email is sent out and then of course the managers will hold their team meetings.  In case of the manager cascade not working, further update intranet articles will follow and all relevant information and knowledge will be available on the intranet for employees to access.

Again the example demonstrates how the different sizes, needs, levels of knowledge and involvement of the audiences will have an effect on the type and number of communication channels you use and the frequency of your communications to that audience.

Have you remembered KISS – Keep it simple and succinct?

We often get caught up in our projects and get very attached to our work.  It’s easy to make the mistake that other people have the same level of interest, investment and require the same level of involvement and knowledge of our projects as we do.  The issue when we do this in our communications is that it is easy to put in too much information and dilute the relevance for the audience.

Have you asked a colleague to review your communication?

When writing your communications keep in mind KISS (Keep it simple and succinct).  Once you’ve written your communication leave it for a while before you read it back and get a colleague with more distance from the subject to review it and provide feedback.  Don’t be afraid to change your communication, especially to remove unnecessary words.  If you feel the need to provide additional information or are ambivalent at taking out something then attach it as a separate document or provide links to it on the intranet.  Try to keep your communication to the basics of the subject and focus on the message and call to action.  So looking again at our example, let’s focus on the intranet article for all employees:

To: All Employees (via intranet)
Title: New Product Line Launch – Are you familiar with the materials?

As you have no doubt heard we are launching the new Product line shortly (for details please see <link to previous article> and <link to online materials on intranet>).

In order to make the launch and customer mailing campaign a success it is vital that we are all familiar with the new product line so that when customer enquires begin to come in everyone is able to answer their questions confidently. You can view the online materials here <link>

Your manager will be holding a special team meeting in the near future to go through the marketing materials with you that will be used in the customer mailing campaign. Please make every effort to ensure that you attend this meeting as it will be a valuable opportunity to see the materials and ask questions that your manager can forward back to launch team if necessary.

The internet page will go live on <date> and a week later the customer mailing will go out. The online materials are now available on the intranet and managers should have a physical copy of the marketing materials by the end of the week.

I’m sure you will agree this is an exciting time within the company and a great opportunity to maximize sales and drive our market reputation.

Marketing Director

As with the manager email the title alludes to the action required of the audience, though it is a little softer as this is an intranet article and the style a little more conversational in keeping with the channel chosen. Again the first paragraph succinctly introduces the subject of the communication and provides links to further information.  The second paragraph explains what is required of the audience and why, again giving a link to more information.  The third paragraph explains the in more detail about the team meetings and again emphasizes the requirement for employees to attend.  The fourth and final paragraph outlines the important info about the launch, i.e. timeline and again has positive reinforcement of the benefits to be gained from undertaking the required action and making the launch a success.

Conclusions – In a Nutshell!

Here are a few summary bullets to cover the key things to remember to help keep your communications relevant:

  • Understand the goal of your communication – what is the subject and the message, make sure your communication focuses on the message not the subject
  • Understand your audience – how many are they, do they have different messages, put yourself in their shoes, think about the level of detail/information they need, the type of language and terminology that they will understand and use it in your communication
  • Choose the right channels for your audience – take into account the size of the audience, the best channels for reaching them, the complexity of the message and its importance.  Use the channel with the greatest level of penetration that can be delivered in a realistically cost effective and time efficient manner
  • KISS – Keep it short and succinct – communicate only that which you need to convey, keep on message, ensure any call to action is highly visible and placed early in the message, emphasize the benefits of undertaking the action and/or the consequences of in-action, provide a route to more information where available
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