Build Your Communications Strategy Around the Customer Journey

By Barry Lowenthal, CEO of Media Kitchen

Back in March 2020 when the pandemic first forced businesses to shift to WFH and brands were examining how they talked to customers that demonstrated empathy, clients started asking a lot larger purpose-related, brand strategy-type questions.

Brand messaging: Moving from a product to personal

For years brands optimized the lower funnel and redirected advertising dollars to the most measurable and easily attributable channels, which often meant moving money from awareness-driving media to programmatic, search and social. But all of a sudden product and feature-driven messages that lived close to purchase felt inappropriate; brands wanted to communicate that they were supporting their customers who were experiencing school closures, sickness, and job loss.

Clients started spending a lot more time thinking about the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ and less on ‘how,’ ‘when’ and ‘where.’ Brands started focusing on media strategy and not just tactical media planning. They wanted to understand how to better tell their brand story that was supportive and relatable and not just lean into promotional messages.

Journey mapping for a smooth customer trip

To even better support our clients, we started reviewing and evolving our approach to communications planning emphasizing the role of journey mapping to unlock the tension that always exists somewhere along the path from discovery to purchase.  We believe that opportunities always exist when we can ease the friction along the journey by either doing a better job at introducing the product, educating consumers about a product’s differences or maybe asking them to join our community. Effective journey mapping identifies the gaps as well as ways that communications can ease the friction and accelerate the path to purchase.

But great communications planning doesn’t just identify communications opportunities. Great communications planning helps build and protect brands in four ways: First, it helps brands understand who they truly are and use their beliefs and values to guide their decisions in ways that are better for their people, their business, and the future. Second, it enables consistent and effective communication through every piece of content created. Third, great comms planning helps attract the right customers to build a strong and lasting brand. And lastly, it positions the brand in a way that helps it compete now – and tomorrow.

Navigating the Workstreams

There are two primary workstreams in communications planning: the clients and the agencies. The client’s workstream includes developing the business and marketing objectives: what the business wants to achieve and how marketing will help reach those goals. Savvy brands use the SMART framework (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) to define those objectives. This will remove any vagueness and ensure that their agency’s recommendations and plans will be appropriate and effective.

The agency’s workstream focuses on how communications will support the client’s business and marketing objectives. This workstream comprises six main steps:

  1.   Identifying which audiences will provide the biggest opportunities for communications; this may include consumer and industry research, persona development, and trend analysis;
  2. Analyzing the consumer journey to better understand any hindrances or gaps, as well as how to deploy communications to accelerate users through that journey;
  3. Defining how communications will support the client’s business and marketing objectives along each step of the customer journey, whether that’s through the traditional funnel, the bullseye, or the spaghetti plate;
  4.   Recommending messaging. What will the brand tell its audiences within that journey based on whether it’s aiming to drive awareness, provide information, shift perception, generate demand, or prompt a preferred action?
  5. Identifying channel opportunities for where those messages will reach the most desirable audiences using the least resources, as well as be most relevant to where they are along their customer journey and what specific journey they’re taking (i.e., funnel, bullseye, or spaghetti plate); and
  6.   Building a measurement framework, including specific KPIs and supporting tools, to measure campaign success, for example, using a brand lift study to measure awareness or site analytics to track conversions and sales.

Each step requires various inputs from the client and agency to be completed. And each step builds upon the previous one to finalize a communications plan, which supports media and tactical plans, and a measurement framework. Putting the customer journey at the center of the communications plan helps to ensure consistency and focus.

Once a brand and its agency have collaborated to create a journey-centric, goal-oriented communications plan, they’ll see relevance increase along with results.

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