The ticking clock – that’s always the challenge in PR and marketing communications. Our clients’ businesses are in perpetual motion, and they rarely have months for us to develop and test strategy. In reality, it is often done in tandem with ramp up and program execution. And once that initial strategy is in place, it must hold up to changing priorities, new opportunities, and the evolving interests of media, customers, and other stakeholders. If it doesn’t, it will be ignored in practice.
We’ve found that the end deliverable of research and strategy can’t be a fixed creative brief or one big idea to guide all else. Instead, our clients usually need a dynamic, scalable strategy. So, we’ve developed a strategy framework with four imperatives that we can scale: customer personas, market trends research, objective-first planning and analysis, and brand guide assessment.
Four Imperatives of Scalable Strategy
I. Customer Knowledge
This helps us answer: Are we talking to the right people? Does this speak to their needs authentically?
Every marketing communications program needs a foundation of customer knowledge to be impactful. We always recommend going beyond surface-level persona work (“millennials” or “C-Suite” is not going to be helpful) and aim for a deep understanding of both the rational and emotional needs of top customers. What are their problems and worries on a day-to-day basis? What are they afraid of? What do they hear from their peers or boss? What do they hope for their future?
Limit yourself to your three most important customers: those who are critical to your success and will be impacted the most by your product or service. This allows your team to hold these people in their minds and align their plans, words, and angles with what customers really care about and need. We call this wearing our “customer goggles.”
You can create useful personas on any budget. Check out our guide and downloadable template to create personas that meet your needs and resources.
II. Market Perspective
This helps us answer: How can we apply a unique POV? How do we lead?
A data-driven market perspective is imperative for success and positioning. With this strategy element, we analyze current market trends and glean insights from our clients’ competitive landscapes to identify top opportunities, threats, and differentiators. You can use this research and analysis as a benchmark for success and a prerequisite for telling a unique and compelling story. We’ve found that it drives incredible ideation from our teams, and helps us to set our clients apart.
III. Objective-First Planning & Analysis
This helps us answer: How can we drive more value?
At INK, our planning and analysis (or P&A) program is our North Star and our approach to measurement. It’s how we identify and track the metrics that matter to our objectives and our client’s larger business goals. Then we organize that data and visualize it using Google Data Studio to show real-time progress against those goals. That way, our team and our clients can see what’s working and what’s not, and more importantly, why?
If you’re looking for a better process to manage your team’s data, connect the dots, and visualize business impact, try starting here. You can get a feel for the approach and use our step-by-step guide to develop your own SMART objectives. Then, dig in deeper with measurement specific to your PR program. These will help you identify meaningful goals and metrics that inform decision-making and enable you to make course corrections along the way.
IV. Brand Framework
This helps us answer: Is this true to our brand strategy?
A brand identity lives and breathes through marketing communications. At INK, we may have created the brand identity or inherited it – but this step is the same either way. We identify and fill any holes or sources of confusion in our clients’ brand guides to ensure they are complete and useful. Then we pull out the big picture intent of a brand framework to inform storylines, content, and campaigns that support that framework.
Our PR, content, digital, and design teams adapt brand identity into channel strategy and content daily. So our clients’ brand identities must be clear and understood to guide consistent brand voice and storytelling.
Applying the Imperatives
Scalable strategy is only as good as it is useful, so we hold collaborative sessions with our teams to implement these four pillars. We get to know our clients’ customers and develop empathy for their challenges. We internalize the market insights and strategize how to apply the intelligence in focused, 360-degree marketing communications campaigns.
This process generates big ideas and ensures every team member understands who and what matters most to client success. They use this understanding for planning but also to make faster decisions in the moment, allowing for flexibility and creativity without losing sight of goals and key audiences. That’s real-time leadership.
Scalable Strategy Enables Agility
Scaling strategy is about right-sizing research and analysis, so every team member is equipped with the intelligence they need to make smart decisions in planning, channel strategy, and day-to-day execution.
On any given day, our teams are pitching hundreds of reporters, conversing with industry analysts, and designing all sorts of content and assets for different owned and paid channels. They are weighing client needs, trending topics, media preferences, POV and brand voice, messaging and data, and looming deadlines. There are so many quick decisions made every day in the execution of an integrated marketing program.
At this scale of effort, being grounded in strategy is the most important thing you can do for your program. It is essential to prioritize resources and make progress on the goals that matter. It not only aligns everyone in the moment, but it helps the team ask and answer important questions. That allows for real-time adjustment while keeping eyes on the prize: your customers and top business goals.