How to Create a Communication Strategy for Your Business [+ Free Templates]

In the fast-paced world of modern business, effective communication is the glue that holds organizations together. It ensures employees are aligned and engaged, customers are informed and delighted, and stakeholders are bought in to the company‘s vision.

Yet many organizations struggle with communication challenges that cost them productivity, innovation and growth. A recent study by Grammarly and The Harris Poll found that:

  • Companies lose an average of $12,506 per employee every year due to ineffective communication
  • 86% of employees and executives cite ineffective communication as a reason for workplace failures
  • 63% of employees consider quitting due to poor communication by their employer

Clearly, getting communication right is both critical and difficult. That‘s where a strategic approach comes in. By developing a communication strategy, organizations can move from reactive, ad hoc communication to proactive, purposeful messaging that drives business results.

What is a Communication Strategy?

A communication strategy is a plan that defines how an organization will share information with its key stakeholders to achieve specific objectives. It‘s a roadmap for what to communicate, who to communicate to, when to communicate, and what channels to use.

The key components of a communication strategy include:

Component Description
Goals & Objectives What the organization wants to achieve through communication, such as increasing employee engagement or improving customer satisfaction
Audience Segments The key stakeholder groups that need to be communicated with, such as employees, customers, partners, investors, etc.
Messaging & Positioning The key points the organization wants to get across to each audience, and how it wants to be perceived
Communication Channels The methods and media used to deliver messages to each audience, such as email, meetings, intranets, social media, etc.
Timeline & Responsibilities When communication will happen, how frequently, and who is accountable for creating and delivering messages
Metrics & KPIs How the organization will measure the effectiveness of its communication strategy and track progress toward goals

By documenting each of these elements in a communication strategy, organizations ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward common goals. It provides a framework for creating and delivering consistent, targeted messaging across the enterprise.

Why You Need a Communication Strategy

Too often, organizations communicate reactively – sending out messages ad hoc in response to events or requests. Without a strategic framework to operate within, communication easily becomes scattered, siloed and misaligned.

Proactive, purposeful communication guided by a strategy enables:

  • Faster, better decision-making by keeping stakeholders informed
  • Consistency of messaging across channels and initiatives
  • More efficient use of communication resources and reduced duplication of effort
  • Better ability to manage and respond to change
  • Stronger relationships with key audiences based on transparency and trust

A documented strategy gets everyone rowing in the same direction and provides guideposts for navigating challenges or opportunities that arise. As the business grows and evolves, the communication strategy can flex to remain relevant and impactful.

How to Develop a Communication Strategy

Creating a robust communication strategy involves several key steps:

1. Assess the current state

Communication Audit - Identifying Challenges and Opportunities

The first step is to evaluate your organization‘s existing communication practices and performance. Conduct a communication audit to gather data on:

  • How information currently flows between departments and functions
  • Stakeholder feedback on communication quality, cadence and channels
  • Strengths and weaknesses of communication content and delivery
  • Level of leadership visibility and transparency
  • Metrics like employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and brand reputation

Look for patterns and themes in the data to identify your biggest areas for improvement. Analyze communication pain points like:

  • Inconsistent messaging across channels
  • Communication happening in silos
  • Information overload and lack of prioritization
  • Slow flow of information up and down the organization
  • No clear process for gathering and acting on employee/customer feedback

Establishing a baseline of current performance gives you a clear "before" picture to measure progress against. It ensures your strategy will target the highest priorities.

2. Clarify objectives and success metrics

Communication Objectives - Defining Success

Using insights from your current state assessment, define measurable objectives for your communication strategy. What outcomes do you want to achieve by improving communication in your organization?

Effective communication objectives are SMART:

  • Specific – focused on a single key result
  • Measurable – tied to a quantifiable metric
  • Achievable – realistic given resources and time constraints
  • Relevant – aligned to broader business goals
  • Time-bound – have a set end date to work toward

Some examples of SMART communication objectives:

  • Improve company-wide employee engagement scores by 25% by the end of Q4
  • Increase customer satisfaction ratings by 10 points within 6 months
  • Achieve an average email open rate of 60%+ on the monthly customer newsletter
  • Secure at least 10 positive media placements for our new product launch this year

Attach KPIs and timeframes to each objective so you can regularly report on progress. Clarify how you will gather the data to measure success. Objectives keep your strategy focused and accountable.

3. Understand your audiences

Impactful communication is tailored to the needs and preferences of specific audiences. Most organizations have a range of stakeholders to consider, each with unique relationships to the business:

Audience Relationship Communication Needs
Employees Internal stakeholders responsible for executing company strategy Need to be informed and engaged to perform at a high level
Customers External stakeholders who purchase the company‘s products/services Need proactive communication to derive full value from their purchase
Partners External stakeholders who sell or support the company‘s offerings Need enablement and alignment to effectively represent the brand
Investors External stakeholders who provide capital to fund the business Need transparency to make informed decisions about their investment
Community External stakeholders impacted by the company‘s operations Need information and consultation to build trust and social license

Within each high-level audience, there may be sub-segments to consider based on demographics, behaviors, needs or preferences. For example, you may need to communicate differently with:

  • Millennial vs. Baby Boomer employees
  • High-value vs. low-value customers
  • Channel partners vs. strategic alliances
  • Institutional vs. retail investors
  • Local vs. national community members

Effective audience analysis identifies the key segments to communicate with and builds a rich profile of their unique attributes. It answers questions like:

  • What motivates this audience? What are their pain points?
  • What information is most relevant and valuable to them?
  • How do they prefer to receive communication?
  • What do we want this audience to think, feel and do?

Use a combination of quantitative research like surveys and qualitative insights from interviews or focus groups to really understand your target audiences. Empathy mapping is a useful exercise to get inside their heads.

4. Craft compelling messages

Compelling messages are the foundation of your communication strategy. You‘ll need a messaging architecture that articulates:

  • Your brand‘s unique value proposition and differentiators
  • The key points you want to reinforce with each audience
  • Answers to common questions or objections
  • Specific calls-to-action you want each audience to take

Aim for short, memorable and repeatable messages that will resonate with your audiences and spur them to action. Make them clear, consistent and relevant rather than generic.

Here are a few messaging best practices:

  • Lead with what‘s most important to the audience
  • Write headings & key phrases that are easy to remember and repeat
  • Speak to shared values and common ground
  • Provide supporting proof points for credibility
  • Use concrete, vivid language that paints a mental picture
  • Adapt the tone and vocabulary to the audience
  • Include a specific, actionable call-to-action

Remember that it‘s not just what you say, but how you say it that influences how audiences perceive and respond to your messages. Striking the right tone – whether that‘s empathetic, confident, playful or serious – is key.

5. Choose the right channels

The medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said. The channels you use to communicate signal the importance of the information and influence how audiences engage with it.

Your communication strategy should include an integrated channel mix that reaches audiences where they are with the right level of depth and interaction. Consider channels across the spectrum from one-way, one-to-many to two-way, one-to-one:

Communication Channels - Matching Medium to Message

Channel Type Uses Best for
Email One-way, one-to-many or one-to-one Newsletters, updates, promotions, transactional messages When you need broad reach, trackable delivery and click-through
Intranet One-way, many-to-many Document repository, knowledge management, collaboration Making resources accessible to employees anytime, anywhere
Team messaging Two-way, one-to-one or one-to-few Quick questions, collaboration, informal conversation Fast-paced, conversational communication
Video One-way, one-to-many Live or recorded messages, training, employer branding Putting a face to leadership communications, explaining complex topics
Meetings Two-way, one-to-one or one-to-few Decision-making, problem-solving, feedback, training Collaboration, deep discussion, and driving alignment
Social media Two-way, one-to-many Brand awareness, thought leadership, customer engagement Reaching external audiences with snackable content
Print One-way, one-to-many Magazines, direct mail, signage Immersive, lean-back consumption of long-form content

Choose channels based on the complexity and sensitivity of the information and the action you want audiences to take. Consider their communication preferences and normal workflows. Aim to meet them where they already spend time.

An integrated, multi-channel approach creates surround sound that reinforces key messages. Just ensure that the core narrative is consistent across channels even as the delivery and detail is tailored to each medium.

6. Train & support communicators

Implementing your communication strategy requires engaging stakeholders across the organization, not just professional communicators. From executives doing town halls to managers facilitating team meetings, everyone has a role to play in delivering consistent, effective communication.

To set distributed communicators up for success:

  • Clearly define their roles and responsibilities in executing the communication strategy
  • Share key messages in an easy-to-digest message matrix that shows what to say to each audience
  • Provide message training to build their communication skills and confidence
  • Create an editorial calendar that maps out communication initiatives and deliverables
  • Offer ongoing coaching and feedback to continually sharpen their saw

Developing a network of capable communicators expands the reach and impact of your strategy. It allows you to engage audiences through the voices they know and trust – their leaders, managers and colleagues. Authenticity and relevance are essential to cut through the clutter.

7. Measure, analyze & optimize

As with any strategic initiative, it‘s important to track and report on the performance of your communication strategy over time. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures mapped to your objectives, like:

  • Email & newsletter metrics (opens, click-through rate, forwards)
  • Intranet & resource portal metrics (page views, time on page, file downloads)
  • Social media metrics (likes, shares, comments, mentions)
  • Employee engagement survey scores
  • Customer satisfaction & net promoter scores
  • Feedback from town halls, focus groups and 1:1 conversations
  • Stakeholder interviews on communication perceptions & needs

Regularly review your metrics to see what‘s working and where there are gaps. Use A/B tests to optimize subject lines, creative, timing and other variables. Stay flexible to add or prune channels and tactics based on your learnings.

Remember that communication strategies are iterative, not one-and-done. As your business and audiences evolve, your strategy will need to keep pace. Build in quarterly reviews to check strategic alignment and annually refresh your plan.

Free Communication Strategy Templates

Developing your communication strategy doesn‘t have to start from scratch. These customizable templates jump-start your efforts:

Download them today to fast-track your communication strategy development.

Conclusion

In an era of information overload and constant change, crisp, compelling communication has never been more important – or more challenging. But with an intentional, audience-centric communication strategy, your organization can inform and engage the people who matter most to your success.

The key is treating communication as a strategic discipline on par with functions like finance, HR and product. Invest the time upfront to dig into audience needs, craft resonant messaging and build an integrated channel and content mix. Then implement with discipline while staying agile to optimize as you learn.

By following the proven process laid out in this guide and taking advantage of the templates provided, you can align and empower your organization to deliver maximum impact through communication. When everyone understands the strategy and their role in bringing it to life, you‘ll be unstoppable.