“We need to get our message out there.”
So begins many a first conversation between a communications agency and their potential new client.
You would think this would be music to a communicator’s ears. It isn’t.
Now is not the time for suggestions of advertising campaigns, PR initiatives or glossy new promotional materials. Nor is it the time to pull out the diary and start highlighting the dates of all relevant exhibitions and trade shows in the next 12 months.
Instead, it’s time for the difficult questions. These might include:
- What are your key business goals?
- How do you set and measure progress against them?
- Who are your customers?
- What do they want from you?
- How do you know this?
- How do you currently communicate with them?
- How do you know if this is working? (or not)
- Who are your main competitors?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
And on it goes. Questions like these may feel uncomfortable but they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t come as a surprise during your first conversation with a communications specialist either. Communication is, after all, a two-way process. Most professionals will encourage your business to develop effective ways of taking information in, as well as advising you on how to put information out.
It’s a similar approach to the ‘two ears, one mouth’ mantra that is often held up as good meeting etiquette. By spending time and effort listening to what your customers want from you – and how they prefer to be communicated with – you’ll be better able to direct your communications activities and spend. By keeping a close eye on activity in your sector – and your direct competitors – you’ll avoid making expensive mistakes, such as developing ‘new’ concepts that someone else has already brought to market.
Business listening shouldn’t be an isolated exercise – try to build research and evaluation into everything you do. Sounds complex and expensive? It really isn’t. Thanks to technology, the information is often right there in the form of analytics and insights – and some of these tools are completely free.
Not sure where to start? Ask that communications expert of yours. They’ll keep you right.
Clare Scott is a Communications Consultant and founder of CJS Communication & Marketing