How to make sure your story isn’t left on the shelf!

Are you thinking about running a campaign to attract new customers? Are you thinking about how to keep in touch with existing clients? Maybe you are thinking about telling your target audience about changes to your business? Regardless of your reason for communicating, the planning principles should always remain the same:  WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY & HOW (often referred to as the 5W’s & 1H).

These principles are often used in problem solving, research and project management but they are also crucial elements to a good solid communications plan. Many people think that a plan needs to be a big corporate document with loads of pages, chapters and appendices but it doesn’t need to be this onerous. All it needs is structure, substance and actions, you will then be able to reach your intended audience with impact. The planning principles of 5W’s & 1H will give your communications plan all that it needs.

I remember writing my very first ‘comms’ plan. I was given a “corporate template” so I thought since I was the newbie (and wanted to impress), I better use it! I spent hours designing the front cover and weeks writing the content. The plan was huge, and it had everything in it. Good job I didn’t need to fly anywhere with my big plan as it would have exceeded the luggage allowance! Anyway, there I was with my big chunky plan, ready to communicate to the world! Looking back, I’m not embarrassed by my plan (every day is a school day!) as it held a lot of useful information but if I had only known then, what I know now, it could have been so much more effective. If I had simply thought about the 5W’s & 1H and not got caught up in corporate jargon, length, design etc. then my plan would have been clearer, stronger and more powerful. Also, on that occasion, I was given a lot of time to write the plan and this isn’t always possible. Sometimes opportunities come out of nowhere – something happens in your industry, and you need/want to communicate! Timing is therefore crucial and that’s where the 5W’s & 1H approach can be so effective – allowing you think clearly, plan effectively and act!

So, here’s some advice to make sure your story isn’t left on the shelf…

WHO do you want to talk to?
Who do you really want to be having conversations with, what do they look like, do you even know their name? These are the questions that you need to ask yourself when building a profile of your target audience. Be specific about who you want to target (it’s impossible to talk to everyone) and find out as much about them as you can! The more you know, the more you will be able to understand how they are likely to behave.

WHAT do you want to tell them?
What are your key messages? You have identified your target audience, so what do you really want to say? Be clear, to the point and make it worth their while. Also make sure you leave an impression, so they don’t forget you or your business (remember, it’s a good impression!). TheWHAT’ also allows you to think about what resources and budget you will need to execute your communications activity so be mindful about capacity.

WHERE do you want this conversation to happen?
What channels are you going to use to talk to your target audience? Do they like being online or do they like traditional print? Are they using social media, if so, what channels are they on and more importantly are you on the same channels, so you can start a conversation? Wherever your audience is, you need to be there. Make sure you are nice and cosy beside them, keeping eyes on them always!

WHEN do you want to talk?
Timing is everything. Do you need to communicate with your audience now or are you scheduling a time to convey your message? When will they be ready to listen to you? The rest of your plan could be amazing but if you go ‘out, out’ at the wrong time, no one will hear or see you. Find out the best time for your audience!

WHY do you want to talk?
Have a clear aim for engaging with your target audience – this could be a business objective or goal. What is it that you really want to achieve? Make sure you are clear on your purpose and make sure your target audience know why you are telling them what you are. What’s in it for them and what are the benefits to all involved?

Many people only use the 5W’s for their planning and argue that the ‘HOW’ (how are we going to do this?) is covered within the other principles. I would agree but I always keep the ‘HOW’ principle and change the question a little. I ask myself, HOW will I LISTEN to my audience? This is so important, yet it is often overlooked when planning. If you don’t listen (to feedback, good or bad), then the 5W’s won’t be effective, so please take time to think about HOW you will listen to your customer, client or target audience. If you don’t, do you really expect them to listen to you?

So, keep it simple. Take one piece of paper (or open a new word doc.) and write (or type) the six principles as headings. Note the answers underneath (in bullet points) and you have a communications plan! You still need to evaluate it frequently, adapt as you go and amend as you grow……….but as a successful business owners, you are doing this everyday anyway…..

Enjoy telling your story, it belongs to you after all.

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