The holiday season will soon be upon us and it won’t be long until we’re all overwhelmed with invites to client and supplier Christmas parties, branded corporate gifts and festive-themed ‘thank you for your support’ emails and cards.
It’s that one time of year when every brand and organisation is in the spirit of giving and while that’s nice, the Christmas communications buzz is more often than not a one-off event and a wasted opportunity.
We can easily go all year without hearing from some suppliers, brands we buy from, not-for-profits we donate to, or even the heads of our own large corporate organisations. Then comes the token Christmas email – usually rather generic – thanking us for our involvement over the year and asking us for our support going into the next.
Not only do these out-of-the-blue communications feel awkward – kind of like having a conversation with the great aunt you only hear from on the phone every December – but they feel inauthentic and can do more harm than good for your reputation and stakeholder relationships.
Regular communication is the way to show you care
If you’re only communicating at Christmas because it’s the ‘done thing’– stop right there! If you want the people that matter to your brand or organisation to feel genuinely valued, your Christmas communication needs to be part of a wider programme of regular communications and engagement.
Before hitting send on that holiday email, pause and think:
How often are you communicating with your stakeholders at other times throughout the year?
Do you thank donors and staff members for their contributions at the time?
Do you keep your supporters up-to-date on your brand or organisation’s successes?
Do you ever get in touch without a ‘sell’?
Do you offer genuinely useful advice for free?
Do you give access to basic templates and downloads that clients can use to help themselves?
If your answer to one or more of these questions is no, you could be on the path to a rocky relationship with your clients, potential customers, donors, staff and anyone else you communicate with. Your awkward annual Christmas message will only reinforce that.
You need to connect with your stakeholders regularly in a way that adds value for them – without asking for anything! Regular and sustained communication is the key to building strong relationships of all kinds and good communication is essential to doing good business.
Build a strong foundation with a communications plan
So how could you improve your brand or organisation’s communications beyond Christmas? Have a plan for 2019! A good plan is the foundation on which you will build real relationships with the people you care about. This plan might start with your Christmas thank you email (please make this simple and useful for your audience), digital campaign, sale or festive event – but it shouldn’t end there.
You need to map out a plan for regular contact with your stakeholders across the year. For some it might be as simple as getting in touch once a quarter with updates and ways for them to get involved with your brand or organisation (that don’t involve buying stuff every time).
What should be in this strategic plan?
A very basic communications plan for 2019 might include:
1. Goals: Your overarching communications, marketing and/or PR goals for the year
2. Audiences: The specific stakeholder groups you interact with and what you want to achieve by communicating with them – external and internal. This might include enhancing relationships with regular donors through consistent news about your progress as an organisation, increasing staff awareness of your business successes through regular updates, or converting your email sign-ups to customers and brand advocates over time.
3. Key messages: What are the key pieces you need to consistently communicate about your brand? What conversation do you need to have with each of your stakeholder groups to increase their brand engagement and have an influence? How are you going to show them you care and how will you get them to care? This usually includes messages that address their problems, concerns, challenges, needs, aspirations and goals, and make them feel a certain way.
4. Methods: The channels and tactics you’ll use to connect with each of these stakeholder groups – online and offline. This might include your website, social media, influencer-marketing, e-mail, media pitches and coverage, articles in your local paper, flyers, stakeholder events, billboards, television advertisements and much more. The most important thing to remember is that the channels and tactics you choose need to be executed either in-house within your team’s resources or within your budget over the course of the year and longer-term.
5. Implementation plan: Who is doing what and when? Where will the message go and how regularly? Map out your communications tasks throughout the year in a calendar or project management system, assign them to relevant team members or contractors and engage in regular follow-up to make sure they happen!
Communicate around key dates, then add value
If you hit a standstill with your planning, a good place to fall back to is your key dates as a brand or organisation. Grab a calendar and pop in your key campaigns, sales dates, new stock intakes, donation drives, awareness weeks, busy periods and so on.
Next, write down who needs to know about each of these key dates and the channels you can use to build awareness. Working backwards from each key date, logically plan when you’ll implement your communications, for example your email invitation to an event (always allow design, copywriting and sign-off time), your Facebook promotion of the same event, and your post-event media announcement.
Then add the value pieces into your calendar for the year. How can you provide useful content or engage in a meaningful way with your stakeholders at other times of the year? Pop these tasks in at times when you know you won’t be busy with your key dates. Value-adding communications (commonly referred to as content marketing) might include advice blogs, how-to videos, donor snapshots and thank-yous, infographics – any useful information that is genuinely helpful and interesting for your audience.
Get started this side of Christmas
Make Christmas your time to start connecting, not the time to finish the year. Go into 2019 with a plan and be ready to start enhancing those all important business relationships before anyone else has even made it back into the office.
Before you know it, you’ll be ready to head into the new year with an actionable plan for loving the heck out of your existing customers, donors and supporters, plus attracting new audience members – without trying to close a sale in every communication.
If you get stuck, need a sounding board, or someone to find the gaps in your communications and marketing mix, give us a bell. We’re big on making effective communication sustainable, no matter your budget.