Growing your business is a fundamental goal of nearly every organization. For companies in the science and technology sectors, especially, growth almost always equals innovation. Experts say there are only six ways to expand your business via innovation:
• New processes — Sell the same stuff at higher margins
• New experiences — Sell more of the same stuff to the same people
• New features — Sell enhanced stuff to the same people
• New customers — Sell more of the same stuff to new people
• New offerings — Make new stuff to sell
• New models — Sell stuff in a new way
Whether you’re developing new products, enhancing your existing products, or retooling your manufacturing processes to gain efficiencies and reduce costs, your strategic communications play a central role in everything you’re trying to accomplish. And even if you’re taking another approach to expanding your business, for example, through acquisitions or mergers, growing your workforce, or simply by changing your sales and marketing model, strategic communications still play a critical role in your success. This blog post will examine the value of internal and external strategic communications for business growth and illustrate this concept with three real-world examples.
You should consider your company’s corporate communications as a strategic tool for high performance and growth. Effective communications energize audiences, whether they are partners or potential investors, customers or suppliers. In other words, strategic communications are essential to innovation and business expansion, which is why strategic communications teams should be an integral component of any innovation process.
What exactly are strategic communications and why are they so important?
You’re strategic about your brand, your R&D investments, your customer service, payroll and compensation, and hiring process. It should be the same with your company’s communications. From internal announcements to annual reports, press releases, marketing initiatives, and everything in between, managing it all in an integrated, systemwide way will enable you to deliver powerful, engaging, aligned messages to all your stakeholders — including your leadership team, your employees, your investors, and your customers.
How can you approach your company’s communications in a strategic way?
Many companies approach communications as a supporting actor, if you will, with several different business units working independently on investor relations, public relations, marketing and advertising, and HR initiatives. But it’s never too late to adopt a strategic approach. Of course, you need the right people, the right tools, and the right processes if you want to send messages that inspire action.
If you’re serious about strategic communications, don’t leave it to internal groups to figure out — chances are they never even work together. They may be high performers in their own roles, but they’re probably not experienced in the very specific discipline of strategic communications. Establish an executive-level leader to signal the importance of this role. Let the leader recruit people with the right spirit and the right skill set — new players who can bring new approaches, methods, and the latest technologies, and who have the passion to create communications that will help you achieve your goals and make your company proud.
Don’t forget to include internal communications as a pillar in your strategic alignment — you need to fully engage your employees, too, as they are the front line of your brand and should be the strongest advocates of your products, services, and culture. Think of it this way: Employees can’t live your mission unless they understand your mission.
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The right set of tools will guide the planning and creative processes. Start with a messaging map that helps you identify each of your audiences, what their needs are, the best channels through which to reach them, what messages you want to convey, and the behaviors or outcomes you’re looking to generate.
Develop a set of brand standards, message frameworks, and strategic communication principles that will guide your internal team as well as their external partners. And don’t forget editorial calendars to help you plan rollout dates for key messages.
Despite all your best intentions, people and tools alone will not ensure success. A robust process for developing and launching a strategic communications plan that’s embraced throughout your company is just as important. Be sure the process includes key governance/approval milestones such as project initiation, concept and creative development, budget, and production and distribution.
How will strategic communications help your company grow?
Here are three compelling ways strategic communications can help you grow your business.
1: Strategic communications can help you start the growth process from the inside out.
EXAMPLE: A pharmaceutical manufacturer decided to expand its business by developing new, more efficient manufacturing processes that would cut costs by automating as much as possible. Leaders knew that these new processes would have an impact on front-line employees in their manufacturing facilities. It was critical that these employees understand the how and why of the efficiency solution — and even more important, that they embrace the change.
To meet its goals, the company developed a strategic communications plan that started with the front-line employees and moved outward. The plan included plant meetings for all three shifts, where plant leaders described the how and why of the company’s goals and asked employees for their suggestions for improving efficiency, which would become part of the planning process.
Once plant leaders had held all the meetings and gathered all the employee feedback, the communications team incorporated that feedback into corporate announcements for investors, the rest of the employees, and the media. They developed an internal campaign to message employees via email, the intranet, and even direct mail sent to their homes to convey the importance of these changes. The campaign included several feedback loops through polls and surveys to make sure workers were on board — and if they weren’t, what the issues were and how they could be addressed. The company even implemented an incentive program for employee suggestions that would reward workers for their ideas and contributions.
The outcome? Although process engineers were still designing the improved manufacturing processes, everyone at the company clearly understood the changes that were going to take place, how they would affect them, and why it was important to support the changes.
2: Building a strong, yet flexible, strategic communications capability can help you strengthen relationships and foster customer loyalty.
EXAMPLE: A tech company decided to expand its business by taking a new approach to the customer experience. The company’s goal was to strengthen its connections with customers by cultivating loyalty in order to increase retention and market share.
To meet its goals, company leaders needed a strategic communications plan for sending clear, consistent, compelling messages about their brand to engage their target customers. But the plan had to include more than just brand messaging. It had to announce the company’s powerful new approach to hosting customer meetings, participating in key conferences and other industry events, and expanding its presence in the marketplace — which was going to affect the sales force and the way it conducted business.
The communications team pulled together all the different threads of these changes and developed an integrated set of messages that could be implemented by their investor relations, public relations, marketing and advertising, and human resources teams. Most importantly, they worked with the sales team to develop targeted messages for their customers to roll out the new approach, including custom invitations to a first-ever Customer Summit, where customers would be invited to participate in the company’s planning processes for new products and services.
The outcome? Customers responded very positively, and attendance at the summit was even higher than expected. Sales grew by 12 percent in one year, and the sales force reported a higher level of satisfaction with their jobs as a result of better relationships with their customers. As time went on, the market shifted and the company faced both ups and downs. But because it had invested time and effort in customer relationships — by developing and implementing strategic communications — the company was better equipped to pivot more quickly and adapt to market changes.
3: Strategic communications can strengthen your company and your brand.
EXAMPLE: A medical device company with an excellent reputation among cardiologists decided to expand its business by developing and selling a new dental implant product that was not related to any of its current product lines. Part of its sales strategy would be marketing the new product to orthodontists, a sector of the healthcare industry that would not be familiar with the company or its brand. The company’s goal was to achieve $5 million in sales the first year.
To meet its goals, company leaders needed to not only launch the product and communicate its benefits, but to also introduce its well-established brand and reputation to this new market, using clear, consistent messages that differentiated the company from its competition.
The communications team focused on messages for the new market featuring the reputation the company had built for more than 50 years. They asked well-known cardiologists who highly valued their medical devices to provide testimonials.
The outcome? The company successfully launched the new product, exceeding its sales forecast by 10 percent. In the process, the company discovered that by integrating its history into the new brand messages to dental implant customers, they could strengthen their brand overall, enhancing and amplifying their existing brand messages to medical device customers. Company employees loved the new campaign, too, because it gave them a renewed sense of pride.
Connect with us to learn more
To learn more about using strategic communications to grow your business and how Cobalt helps science-focused companies with all aspects of communications, visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team. Among our many service offerings is an interactive session we can lead that will cover the role of strategic communications as an enabler of business growth and give attendees from your company an opportunity to practice the critical skills behind a successful communications mindset.