Words matter. This is particularly true for words that represent the personality, mission, and objectives of an organization. A corporation, after all, can’t rely on body language to fill in where words may fall short. That’s why companies need a structured and disciplined corporate communications strategy — to ensure that prospects, customers, employees, and stakeholders hear a consistent voice that reinforces the organization’s brand identity.
So what is corporate communication?
Corporate communication encompasses the various ways businesses engage and interact with their audiences. Those audiences include internal employees as well as external groups such as shareholders, prospects, customers, suppliers, regulatory agencies, and the general public.
The communication itself can, and will, take many forms. The organization might share information with employees through digital newsletters, recorded or live video, and face-to-face meetings. Customers and prospects might see social media posts, advertising campaigns, emails, press releases, and videos. They may also have direct interaction with employees. And shareholders will get news releases, financial statements, and annual reports.
Why is corporate communication important?
An organization is always reinforcing its brand identity, whether the company has a corporate communication strategy or not. Internal and external audiences are constantly forming opinions that shape this. An employee’s satisfaction with her employer, for example, is based on what happens every day at the office. A customer’s perception of a company and its products can easily swing not only from enthusiasm to indifference but to dislike. It only takes a negative service experience, a conversation with a friend, or unflattering news or social media coverage to cause these shifts.
The goal of a corporate communication strategy is to shape those opinions proactively. An organization simply cannot achieve lasting success without maintaining a consistent and positive image among key audiences. A good reputation as an employer helps attract and retain the best talent (we talk about how to do that here). Being known for quality products and customer-centric service improves customer conversions. Earn the trust of shareholders and more investors want to get involved. Other audiences follow the same pattern based on communications and actions.
Managing perception across different audiences consistently is not a simple task. Even in very small organizations, multiple departments and even employees create and distribute communications. That fact practically ensures inconsistency when there’s no overarching communication strategy in place. These potential inconsistent communications blur and chip away at your brand image, regardless of how strong your products and services are.
Developing and enforcing a corporate communication strategy enables your managers, marketers, and content creators to align around a uniform brand image. It governs how and when you communicate to customers, employees, and stakeholders, and how you diffuse bad press and maximize good press.
Creating a corporate communication strategy for your business
A workable corporate communication strategy isn’t created by a single person in a vacuum. Key leaders should collaborate on this process, using the organization’s top-level goals as guides. Here’s an overview of the process.
1. Decide what the organization should embody
The job of your corporate communication strategy is to develop and reinforce your company’s brand image. Start by defining a brand image that’s both realistic and supportive of the organization’s goals. What do you want your company to represent for employees, customers, and stakeholders? How do you impact their lives? What qualities differentiate you from competitors? Is there evidence to back up your claims?
2. Measure the image gap
Your desired brand image and what your audiences actually think of the organization could be two wildly different things. If they are, your communication strategy needs to knock down the old perceptions and build new ones. Your strategy will be different if you only need to reinforce a brand image that has already been built. That’s why it is crucial to measure where you are today and compare to where you want to be.
Whether it’s through surveys, interviews, or scouring the internet, it is critical to get a handle on your brand image as it stands today. By comparing that to the brand image you want, you can explore that gap and naturally be led to key communication objectives.
3. Define communication objectives
With the help of your leaders, flesh out those communication objectives into a prioritized list. Whenever possible, define objectives specifically and with the key performance indicators or metrics you’ll use to measure your progress. Make sure those objectives tie clearly back to the organization’s overall mission and vision and what you want the company to represent.
4. Consider organizational structure and resources
The implementation of your corporate communications strategy likely falls to multiple teams or individuals. Human resources, branding, marketing, public relations, and investor relations will all have a hand in implementing, if not developing, the strategy. If you have a flat organizational structure or disparate teams working independently, it may be tough to get everyone aligned around the same plan.
Consider what organizational changes you might need for your strategy to be successful. Options include restructuring teams or adding a communications leader with dotted line authority over key content creators.
If you need help, learn more about our consulting services.
5. Build out and test channels and messaging styles
Next, build action steps to support your communication objectives. These steps might define specific messaging, but also consider where you communicate and how often. Remember to also develop a plan for communicating in crisis situations, which may demand a different tone and response than ongoing marketing and employee engagement initiatives (check out our Incident Response Planning guide).
This process will be different for every industry and every organization. In a young organization, you might end up reshaping your internal and external communication practices from the ground up. In a mature organization, you might only need to adjust what your teams are already doing.
6. Implement, gather feedback, refine
As you roll out your action steps, keep gathering feedback internally and externally on what’s working and what’s not. Use that feedback to refine and improve your approach. Longer-term, you’ll also periodically evaluate your objectives, updating your action steps as needed. This process can continue indefinitely and hopefully, in time, you’ll develop an efficient corporate communications program that’s fully aligned with your organization’s key goals.