Planning for business communications and making it more effective. Effective communications is the final objective. Here's how.

Making Business Communication Work

Planning for effective communications
Communications a very important management tool, and having control over it is vital. This requires right planning, right execution, and right evaluation (pre and post) against defined and clear objectives.

The planning process in communications is most important because it results in the ultimate payoff - impact and result -- of the communication. There are systematic ways for planning and carrying out communications in business.

George T. Vardaman, of the College of Business Administration, University of Denver, USA, suggests following a simple formula in acronym TRIM. In this he suggests definition and planning the to whom, what, when and where of communications:
 

T

=

Target or mission, or purpose of the communication.

=

Receiver to whom the communication is addressed, and the needs of the this audience.

=

Impact or result that is desired and with what influence.

M

=

Methods or media which must be employed to get the desired result.

The TRIM formula can give you very effective communications and presentation control, so that your time and efforts can be productively channeled and bring you results you want.

Outlining and evaluating your ideas
On the basis of defined objectives and target audiences, it is necessary that the communication is concise, clear and complete. It must be organised keeping in mind the receiver's roles, attitudes and desired behavior. It must be built to make the necessary impact - attract attention, providing new insight, handling objections, dramatizing and validating special effects, and the like that is desired. I t must also incorporate the right media, devices and technology.

It is often necessary to get a "pre launch" assessment on business communications for greater effectiveness. Sometimes this may be just an informal and perfunctory check or test. A more important and formal communication may require a careful and formal testing to achieve the objective or mission.

In many cases even a "post launch" research is essential to gauge the effectiveness and the results obtained from the communication. It is necessary to see the shift that has been achieved with regard to benchmarked pre and post communication situations. As a result the follow-up of the communication may require one or a combination of three options:

  1. Nothing more may be needed, if the impact and results are as you wanted.

  2. Additional and possibly revised communication may be needed.

  3. There may be need to capitalize on the favorable or positive outcome of the communication.

What should be communicated. And when
Success in business is characterized by an emphasis on getting things done, on results rather than just interactions. The same applies for communications in business. A model developed by Joe Luft and Harry Ingram called Johari Windows puts this into perspective.


                                    Johari Windows

Each of the four windows in the chart depends on the amount of information known. The public area refers to values, attitudes, interests, and motivations that are known to us. The blind area represents what others see in us and of which we are not aware. The private area is what is kept hidden and not shared with others. Finally, the unknown area is an area neither known to us or to others.

The model suggests that it is possible to make our communications more effective by reducing the blind and private areas in business. We must be more open and transparent depending on the requirements of the organizational needs and situations.

Knowing when to communicate is again vital, but seldom given serious consideration. Managers and professionals can size up when to communicate by following five steps:

  1. Knowing the negative or positive symptoms for the need to communicate.

  2. Knowing the type of communication required.

  3. Knowing the cost-benefit of communicating.

  4. Knowing the feasibility of communicating -where and how.

  5. Knowing the results desired or expected from communicating.

Communications strategies today have a role to play and must be objective oriented and focussed, timely and making full use of the resources available. You can assess beyond doubt when and what type of communication is called for. Just as important, you can determine when communication is not needed, thus avoiding unnecessary costs and problems.

Putting ideas together
Putting ideas together is about organizing and developing your communication. The way you put together your ideas determines how you will give out the information and how well your target audiences will receive your message - with what impact and result. This is vital to the success of business communications.

It is worthwhile to examine methods for putting ideas into a communicable form. For instance:

  1. Structuring ideas for the target group they are for.

  2. Building logical sequences.

  3. Building psychological sequences.

  4. Developing core ideas from the lot.

  5. Having proper introductions and conclusions.

However, in any situation success of the communication will directly depend on the quality of the ideas and their development within the larger objectives.

Target group orientation in communications
While communication can be better if you know your objective, greater effectiveness lies in hitting the right target audience in conjunction with their predominant communication needs. In this, there are five receiver types, which need to be understood and tackled:

  1.  Apathetic

  2. Sophisticated

  3. Hostile

  4. Credent

  5. Critical

You may have the most important message, delivered in the most creative manner, but if strikes the wrong chord in the audience the communication will fail. You must overcome receiver apathy, draw attention and sustain interest.

Some of the techniques used by professional communicators are:

  1. Shock - startle, shake or surprise the audience.

  2. Suspense - keeping them guessing.

  3. Humor - in language or situation to overcome apathy.

  4. Novelty - something new or innovative or creative.

  5. Familiarity - keeping audience interest through something known.

  6. An inside story - something to do with behind the scene activities.

Visual and other devices - in presentation, like demo, audiovisual, case-studies, and anecdotes.

In doing this one must at the same time be careful in selecting appropriate techniques, avoid talking down to the audience, be natural and avoid being condescending towards people. Try and induce a new receiver perspective, if possible. Try and monitor communications. If it exposes weaknesses it is essential that corrective action be taken. Monitoring must be dependent on feedback received from the audience through formal and informal channels.

Key audiences in business communications
In communication what motivates a person or a group may not always motivate another. It is the discovery of these motivations, which makes or breaks communications. There is the human side and the business side. This makes communication challenging.

Among the key types of audiences communications have to address in an organization are: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, financial institutions and financial publics, media, government and government bodies, social service associations and NGOs, industry associations and professional bodies. All organizations have to deal with and handle one or more of these at any given point of time and situation.

The question of effective communication with the right target group is further broken down into the desired response on the message in terms of:

  • Target beliefs -- rational response.

  • Target feelings -- emotional response.

  • Target reactions -- response to senses.

It is based on this that the actual communication (message) is evolved and decided upon.

Vance Packard in his best-selling book, in the 60s, tilted "Hidden Persuaders" linked business communication and selling to a hierarchy of eight human motivations:

  1. Communicating emotional security -- a feeling of well being and safety

  2. Selling reassurance of worth -- a feeling of value for money and a sense of pride

  3. Communicating ego-gratification -- a feeling of being better than the Jones's

  4. Selling creative outlets -- a feeling of satisfaction at being able to do something oneself

  5. Selling love objects -- a feeling of love, tenderness, affection, etc.

  6. Communicating a sense of power -- a feeling of masculinity (machoness)

  7. Communicating a sense of roots -- happy days memories, reminiscences

  8. Selling immortality -- a feeling of freedom from danger to life

Communicators have to be more adept and skilled to handle their target audiences through meaningful messages and appeals. Today, people have undergone a quantum change in their mental make-up, values, attitudes, and beliefs. It is now vitally important to understand their demographic status as well as psychological factors to motivate them.

Another widely used approach in communications is the Values & Lifestyles (VAL's) approach designed by Stanford University Research Institute. According to this approach there are five broad types of audiences and receivers in a communication situation, which need to be understood for effectiveness:

  1. The Belongers

  2. The Emulators

  3. The Emulator Achievers

  4. The Societally Conscious Achievers

  5. The Need Directed

Each of these has a special driving force within them, which clued-in communicators seek to appeal with appropriate and right messages and appeals.

The importance of the audience is largely dependent on the organization, the communication objectives and situation, and the market needs. A direct and focussed approach is what is required in successful communications.

Using the right tool in communications
All good communications come to a naught without use of the right tool (medium) of communication. The right medium is determined by the situational requirements in the organization -- at the internal and external level in the first instance, and then at the personal level in both.

Internal communications
Good communications help employees to understand the company's goals and enhance their knowledge of opportunities or constraints faced by the company. As a result employees perform better and become more committed towards the organizations success. There is also better job satisfaction among employees. Employee communications must always be a priority for top management.

Good communication is often hard to measure. But its effects are not "soft". It helps bridge gaps between employees' self interest and management objectives through insight and with desired impact.

External communications
The emphasis in external communications at the organizational level is on the successes as well as problems, and the reasons for that. This information should be provided a part of a regular program of public relations, advertising, and marketing communications, thereby building favorable and positive corporate image.

Projecting and giving of information, ideas and concepts may be at four broad levels:

  • Corporate image

  • Product/Service features and benefits

  • Public or social service

  • Public Relations

Commercial sensitivity of some information and management fears of breaches of confidentiality is frequently cited as obstacles of this kind of communications. However, the need for confidentiality about specific matters rarely justifies a restrictive approach in external communications.

Three forms of communication media/tools
There are three general forms of media used in internal and external communications, depending on the objectives of the organization and the communications situation. These are: a) audiovisual, b) written, and c) human or personal. Each has it's advantages and used in different combination and permutation for effectiveness and success.

Communication is a form and means of leadership. The best communicators (persons and corporates) are those who see their position as a journey and not a destination.

Advertising communications
Advertising is a paid form of communication intended to inform and influence a set of target audiences. It is communicating and influencing to do something (generally buy a product or service) or think or believe something (idea or concept). It does it through information and persuasion. Messages and appeals in words, pictures and colors. In print, audiovisual and now virtual or digital form.

There are five broad and purposeful categories of advertising communications today:

  1. Product or service advertising

  2. Corporate or institutional advertising

  3. Recruitment advertising

  4. Financial advertising

  5. Public service or social advertising

Advertising has become a necessary and essential communications tool in business. The main players in this are the Client (company), the target audience, the media channels, and the advertising agency. They are partners in the business of advertising communications and the relationship between them is of crucial importance in the success of advertising.

In a broad sense advertising objectives are of two kinds:

  1. To inform, educate and create awareness

  2. To sell, persuade and get some action

Put in an old formula advertising helps, and must:
 

A

-- Attract

I

-- Interest

D

-- Create a desire

C

-- Convince

A

-- Get action

Therefore, the statement of advertising objectives should indicate what the advertising is expected to do in terms of target audience awareness, perceptions and behavior. And whether it will work alone or in conjunction with other activities in the communications strategy and mix. In every case the desired end results should be measurable.

Promotions
Sales promotions are of two broad types requiring tailored communication inputs:

  1. Consumer Promotions

  2. Trade Promotions

They differ in the intrinsic incentives or reasons to buy differ between the two groups. Several factors need to be considered when establishing the guidelines for communications in the promotions -- objectives, strategy, competition and competitive activities, lessons learnt from previous promotion, seasonality and budgetary constraints. Tracking the success of the promotion and the communications is also very essential. This should be weighed against the total cost of the promotion -- including advertising.

Public Relations
Public Relations is a function that seeks to create and maintain an image through a two-way communication between the organization and its target publics. PR is among the most invisible functions in a company, yet it is one of the most important one in internal and external communications of the company. PR must not be too loud or appear to be self-serving and thus stay away from unnecessary "hard-sell" communications.

Public Relations to be effective must be very much objective oriented and based on performance. One must remember that PR cannot change what is black to white. It must always be ethical and true in execution. Tracking the success or failure of PR is similarly critical to building long-term understanding, relationships, and image of the organization.

Direct Marketing
Today direct marketing has gained a major share of importance as a communications and marketing technique. Besides Direct Mail it includes a gamut of activities such as direct response advertising, telemarketing, mail order services, etc. It works in coordination of other marketing activities - especially advertising. It works well when it supports and is supported with mass media communications.

It is a recent development where the company communicates and sells directly to the consumer instead of going through a middle party (trade). Even the customer deals and communicates directly with the company. Therefore it enables organizations with high value and specialty products, as well as low value mass products to profit from the power of focussed communications and sales campaigns.

Contrary to the common belief that direct marketing is only a tactical tool, the most enlightened definition of direct marketing highlights the strategic relationship with the customer which results in profits and bottom line. It implies and concerns much more than short-term results, it is very much a long-term relationship building tool. The right mix of mass media advertising and direct marketing have a significant impact on the success of the organizations external communications at the brand, product or service level.