A successful communication strategy should focus on growing your agency while also keeping current clients happy. Learn how to create one in this guide.
But agency communication goes far beyond project and client communication. You have to communicate with employees, partners, current and potential clients.
What ties all this communication together?
Your communication strategy.
This strategy deals with all the messy, complicated nuances of agency communication. From translating your values into marketing collateral to ironing out the kinks in your client emails, everything comes under the purview of your communication strategy.
As you can imagine, creating this strategy can be hard. So we put together this little guide to help you chart out a communication strategy that covers all your agency communication.
Crafting a Marketing Communications Strategy
Your marketing communications strategy defines how your agency represents itself in the market.
Think of it as the sum of all your external, non-client communication. From the blog posts you create to the case studies you promote, everything comes under the purview of your marketing communications strategy.
Crafting this strategy is a matter of translating your brand, positioning, and benefits into a format that meets market demands.
For instance, if you sell SEO services to doctors, your communication strategy would focus on:
- Creating messaging that identifies who you are and what you do (“SEO service providers to doctors”)
- Distributing this messaging on platforms where your target audience congregates
That’s the CliffsNotes version.
But as you probably know, the hard parts are figuring out your messaging. The insight that your agency sells ‘X’ to ‘Y’ audience for ‘Z’ can be surprisingly hard to arrive at.
And that’s exactly what your marketing communications strategy should tackle. I’ll cover the ‘how’ below.
1. Understand your positioning
As an agency, you operate in an industry where uniqueness is hard to cultivate and even harder to convey. Every agency sells digital marketing; what makes your approach special?
Since you can’t stand out through innovation, you have to stand out through positioning.
Positioning answers the question: “what do people think of when they think of your agency?”. It defines what you sell, how you sell it, and who you sell it to.
Clarity in positioning forms the bedrock of any agency communication strategy. You can’t execute on your marketing communications if you don’t know what you’re trying to sell.
We’ve covered agency positioning in the past. To create your communication strategy, there are a few things you should know:
- Your aspirations, i.e. what your agency would look like if you had all the resources and freedom in the world. This is your agency in its ideal state.
- Your reality, i.e. what resources and limitations you’re currently working with. These are the constraints you have to limit your ambitions to.
- Your values, i.e. what you believe in. More importantly, the beliefs you won’t compromise on.
- Your Reason – with a capital ‘R’, i.e. why you’re in the agency business in the first place.
Your positioning is essentially the intersection of these four things.
Distill them down to a single positioning statement. This statement should cover what you do, who you do it for (i.e. your target audience) and most importantly, why you do it.
Something like this:
2. Understand your audience
It’s always a surprise when you talk to agencies and find out that despite their marketing chops, they haven’t really figured out their target audience.
Partly, this is because focusing on a single audience group essentially means limiting your business. If you work only with doctors, you can’t have plumbers and mattress stores as clients lest you spread yourself too thin.
But if you want your marketing communications strategy to succeed, you absolutely need to drill down to your target audience.
This audience dictates three things:
- What values, services, and benefits you choose to highlight (and more importantly, what you choose to ignore)
- How you shape your message to appeal to audience preferences
- Where you distribute your message
More often than not, your target audience is built into your positioning. If you’ve positioned yourself as a “fast, affordable” service provider, you’re not going to get Fortune 500 clients and prestige projects.
So go back to your positioning. Ask yourself:
- What services can you sell with your existing resources?
- What opportunities does the market offer given your resources, values, and experience?
- Given the prevailing market conditions, what audience segment can you target?
There is no foolproof process to arrive at your target audience. You have to factor in your aspirations but temper them with reality. You might want Ford and Tesla as clients, but if there is an immediate opportunity to corner a local niche, you’ll have to find a balance between the two.
Once you have zeroed down on your audience, take time to truly understand them. This goes beyond customer personas and demographic research. Rather, you have to understand their pain points and how you can resolve them.
Research shows that conducting surveys and analyzing client data can improve the pitching process.
When you know your audience, you can start creating messaging that brings your marketing communication strategy together.
3. Understand your messaging
Your messaging translates your positioning into marketing collateral that your target audience can act upon. This is “how” part of your communication strategy where you figure out a) what to say, and b) where to say it.
For instance, you might find that your target audience frequently uses platforms like Clutch and Upcity to find its partner agencies. Your messaging approach, thus, would be to:
- Buy sponsored ads for specific listings on these platforms
- Promote testimonials from clients who represent your ideal audience
For this agency, buying sponsored ads on Clutch is a part of its market communication strategy.
Keep in mind that your messaging strategy is different from your messaging plan. The latter deals with the specifics of your marketing. The former focuses on the big picture ideas that you want to communicate.
How do you craft this messaging strategy? Once again, go back to your positioning and your target audience. Figure out:
- Where does your target audience hang out? What are their key pain points?
- How can you create messaging that addresses these pain points while highlighting your values and capabilities
- What are your capabilities and constraints? What platforms can you competently market on? Do these platforms have a sizeable presence of your target audience?
This is serious, long-term strategy focused work. Get your messaging wrong and you’ll have a hard time selling your ideas to potential clients. Get it right, however, and you’ll find that clients instantly “connect” with your agency. You don’t even have to hard-sell your services; clients understand your value proposition immediately.
But positioning, audience and messaging are only one part of your communication strategy. There’s also the matter of dealing with client communication.
We’ll cover this client communication strategy in the section below.
Developing a Client Communication Strategy
The agency-client relationship depends on communication more than most service-based businesses. Agencies aren’t just service providers; they are strategic, long-term partners. Free, comfortable communication is the bedrock of this partnership.
A successful client-focused communication strategy needs to tackle the issue of project communication. What you prioritize (and what you don’t) will depend a great deal on the preferences and priorities of your stakeholders.
How to create a project communication strategy
Regardless of which project management methodology you follow, a communication plan likely forms a core part of your PM approach.
A project communication strategy outlines the general strategic approach you’d adopt for creating these communication plans. The plan might deal with specifics such as communication channels and stakeholder preferences. But the strategy will tell you what’s important, what’s not – to the agency and all its stakeholders.
Think of it as the map that guides your project managers. If you want uniformity and control over your communication plans, it is crucial that you develop this strategy.
Ideally, your project communication strategy should focus on:
1. Agency priorities and resources
Every agency communication differently. Some favor high-touch, personalized messaging, while others defer to automated, low-touch communication.
What you choose to prioritize will depend on the kind of services you sell and who you sell it to. If you’re selling cheap, entry-level solutions to small businesses, high-touch communication can’t scale. Similarly, if you work exclusively with Fortune 1000 clients, automated messaging wouldn’t really work.
Discuss your agency’s priorities with all its stakeholders. Ask:
- What kind of clients does the agency currently have? What kind does it want to attract?
- How does the agency see itself (refer to your positioning statement here)?
- Does the agency have the resources to support its vision?
Your best bet is usually to adopt a mix of high-touch, personalized communication with some degree of automation. You want to automate tedious tasks such as deadline reminders while using personalization for critical project communication.
2. Employee expectations
Project communication isn’t just for clients; it’s also for your employees. You want to keep them in the loop while limiting chances of miscommunication.
Survey your internal team members. Ask them:
- Do they have easy access to updated requirements?
- Do they feel they can address all stakeholders clearly about project issues?
- Is it easy to share documents and access feedback?
- Do they have a centralized platform for collaborating on individual projects?
Employees are equal stakeholders in the project process. If they can’t communicate freely with clients or access important requirements/feedback, your project execution will suffer.
For instance, Workamajig offers a centralized place to host all conversations related to a project or milestone. This means that the project team always has access to mission-critical data.
3. Market expectations
“Market expectations” refers to:
- What clients expect based on your pricing and positioning
- Industry standards set by other agencies competing for your target audience
Of course, client expectations change industry standards, and vice-versa. If all clients in your segment expect highly personalized communication, you will have to offer the same if you want to be competitive.
Analyze market trends and interview current clients. Ask them:
- What do they like about your communication practices? What do they dislike?
- If there is one thing they would change about how you communicate, what would be it?
- Do they work with other agencies? If yes, what do they like about these other agencies’ communication practices?
Reporting, for instance, is one area where you can benefit greatly from following market expectations. If all your competitors offer interactive reports, you will have to adopt the same. Else clients might feel that they’re not getting the complete picture of your efforts.
Bringing it together
Bring all the data you collected above to create your final communication strategy. This, in turn, would inform your communication plan.
For instance, if your employees say that they find it difficult to access client requirements, your communication plan should focus on streamlining client-team messaging.
Similarly, if your agency wants to position itself as a “personalized” service provider, you need to adopt high-touch messaging in your communication plan.
Successful plans emerge from a clear strategy. And clear strategy comes from fully understanding all the stakeholders involved in the agency-client relationship: agency leadership, clients, and employees.