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The communication plan pathway, or how to brief your designer


Regardless of the size of your business or project, you should work on a communication plan. This ground work will allow you to have a good understanding of your positioning and what you can and need to do to reach your strategic goal. If you fail to do so, chances are you will waste time and resources. A basic communication plan is basically what you’ll need to brief your designer. Even concise, it will give them the ability to understand your goals and to create efficient material to reach it.

A communication plan needs to answer the following questions:

  • Why? What you wish to communicate
  • Who? Your target population
  • Saying what? The message
  • How? The channels and supports
  • When? The calendar
  • At what cost? The human and budget resources needed
  • On what criteria? The results expected for monitoring


Your strategic goal

Communication is serving the company and its strategic goals. Before building a communication plan, these objectives must be defined and shared with the communication manager or communication agency. This sharing of information should go both ways as the communication expert can inform the direction of behaviours and trends in and out the company which could help build realistic strategic goals. This is at this stage that a SWOT analysis and any other strategic tools should be used.


A diagnosis will enable us to set a communication strategy to reach the company’s strategic goals. A common method is to analyse four different factors:

  • Desired image: this is your communication strategy, and it will depend on the three next factors. The desired image will outline the wished perceived brand personality and reputation.
  • Possible image: this is the context in which the communication will take place. We look at our own strength and weaknesses, at our competitors’ communication and image and at the current economic, social, political and cultural trends. We also investigate anything else that could have a favourable or unfavourable impact on the company and its image.
  • Projected image: this is the analysis of the current communication. It is recommended to use an external audit company to check all communication actions and supports and their impact so far.
  • Perceived image: Using surveys and interviews will help understand how the brand is perceived. This could end up being different than the desired image, pointing to a problem in the previous communication plan or message.


Pinning down the desired image goes hand-in-hand with setting up the communication objectives. Once the diagnosis done, we can set-up realistic goals. There are three types of goals in communication:

  • Cognitive goals: raising awareness of a brand or product. This refers to fame and identity.
  • Affective goals: being liked. Here, communication aims to increase love for a brand or product.
  • Behavioural goals: triggering an action. Attainable only when the two previous goals have been reached. This results for instance in the user buying, subscribing, changing opinion, etc.

Any goal defined in the communication strategy has to be quantified to be actionable and tracked. You might think “we want our new product to be known”, but you should specify this goal using precise indicators, ie. “we want to raise awareness of product x to 50% in women aged 35-55 in Switzerland, in the next two years.”



Your target population

For efficiency, it’s preferable to focus on the most relevant audience to the brand/product, and to prioritize them. Usually, this results in having the core target, a second level and a third level of priority. The main targets for a business are the clients, the shareholders and the staff. Other targets include press, opinion leaders, consumer associations, unions, suppliers and public organisations.

Listing these targets won’t be enough, they need to be analysed and can be encapsulated into personas. Relevant data can be location, age, gender, ethnicity, profession, income and lifestyle for instance. Using such classification allows to understand better how to reach them. For example, a core target of women aged 20-30 and interested in fashion will be easier to reach via social media than newspaper.


Saying what?

The message

This is the detailed and technical translation of your goal. Tone of voice, logo, visual identity, website etc are examples of tools to create to materialize the message. It is critical to ensure these are coherent with the goal and through all the channels.



The channels and supports

Defining the communication mix is choosing the most efficient channels to use in order to reach the target, as well as assessing the cost for efficiency for each.

Common communication channels include:

  • Visual identity: logo, stationary, signage, uniforms etc
  • Press relations
  • Publications such as brochures and magazines
  • Website and newsletters
  • Media advertising: TV, radio, press, web, billboards, social media etc
  • Events, exhibitions and sponsoring
  • Point of sale advertising
  • Product and packaging
  • Direct communication through staff and salespeople
  • Lobbying
  • Word-of-mouth



The calendar

Setting up a calendar will involve fixing a launch date and figuring out the work planning to ensure this deadline can be met. Events, seasons, product launches, printing and hiccups on the way are to be taken into account while building a retroplanning, as well as dependencies between supports and actions.

As Benjamin Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”


At what cost?

The budget needed

Budgeting for the communication plan will include human and monetary resources, internally and externally. Usually, the budget is calculated for each action, support and channel in order to meet the goal. It is then amended to meet the available budget if needed.


On what criteria?

The results expected for monitoring

Sending the message isn’t enough, an assessment needs to be made on how well it is received, and this shouldn’t be done only at the end of the plan. Surveying target users to understand how they perceive the message as soon as possible can allow for necessary iterations. Down the track, we’ll also look at operational statistics such as the amount of publications, contacts, website visits etc.

Ultimately the success of the communication plan will depend on the goal being met. If it has been detailed enough, criteria will be available for comparison. If we take our previous example, surveys will need to gauge if awareness of product x has been increased to 50% in women aged 35-55 in Switzerland, after two years.


After this last step and the result of the measurements, you will go back to step 1 and correct or set a new communication goal.


For inspiration in advertising, like the battlesheep above, head over to Ads of the World

Sources: Pentacom book, and old notes from my master’s classes