When I started as a copywriter on radio and the novelty of working in media wore off. I started to notice a trend, organisations would push for advertising without an understanding of its messaging. We developed radio campaigns for various products and services from SMEs to multinationals. There was always drama with marketing and brand managers. The multinationals mostly danced to the tune of the mother companies campaigns asking for a “Kenyanized” version of global campaigns. The SMEs were mostly keen on a simple sales strategy – sell volumes. Doesn’t sound extraordinary it’s business after all.
What bothered me was that most of the SMEs were completely clueless about who they were selling their commodities to. There was no stratified market segmentation when it came to advertising campaigns. It was always “everyone” is their target audience. Sigh. Eye roll.
And that was the beginning of my frustrations. As a copywriter and any creative in marketing and advertising space, you want to birth life into what you do. This means creating very unique adverts to differentiate the various products and services in the market. That means not using pricing as a differentiator. Pricing or value is the weakest argument for any product. The argument that your product is better because it is cheaper doesn’t last very long because the price is always affected by other external factors making your argument very fickle. Someone with better and more advanced equipment can produce higher volumes at a lower cost than you which then dilutes your case to the market. Plus, you can sell anything with that approach – universities, cars, hair oil, legal services, hospital services, food even sex work. Do you catch my drift? Anything!
Because most companies used that approach when I worked as a copywriter, it became a redundant game of selling the same product or service with different names – toothpaste, cooking oil, insurance, restaurants, meals, supermarkets; Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox sang it best – same script different cast. There is only so much you can do when organisations completely lack a sense of novelty in their business practice and offering.
As I fast forward to 2020, the same challenge exists in SMEs and startups. People don’t seem to think very strategically about the kind of business or organisation they want to run. The premise of most people’s businesses is just not that well thought out. Working with the development sector you see the same challenge, people struggle to communicate because they have nothing to communicate. You had training in Mandera and local authorities, chiefs and politicians attended and made a promise. It was a successful activity, this isn’t something more than a paragraph or two to report. But you still find organisations desperate to make a big story out of an activity. The impact is where the story is. How many girls stayed in school as a result of this, share the story of the girl and her community to demonstrate impact.
I had an hour-long conversation with a friend a few days ago about this. Organisations ( this is businesses, government and charities) need to understand that communication is a strategic function. You plan your communications based on your plans. Let me give an example. If your goal for the next year as an organisation is to increase let’s say the number of girls with access to sanitary pads. You will develop an entire strategy around it.
You will look at who to partner with; companies which manufacture sanitary towels, high schools to engage with, define the locations you will roll out the programme and where it will extend to (scalability). This defines your communication – it determines who you communicate with, how and how often. What kind of campaigns you will run and you may find that even the avenues of communication may not need a mainstream media component. That also determines what you will post and share on social media. It all links together.
Communication is not the stepchild you call to clean up the vomit and clutter after the strategic plan party is done and dusted and you need people to care about what you do. You need to involve communications from the onset of your plans.
If you are genuinely still struggling with your communication as an organisation, I would suggest you first look at your operations based on your plans. If you don’t develop annual work plans based on a 5-year strategic plan that’s where you need to start before you call a communications specialist to clean up your social media accounts.
But if you do have the annual work plans, I would suggest the following:
- Based on your plans define very clearly messaging for each year – this helps you communicate very succinctly what it is you are about as an organisation and what you do.
- Clearly define the people you intend to engage with; in other words, your target audience. You need to be very direct. Because this determines the language and channel of communication. If you are talking to urban Kenyan youth vs middle-aged village traders language will matter, this a Sheng vs Swahili / Ethnic language situation. This determines whether you will use social media or ethnic radio or both. It matters because language is the basis of how we understand the world around us, and how we are influenced. And it determines the channel of communication. If you are communicating in straight-laced English it needs to be for the audience that resonates most with it. That also means if you are engaging with Corporate Kenya or the Government of Kenya, writing letters in colloquial and grammatically incorrect form won’t get you very far.
- As you have a plan for everything, I would suggest you develop a communication plan which is based on the activities you have planned. This will spell out the messaging, frequency and channel. That way you no longer hit and miss with social media influencers. If you use them, it should be strategic and measurable. That way you manage budgets, engage your audience and they also understand you intimately enough to want to engage with you.
Trust me, if you dilly-dally in trying to take up this approach you will continue in the rut you are currently in as an organisation; blowing budgets with no top of mind awareness or sales. And with the havoc COVID-19 has caused in every aspect of our lives, you no longer have the luxury of hit-and-miss.