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Compelling communication campaigns in six steps

By Romy Craig and Sarah Wightman

Campaigns aren't just for advertisers. To get messages heard, there's a lot we can learn from successful marketing strategies and apply similar approaches to internal communication. Romy Craig and Sarah Wightman share six practical steps for creating compelling campaigns within your organisation.

What does selling a sausage roll have in common with persuading people to sign up for a training course?

Well, perhaps more than you’d think.

In both cases, as the communicator we’re trying to get through to people who probably aren’t yet interested in what we’ve got to say. We need to grab a tiny window of their attention in a busy, noisy world. And in that tiny window we have to influence them not only to listen, but also to take the action we want them to take... whether that’s buying a snack or enrolling on a course.

Unsurprisingly, this is a challenge. Our message isn’t received in isolation as a special, exciting gift in someone’s day. It is more likely to be a single drop in a flood of advertising and communication that is attempting to penetrate that poor individual’s brain.

Estimates vary but suggest that we are all bombarded with upwards of 10,000 adverts each day[1] [2]. That’s before all the email, social media, rolling news and phone notifications. It can feel overwhelming.

So in this context, communicators need to be really smart about how we get through to our intended audience and prompt them to take action.

And the successful way to do this often lies in an effective campaign – as much for your L&D or employee engagement objective as for retailers who need to sell more snacks.

Why use a campaign approach?

Put simply, a campaign involves creating a consistent message and using it across different channels over a period of time.

Repetition works. If people see a message several times, it becomes familiar. And if it is relevant and helpful to them in some way, the idea will start to stick. Then if it is repeated at just the right time, when they are ready to do something in response, it can prompt the desired action.

Campaigns are typically associated with advertising and marketing. But using similar principles can also lead to much greater impact for communicating with your messages to internal audiences.

Whether your objective relates to learning and development, internal comms, employee engagement, or prompting actions for positive behaviour change, adopting a campaign-based approach can help you get noticed through the noise.

What was that about a sausage roll?

A brilliant example of a successful consumer campaign comes from Greggs in ‘Veganuary’ 2019, when the food retailer went all out to unveil its vegan sausage roll.

The new snack was launched with clever use of humour and resulting viral social media. Parodying an Apple product launch, it pitched the new snack as the ‘next-generation sausage roll technology’, with this slick video:

The YouTube ad attracted eight million views. To underline the i-spoof, Greggs sent out iPhone-style boxes containing the snack to the media.  The campaign struck a chord with the public, kicking off a social media debate over whether the product could really be called a sausage roll at all.

Greggs’ creative, tongue-in-cheek approach and willingness to take a risk paid off handsomely. The PR coverage is estimated to have reached 69% of UK adults more than 11 times, with organic Twitter reach at 24 million. Gregg’s share of voice compared to competitors including McDonald’s, KFC, Costa and Subway, reached a high of 71% up from a previous 17%. And the vegan roll became Gregg’s fastest-selling new product over five years, also bumping total sales up by 14.1% in seven weeks.

Internal campaigns in six steps

So what are the ingredients for really effective campaigns? And how can you apply those within your organisation?

Below are six key elements for developing a successful campaign for internal audiences…

1. A meaningful objective

First, the objective needs to be clearly defined and SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound).

Sticking with our training course enrolment example, you’d want to have a more specific objective than just ‘we want to raise awareness of the new training programme’.

Define what action you want people to take, how many people (and maybe what roles) you want to take that action, and with what purpose. So it may be ‘we want 500 managers to enrol in the new training programme so they can learn how to become mentors.’

Making the objective measurable will help you evaluate the campaign and learn what you can change for next time (or ideally, test and tweak as it’s running).

And it means you’ll be more efficient – you know who you’re targeting so you won’t waste time, effort and budget talking to people who won’t help you reach your objective.

2. Knowing your audience

Who is in your audience? And what are they most likely to respond to? This is crucial for shaping a message that will resonate with the people you need to reach, as well as understanding how you’ll get that message noticed.

It’s easy to make assumptions about the audience, but a crucial step in a successful campaign is to seek out insights about them.

Using personas can be helpful – thinking of your audience as a specific person, or small number of people, and working out how you will appeal to them.

First, look for insights through questions such as:

  • What part of the business do they come from, what’s their level of experience, what does their day looks like?
  • What motivates them, what annoys them, how you might appeal to them?
  • Is there a particular demographic? More than one group?
  • What do they already know about your subject?

Second, how do they consume content?

  • What channels do they have access to, what are the constraints?
  • Think broadly, beyond the ‘formal’ channels such as email or the LMS. What else might appeal to them? (Consider what channels might be familiar outside of work as well as in work).
  • What’s been done to communicate to this audience before? What worked and what didn’t?

Third, what do you want them to do? And how will you prompt that?

It’s helpful to think about three stages of connecting with the audience:

Awareness > Consideration > Action

In the awareness stage, we want to gain attention from our audience, and make them aware of the message we’re communicating. This stage often requires repetition, so that an audience sees the campaign several times before they move to the second stage – consideration, where they think about whether they are interested in taking action. The third stage is the action itself. There could be different stages of action – such as first signing up to something, secondly actually attending it.

3. A strong message

A successful campaign message has certain characteristics. It needs to be:

  • Relevant – if it’s easier for the audience to make connections and understand the relevance and value, they are more likely to be responsive.
  • Simple – don’t ask people to decode what the message is about. It can be tempting to do something a bit clever and more complex, but remind yourself you’ve only got that tiny window of opportunity – you’re more likely to lose attention if the message isn’t clear.
  • Beneficial – always let people know what’s in it for them in some way. Go back to your audience insights to tap into what’s meaningful for them.
  • Action-oriented – make sure there’s a clear call to action – you don’t want to leave people thinking ‘that was nice’, then forget it happened.

4. Memorable creative

At the heart of the campaign needs to be an attention-grabbing creative ‘splash’.

Tapping into human emotions is the most effective way to gain attention. The emotion could be humour, surprise, curiosity, excitement, pride, admiration or desire. Or it could even be a ‘negative’ emotion such as sadness, fear or even irritation.

An interesting example comes from the UK’s long-running campaign by website GoCompare. The company uses the opera singing character Gio Compario in adverts that have run since 2009 and been topped polls for the most irritating advert several times[3].

Despite this accolade, Gio Compario has had far greater longevity than most adverts, and has led to a 20% increase in customers and 450% increase in brand awareness.

This doesn’t mean you have to annoy people, but is a thought-provoking reminder that ‘oh wow’ doesn’t always have to be the response you’re trying to get.

5. Maximise your channels

Try to think broadly when it comes to selecting your channels. There’s more available to you than an LMS module or an email.

Make use of your audience profiling (point 2), thinking about how people consume content and what their day looks like. Where can you put messages in their environment, where they’re most relevant, and where they have time? Don’t expect people to find you! You need to put your message in the places where your audience is already hanging out.

It may be useful to develop different messages on different channels – perhaps more formal or more simple in some places in than in others.

6. Evaluate and learn

The sixth point in our list shouldn’t be considered the last thing to do. Evaluation and iteration are most valuable when they are done throughout a campaign, monitoring results and tweaking for better performance.

Set up evaluative measures against your objectives. Then monitor those – for example, look at the performance of different channels – which ones are working best for you?

It’s great if you can also try running some experiments and A/B tests, such as running two different messages through the same channel (you might want to split your audience to do this) so you can see which one gets a better response then focus more effort on that channel.

Kicking it off

So to round up, getting your internal messaging heard does have a lot in common with selling sausage rolls.

Start with a clear objective and by gaining some valuable insights into your audience and their behaviour. Next create a strong message and memorable creative that taps into human emotions, and then push this out through different channels making use of the audience insights. As the campaign runs, measure and evaluate what is working and make improvements as you go.

Then go and reward yourself with a tasty vegan sausage roll for lunch.

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