If a Tree Falls Does it Make a Noise?

Your communication plan should be built around and assessed on its ability to reach your strategic (or prime prospect) target with your message.  If the people (WHO) you want to talk to are not using a particular channel to gather information that will help them make a purchase decision, then you should not include it in your communication plan.

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a noise?  Forget the esoteric interpretations.  If the tree is your message then you paid good money to have it fall in those woods (media channel), and your target audience is not in the woods listening, then as far as you are concerned it made absolutely no noise and has no possibility of delivering a ROI.

Do you know WHO you want/need to talk to?  Do you have it written down?  Is your leadership aligned and committed to the decision?

If not, this is where you start.  Without alignment your best efforts will be constantly thwarted by leadership who have their own opinion as to whether a communication channel makes sense to invest in.  With a written definition, it is much easier to evaluate options in an objective way.

From a general perspective, you simply try to determine how many people in your strategic target actually  use the channel and if the cost per thousand to deliver your message makes relative business sense. There are certainly additional parameters you could consider (e.g. is the channel a credible vehicle for your message?).  But, even if you just focus on determining whether your strategic target uses the channel for getting information you will be making the right promotional investment choice 80% of the time.

Case Study

You are a marketer in an economic development organization.  Your task is to create a communication plan to share information about your community with potential capital investors.  You want to determine if social media is a wise investment of your limited promotional budget.  The problem you are solving for can be written as – Is social media a channel that my strategic target audience uses to get information to help make capital investment decisions?.

You have defined your strategic target ( prime prospect group) as executives in companies with responsibility for making site selection decisions.

Your next step is to find data that will help you better understand whether business executives are using social media channels to get information that will help them decide if your community is a good choice for them to expand/start their business.

Here is some insight you uncover through a Google search –

Based on the available information, it appears investing in social media as part of your communication plan does not appear to be effective.  In fact, any money you might have considered budgeting for social media might actually be better invested in strengthening your community’s online webs presence or in funding incremental site visits.

Here are some typical challenges to the conclusion –

Does this mean social media is not an effective tool?  No, it means if you pay to have a tree fall in the social media woods very few CEOs will hear it.  Social media may be an effective communication channel for some things, but if your goal is to communicate with CEOs then the data strongly suggest it is likely not the most effective channel for your purpose.

But, some of the reports suggested there is business value for CEOs to engage in social media.  Usage is likely to increase, isn’t that reason enough to invest in the media? In my opinion, it is enough to reevaluate the decision in 12-months by asking the same question over again.

But social media is free so what have I got to lose by leveraging it?  In fact, it is not free at all.  Read the article “The Real cost of Social Media” to get a handle on the costs you will incur.  Admittedly, the cost is hidden because it tends to primarily be buried in your overhead.  But, it is anything but free.  And, it is very time consuming.  Time that staff could be investing in other priority work your Organization does.

All my competitors are using social media so they must know something I don’t, right?  Wrong.    having a healthy respect for the intelligence of your competition is good business, it keeps your Organization on its toes.  But, the truth is that companies are led by people, and sometimes smart people do stupid things.  Make up your own mind and don’t simply follow the competition.  You might be interested in this article “10 reasons Why Smart people Do Stupid Things” .

Discussion

What is your take on the importance of checking to see if your strategic target is using the communication channels you are counting on to carry your message?  Are you consistently checking to see if a tree fell in the forest where your message is that your strategic target might hear it?

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5 Comments so far

  1. George Harben

    July 25, 2012

    Ed, disagree on this one. Your analysis is far too limited. You look at CEOs, but no data or polling for others in the company. By others i mean stakeholders or decision influencer. A decision influencer is a company employee or contract employee who may be the first point in determining a new location or facility consolidation. It can be a C-Suite title or within an operating or support division.

    I think these people are just as important. if you are not on their radar, then you may not ever be included. Hence the value of social media, you can target your message and output via one or more outlets. One size does not fit all and social media allows you to build those specific networks.

  2. Ed Burghard

    July 25, 2012

    George – Valid point, I should have addressed key influencers in the analysis since they were implied in the strategic target definition. However, the data I have found argue executives in general (that would include key influencers) have limited trust of data gathered through social media channels (http://www.webanalyticsworld.net/2010/10/how-executives-use-social-media.html) and I have found no data indicating they are actually using it to learn about locations for capital investment. You might be interested in this post that shares perspective of site selectors on social media use for economic development – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2012/07/site-selectors-comment-on-social-media/

    The core premise of the post is to first convince yourself that your target audience is engaged in information seeking using the medium (any medium) you plan to communicate through before you invest funding. I am hoping we agree on that point.

  3. Elliot DeBear

    August 13, 2012

    Targeting is a large canvas. There is demographic, psychographic, geographic targeting as well as category and brand indexing. I think targeting must be balanced with more indepth data in developing the plan’s objectives and strategies. Targeting is a good guideline for execution, but in and of itself will not provide the insights required to craft a good strategy.

  4. […] The Burghard Group | Place Brand Masters. Enter your email for … You have defined your strategic target ( prime prospect group) as executives in companies with responsibility for making site selection decisions.  […]

  5. […] media.  You need a good media mix to effectively communicate your message. The key is to really understand the media consumption habits of your strategic target.  Don’t simply buy advertising because it is “on sale” or has a low cost per […]

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