By Jonathan Kearney.
Go to any communications seminar, forum, convention or workshop right now and the program will be populated with the latest and greatest trends in social communication platforms and how important these are if you want to be successful. A barrage of convincing data will be blasted at you to show the effectiveness of each new communication channel in reaching your target audience, getting your voice heard, increasing your sales and beating your competition. All you have to do is pick the right channel, play with the latest toys, and success is guaranteed.
However, in the clamour to use these new communication tools the importance of what we are communicating has got lost. Too often, channel has taken precedence over content. Furthermore, for healthcare communications in particular, what you can communicate is so restricted the need to make the content we produce count is even more vital.
The burgeoning of new digital communications channels allows more opportunities to engage with target audiences, with social media providing the ability to track audience interactions in real time. However, the fundamental principles of effective communications remain. What is it you want to say? How do you make that engaging, insightful and meaningful? What does that communication mean for the brand moving forward?
First be engaging
In a world with multifarious information channels, the only way to cut through the noise is to have a what that’s unique, different and relevant, with lasting impact on your target audience; although the choice of communications vehicle is significant, the what remains more fundamental to success than the how. At the heart of any effective communications campaign is the right content. This is the hub to which – and from – all channels can lead.
A perfect example of content being key is seen in the publishing and music spheres. E-readers, MP3 players, Amazon, Audible.com, iTunes, Spotify… they are all game changers in evolving the way people purchase and use books and music. This huge shift meant that those who had focussed on the channel by which the content was purchased (i.e., high street book and music stores) saw a drastic and negative change in their business model and many died out. However, those who produced content (the artists and their publishers/record labels) remain strong. Content has survived the change in channel and those whose content is more meaningful and compelling are more successful than their competitors, whether available in hard copy or online. Good content gets attention not because of how it is distributed but because of its impact once it has been received.
Keep them hooked
More importantly, content is what drives success in social media, not channels. Without the right content, the relationship between the communicator and the audience quickly falters, the latter quickly moving away to get what they need elsewhere.
We have all connected with people, brands and commentators on social media platforms. For a while, like a new flame, it was fun and exciting, but as soon as the decent content dried up or stopped resonating with us, we stopped following them. Weak content is weak content; it is not improved by being available via an app, or because the LinkedIn ad is connected to the campaign on FaceBook. At the end of the day, it’s good, or it’s discarded.
This breakdown in the relationship between provider and consumer of content, due to a lack of impact, has far reaching effects for brands. Trying to re-engage with an audience that has become disinterested is much harder than trying to find the audience to begin with.
Understand the why
The channels we use to communicate with our audiences have changed drastically over the past 10 years; more than likely, they will change again in the next decade. The only guiding constant is – and will forever be – the need to produce the right content that engages and inspires the audience it is intended for. Therefore, as communicators, we should not lose focus on what we communicate. The platform used is very much secondary to the message being communicated.
To be effective, communicators have to live this concept. We shouldn’t focus on delivering communications via one channel. We must focus on the entirety of the communication need; starting, first and foremost, on ensuring we understand the why, what, and how so we can produce fascinating content that directly benefits brands. We must then use complementary channels for our compelling content, whatever they may be, digital or not.
Jonathan Kearney is Associate Director of Havas Life Medicom, UK.