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How does a website fit into a communication strategy?

Your organisation has just defined its new medium-term goals and you've started translating these into a solid new external communications strategy, but it's still missing your website. Where does that fit in?

First off, what is a communication strategy?

At its core, a communication strategy is a plan to answer this question: WHO does your organisation need to communicate to, WHY, with WHAT messaging, and HOW, i.e. through which channels?

These translate to four key components:

  1. Audience (WHO): Unless your audience is completely homogenous, your communication strategy needs to divide your customer/stakeholder base into useful segments — and sub-segments, if need be. This allows you to tailor your messaging to them. Your segments can be high-level categories — for example, if you're a nonprofit, you might have (i) donors, (ii) beneficiaries, and (iii) alumni — or you can break them down even more granularly into sub-categories. In a corporate, that might be (i) customers, further segmented by size and industry vertical and (ii) investors, further segmented by their stake and involvement in your company. To accurately segment your audience, you'll need to draw on customer research, website analytics, and your own insights.
  2. Outcomes and goals (WHY): You'll need to translate your overall organisational goals into specific communication goals. These goals will inform how you structure your messaging and which channels you decide to use. For best results, your communication goals need to include a timeline and be measurable, for example: "We want to generate 5000 leads through online ad campaigns before the end of this quarter."
  3. Messaging (WHAT): The trickiest part of any communication strategy is to decide what you need to say to your audience. You'll need to be sensitive to who they are, what their needs are, and where they are in their journey. For customer-centric communication, a common way to tailor your messaging to customers' needs at different stages is to use the Awareness-Consideration-Decision framework. And you can go further: you can map out your customers' main interactions ("touchpoints") with you during their full customer journey and write down what you'd like their experience of you to be at each point. Defining your messaging in such a way helps you remain focused on the needs of your customer/stakeholder throughout their whole journey towards and ultimately with you.
  4. Channels (HOW): The final question is how to best communicate your message. Which channels will give you the best chance to speak to your audience? It helps to have a good idea of what is available to you, with resources like this list of 51 channels. Your choice of channels will depend on where your audience can be reached (for example: if you're a nonprofit targeting teens, you'll likely have a better shot at reaching them via influencers than with radio ads) and what resources you have available (do you have copywriters to write blog posts and social media content, can you get a budget for targeted online ads, and so on).

Where does the website fit into this?

Your website should feature as one of your key digital channels in your answer to (4) above. But before we discuss this in more detail, let's look at the unique properties of a website as a marketing channel.

Websites are a unique channel

  1. Websites attract a cross-section of an organisation's audience. Whereas some other channels — for example: influencers, radio ads, and trade shows — are likely to be highly specific to certain segments of your audience, websites attract a general audience, as they are now widely viewed as the core of an organisation's online presence.
  2. Websites let you speak to the needs of a wide variety of people simultaneously. Through smart and intentional design, you can make your offerings accessible to different parts of your audience, at different stages of their journeys, using a single website. While some other channels like social media also allow you to speak to different parts of your audience, it doesn't allow you to do so simultaneously.
  3. Websites are an interactive, nonlinear channel with a low barrier to participation. Marketing channels like TV and radio ads require people to consume content linearly (you have to watch or listen to the whole thing from start to finish to understand the message) and at a specific place and time (TV/radio channel). They are also not interactive. Social media is much more interactive, in that it allows readers to comment, discuss, and engage, but to a large extent it, too, requires linear consumption. After all, tweets, Instagram posts, and LinkedIn updates are published at specific time — and the timeline on your profile requires people to browse your content by date. A website is unique in that people can craft their own journeys: they can interactively explore your offerings at their own pace. Website content can be much more evergreen (i.e. stay relevant long after it was published). It also requires far less commitment than some other linear mediums: you don't have to commit to watching a full TV ad, listen to a podcast, or sit through a call.

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Websites help you increase the ROI from your investment in other channels

A website is not only a solid standalone channel, it's also a great multiplier for the work and investment you put into other channels. If you're running online ads, your website lets you create a dedicated landing page, with a tailored message and lead capture form, for each campaign. If you're looking to start a newsletter or podcast, your website allows you to create an online home for this, branded exactly as you need it. Websites are the ideal place to advertise and keep record of online events and webinars, publish press releases and point people to your social media profiles. And websites give you unmatched customisability: need to customise the text on your website based on from which channel people arrive? Easily done.

Use your website to speak to people early in their customer journeys

The properties of a website make it your key tool to speak to people in the 'Awareness' and 'Consideration' stages, returning to the Awareness-Consideration-Decision framework of customer journeys. In these earlier stages of the buying process, people are attracted to channels requiring low commitment and allowing them to explore content at their own pace. They don't want to do a phone call or have a meeting simply to explore their problem or get a sense of what options are available to them. Those channels will be key later on, when customers are in the 'Decision' phase of their journey, but not early on.

With content marketing on your website, you can speak to people who wouldn't otherwise be ready to talk to you: you publish valuable content to help people understand their problem and the possible solutions, without explicitly trying to sell your product yet. People will read and share this content because it's valuable to them, but they'll also take notice of your company and product.

Need help bringing your website into your communication strategy or formulating a content marketing plan? Speak to Entle.

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