A communications plan should consider the details of a tech ecosystem, business processes, and the internal policy of a project. It should make it possible for different people working with practical tasks to understand the marketing strategy.
An effective communications plan is developed by reaching a compromise. We strive to do the job well using standard strategies and our own expertise, but we also have to adjust them to the needs of a particular business. As a rule, these needs clip our wings and try our patience, but that's okay. It's not okay to act like all online stores are the same, or all real estate developers are the same, etc. It's not okay to shrink away from studying the business and assume a spherical cow in a vacuum.
Communications Plans Should Help Solve Practical Tasks
Let's take a standard strategy – the abandoned cart. Communications plans usually illustrate it in the following way:
Let's see how this scheme can be interpreted depending on the task.
For example, an analyst looks for a window of opportunity for optimization. But this scheme doesn't help with even the plainest of options:
- Should we give a coupon in the second email? Is there any now?
- Should we change the product recommendation? Which one is there now?
A technical expert starts implementing a feature. This scheme doesn't give them enough data for even the basic settings provided by the platform:
- Should the trigger email be sent every time the cart session ends? Which limitations should be added, if any?
- The platform has two lists of carts: on the website and in the app. Which one is meant here?
These issues are not only technical – these are issues pertaining to business as well. So, the limited view given by the scheme above is not enough for a discussion with a business leader.
Also, if your plan lacks the details, it's hard to estimate the cost of implementing it.
It would be nice if clients kept the scheme updated after the implementation. Communications plans not only give a concept of how everything works but also give the basis for planned changes.
If there isn't enough data to solve practical tasks – the plan proves unequal to the task.
How We Design Communications Plans for Our Clients
The plan should include everything we consider significant for the project, for example:
- The maximum send frequency of a trigger email per user;
- The sender (e.g., CEO, the team, a personal manager);
- Whether the communication is compatible with different user segments (by last purchase data, by engagement in the channel);
- Whether the model of communication is marketing or transactional;
- Coupons (if any);
- Product recommendations and a basic section of products for it (for instance, personal recommendations for boys' t-shirts);
- Dynamic parameters (storage time of the order, tracking number);
- UTM tags (at least at the level of the campaign);
- The links to these communications on the ESP / CDP;
- Priority settings of the email workflows.
We Explain the Concept of Email Campaigns
Look at our client's example: we use segmentation by gender and age in this client's campaigns except for a certain email. In our communications plan, we should mention that this change wasn't random.
If it's possible to use the same email for different workflows, we mention this to save time.
The Plan Shows All Kinds of Communications
For instance, real estate customer services presuppose that if a meeting is canceled by the manager, they should write a personal message to the client. The plan should mention this communication to make it clear.
Each project has special features which determine how detailed and complex the communications plan will be.
The Physical Significance of a Communications Plan
If a communications plan looks as if someone erased the details from it, it's not always about the design. It's okay if the author hasn't added the details. It's much worse if they haven't worked them out.
We always dig into the project to formulate the physical significance of the plan. Then, the only thing left will be to design it.
At what stage should we create a communications plan? We think that the best time is when we've already chosen the ESP/CDP, but haven't worked on the integration yet.
How to Create a Plan If You've Already Selected the Platform
If the client has already selected the platform, our communications plan should consider its features.
- We take into consideration the algorithms of the platform. For instance, Salesforce has a feature called "Einstein Best Action." It allows us to guide the users to the optimal course automatically.
- We let the plan demonstrate standard settings of the platform. For example, the frequency of triggers per user.
- We consider the abilities of the platform: you can jump at the idea of sending special offers to those who shop on weekends, or abandon it and integrate something new.
It Will Be Best if the Integration Takes Place After the Plan Is Designed
This way, our communications plan will help us transfer the necessary data during the process of integration. Always remember: another integration update won't happen any time soon or likely ever.
If you start designing your plan at the stage when you have your integration ready, specify what characteristics and statuses you have. This will prevent you from building castles in the air.
Study the Past, Stay Updated about the Future
To create an effective communications plan, we always find out whether the client has a loyalty program, an app, offline shops, saved items lists, or gift vouchers (if not, whether the client wants to add some features in the future). Also, we study how these features are integrated with each other and the platform: whether the loyalty program is valid in offline stores; whether the cart on the website is in sync with the one in the app; whether offline orders are transferred to the platform, etc.
It's important to use the data but remember the general logic of the business. RFM analysis can demonstrate whether the order gaps are okay or when it's time to start worrying about them.
However, if the reward points expire in a year and we need to determine the size of an order gap that would be enough to consider a customer lost, we don't dig into the data. Let it be a year.
We Find Out Whether the Client Has a Global Control Group
If the client has a global control group (that is the group that doesn't receive marketing campaigns), a part of the email list gets excluded from the newsletter. Transactional emails ignore the global control group as well. But we should remember that there are non-transactional communications that should also ignore the global control group. If we show the users a pop-up with a coupon, we promise them to send it. It would be wrong if a user didn't receive it because they're in the control group.
Look at this scheme: the first email ignores the global control group, and the second one doesn't. This is shown with a marker and explained in the comments.
We Figure Out the Physical Significance of the Funnel Statuses
We need to answer the following questions:
- What does each status mean according to the developers of the funnel?
- How do the marketing managers understand and use it?
- How often does the platform get updated?
Don't Create Business Processes — Instead, Automate Them
Let's imagine that our client is an online teacher. They ask us to create a plan to automate communications. If you're thinking about automated notifications like "You have a class tomorrow at 3 p.m., here's the link" – just stop :)
First, we should learn how the process is currently managed and see the funnel in the CRM platform. There's a chance that the process is not managed at all and there's no platform: the teacher just creates a link to a Zoom meeting three minutes before the class, restarts it in 40 minutes, and sends messages to the chat (not even to the children, but to their parents):
We have nothing to automate here. Of course, we could work out a business process, develop CRM strategies, write a guide for the staff, manage their motivation system, and set up monitoring… But this will be a slightly different task including both the development and implementation of a business process.
When one starts creating a communication plan, the first stage should be the analysis of the current business and search for communications that could be automated.
Learn the Business Policy
Sometimes multi-brand clients ask us to remove the internal rivalry between the brands. It's especially true for real estate: if the customer is in the funnel of one block, they shouldn't receive emails about the other one. This issue requires additional settings in the triggers and product recommendations.
The same goes for the question of whether email campaigns should encourage subscribers visit offline stores or an online store only.
One more example is segmentation by different parameters: for instance, gender segmentation can be necessary for clothes but not for toys.
Use Segmentation for 100% of the Users
We all love segmentation, but not everyone understands that some users can have irrelevant or simply unspecified criteria. Keep these users in mind.
For example, when planning communications for the residents, one should think over how the filter should be set up: "city = New York City" or "city unknown OR New York City". Alternatively, we can make a separate communication for the users with an unspecified city (taking into consideration the possibility that this city can turn out to be either New York City or something else).
There's no universal standard for communication plans. Let's work on it!