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Focus first on the basics

Forget AI, video, mobiles and measurement. All the internal communications trends in the world won’t help if you don’t know your audience inside out.

By Emily Cooter | Internal Communications Consultant | Talent & Transformation

With respect to my fellow internal communications practitioners, I’m struggling to find anything I haven’t read before in this January’s 2019 trend reports.

I don’t disagree with any of it. Could mobile technology be useful for reaching workers not based at a PC? Sure. Can video be a good way to deliver a message? Absolutely. Does AI have a role to play? Of course. Is measurement still important? Always.

But there’s one staple ingredient for successful internal communications that we don’t talk about enough in my view. So my hope for 2019, and beyond, is simply this: that we start to place more emphasis on developing a detailed and intimate understanding of our internal audiences. And that it is this understanding, above all else, that informs the decisions we make about messaging, content and channels.

In this age of market disruption and constant change, the businesses that value connecting with their employees as much as they do with their customers will undoubtedly be the winners.

Engaging employees requires the same techniques as consumer sales and marketing – internal communicators sell and market messages, ideas and change to a business’s workforce. It has always alarmed me therefore that typically we don’t invest more time in getting to know our audience as a salesperson or marketer would. We often neglect our market research, blindly following channel trends, creative ideas or (worse) the whims of a senior leader, without considering the unique make-up of the workforce and thinking through the logistics.

Understanding internal audiences is far easier than understanding consumers and clients, after all. The employee audience is a sitting duck. We know exactly who they are; where they work; their job roles and levels of responsibility; which communications channels they use; what time they start and finish work, even. We can access basic demographic information about our people and make intelligent guesses at other relevant variables, such as socio-economic group. And if we’re working in-house or with the same client, the audience stays broadly the same.

We use these powerful insights as our starting point for every internal communications challenge we face at FHF, creating bespoke IC content, campaigns and strategies that will really ‘land’ in our clients’ specific business context. It works every time. Why? Because it’s only by truly understanding our workforces that we can focus on what motivates them; and, crucially, what kinds of messaging, content and channels will most likely nudge them into that all-important behaviour change.

So as we enter February, my challenge to you – as much as to myself – is to focus first on the basics: the audience, the behaviour change that needs to happen, and how internal communications can help.