Demystifying 'Strategic' Communication

Open up LinkedIn and read any bio these days and you’ll likely find the proud, yet ambiguous description of a “strategic leader”, responsible for “implementing the strategic direction” of something. Impressive, right?

‘Strategic’ is an adjective that is quickly becoming a weasel word – with different meanings for different people. It’s what you say when you want to sound impressive and can’t think of another, more accurate word.

A strategy is a simply a fancy way to say “long range problem-solving”. Specifically, a strategy involves identifying a problem and devising the steps you need to solve it. Being defined as “strategic” can be simplified to meaning “problem-solver”. The alternative is presumably perpetuating the current problem, or working with no long-term aim.

In communication, strategic long-term problem solving usually begins with the same problem: a lack of trust. Whatever your business goal – selling products or services, signing new clients, winning tenders – you won’t meet them without first gaining your customer’s trust. Only when the audience regard you as credible, trustworthy and real, can you begin to connect, persuade, influence and inspire.

When your communication problem is a lack of trust, it is caused one of two ways – either people don’t know you (so don’t trust you yet) or your organisation or an individual has lost people’s trust along the way (need to earn it back).

Building trust and credibility through story-telling

So how do you convince your audience you are genuine and worthy to be listened to? The answer rarely lies in simply telling people to trust you. You need to show them. You need to give them hard proof.

There are many types of communication collateral that can be used for proof of trustworthiness. You can conduct a scientific study or market research into how your product or solution works better or is perceived positively. You could recruit a celebrity ambassador to use and endorse your brand. These are tried and tested tactics which I’ve used many times. They are highly effective because people love statistics and familiar faces. There are also costly to achieve and are usually only for organisations with deep pockets.

Often the best forms of proof are simply telling the real stories about the experiences of people you work with or help every day.   

There is a reason why a customer testimonial or case study is far more compelling than a product brochure.

An interview with you published in the paper or a keynote speaking gig says “others trust me”.  Winning an award demonstrates your commitment to excellence in your field. Supporting a charity or investing in a philanthropic program tells the world about your social awareness.

Business story-telling has a remarkable power to communicate your ideas and actions in tangible ways to build trust, piece by piece.

Stories from the field about your team doing something unconventional to achieve a positive outcome speak volumes about your organisation’s culture of innovation and employee recognition.

The purpose, vision and mission of an organisation can often be best told by the founder’s story of why they started the business. Your personal connection and your own lived experience of needing your product or service sends a very clear message: I get it

The founder story reveals the heart and soul of a business. I know a mother who wanted better gluten-free options for a child with an intolerance for gluten but a love of pasta. People trust her gluten-free pasta is a quality product because it’s what she feeds her own daughter. Another mother’s business supports people with a disability and the elderly to live more independently – in a similar way to how she supports her own disabled daughter and elder mother living with her. Her story tell us she knows what caring for family means, and she understands how to create a supportive structure from her own experience. In both of these examples, these business owners share their own stories often because it’s an asset that engages people’s interest and creates a connection every time they tell it. There is implicit trust found in a mother’s love for her family.

Strategic communication works best by simply telling stories to solve the trust problem. Identify where trust is lacking and then identify the stories that can help turn that around. Tell them honestly, with vulnerability and integrity as often as you can, to as many people as you can.