Communications plan

Communication breakdown – the five most common challenges companies face when talking to their customers

Understanding how best to connect with your audience can be tricky, wherever you are in your communications strategy.

Often, we find that clients come to us at the very beginning of their marketing and PR journey and want to understand how best to see off any communications challenges that may come their way.

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Equally, we work with businesses and organisations that have a long track record of communicating successfully with their customers but have been thrown a curveball by a changing market and want to react appropriately.

Whether you are starting your marketing strategy from scratch, or looking to improve your conversations with customers, we’ve broken down the most common challenges we’ve seen first-hand in over twenty years of developing effective communications strategies for our clients.

1. Avoid jargon

When you’re deep into your specialist sector, you can often find yourself slipping into technical language without realising. While this might be fine when speaking with internal stakeholders or industry partners, it can be intimidating and off-putting to potential clients or customers.

At the very beginning of the customer journey, your audience will be learning about who you are and what your business offers. Immediately launching into jargon could leave your audience feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how exactly you can help them, especially if they aren’t yet familiar with your industry.

Jargon can also be detrimental to your search engine optimisation and online user journeys. Providing a clear, concise explanation of who you are and what you do, in plain English, will serve you in good stead with search engine algorithms, and simply make it easier for your site users to do their research on you, and ultimately convert.

To simplify your message, think about how you would explain what your business does to someone totally unfamiliar with your sector. This applies to both Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business-to-Business (B2B) audiences. For example, even in the seemingly complex world of B2B, purchasing decisions often come down to a short, straightforward explanation of how you can help their business.

Be clear, concise and to the point, without being patronising, and let your customer-focused content flow from there.

Avoid jargon

2. Don’t overload your audience

We like to call this one ‘comms over-excitement.’ Whether it’s too many marketing emails, or too many simultaneous PR campaigns, sometimes you have so much to say, to so many people, that you can end up bombarding your audience with too much information. This can result in your customers feeling confused about what your business actually does, or even irritated with the volume of communications they are receiving from you.

Tackle this head-on by drawing up a communications plan in advance, prioritising your key messages and identifying what is most relevant to your audience segments and which channel is going to be most effective to get your message out.

This communications plan should cover all relevant channels – including social media – to ensure that you’re publishing content at the right time on the right platforms, rather than risk spamming your audience with irrelevant content that could overshadow your key messages.

This also helps you to reach the right audiences, in the right place, at the right time, putting your most important content front and centre. This supports your customers in fully understanding what it is that you offer, without feeling pressured towards a conversion or purchase.

Communications plan

3. Be mindful of language barriers and cultural differences

This is especially important if you’re working across international markets, but even businesses working solely in the UK need to be mindful of regional differences. For example, many in the North East groaned at Boris Johnson’s (quickly deleted) tweet, mixing up Tyneside and Teesside – two wholly distinct and geographically separate areas.

When working with the education technology giant, Turnitin, content had to be adapted for both UK and US markets where colloquialisms and common phrases (for example, the different usage of ‘college’ in the two markets) could be misinterpreted.

During the first COVID lockdown, we worked with the North East Ambulance Service, creating a social media content strategy to help the public stay safe. From understanding the distinction between Geordies and Mackems (and everything in between), to knowing what a ‘lemon top’ or a ‘parmo’ is, having a close knowledge of the region was hugely helpful in understanding how best to reach key audiences, incorporating regional slang to help get the message across.

When writing for a specific geographic market, particularly in a different language, be sure to involve translators and native speakers at an early stage. This is especially important when product names or industry-specific terms may be involved. For example, when working with Turnitin on their European PR strategy, we ensured that every translated press release was sense-checked by a native speaker within their team, to make sure that descriptions of their software made sense in other languages and fitted in with the specific education market in that country.

Language barriers and cultural differences

4. Be human

Social media and digital technology has been a huge boon to businesses in regards to connecting with customers. This has been especially the case since the COVID pandemic, with all of us becoming far more comfortable operating and conversing online. However, too often it can be tempting to rely solely on tech, through email marketing or social media, when human-to-human interaction can sometimes be far more effective.

Make sure there is a way for your customers or clients to speak to a person. Whether it’s a manned helpline, or a named person for them to get in touch with during their path to conversion, hearing a real voice at the end of the phone – or, even better, through live video chat – provides reassurance and demonstrates your commitment to a positive customer experience.

Human connections are vital for media relations too. A face-to-face interview with a journalist, or getting your spokesperson on TV or radio can help to put a human face or voice on your communications. This is particularly important during times of crisis, or when dealing with sensitive topics.

For example, one of our clients is a major food and drink brand, and has been engaging with their local community around expansion plans for a number of years. With a high volume of social media chatter around the issue, we mapped out a media and stakeholder communications strategy that put face-to-face contact first. By arranging in-person interviews and conversations, tensions were defused, and the company’s position and key messaging made far clearer.

A well-prepared, media trained and fully-briefed spokesperson – ideally a senior leader within your business or organisation – can often say more in a few words than several pieces of written communication may get across.

Media relations

5. Be authentic

Audiences value authenticity. An incredible 90% of consumers say they’re seeking authenticity in brands, and 64% of customers define themselves as ‘belief-driven buyers.’

Being able to communicate who you are as a business, what you stand for and what you value can be one of your most important assets in PR and communications.

Authenticity means different things for different organisations, but there is plenty of crossover with what we have already talked about: avoiding jargon, speaking in your audience’s language, and being transparent, open and human in your communications. Following these rules will go a long way in demonstrating your principles and values, and in communicating with your audiences.

Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve. Working towards an ESG strategy but not yet hitting your sustainability targets? Be clear and upfront with your audiences. We have worked with several clients to develop ESG communications campaigns that detail exactly where each business is in their ESG journey, and it’s clear that transparency is valued by customers and clients far more than any attempt to gloss over the reality.

Equally, don’t be afraid to talk about what matters to you outside of your day-to-day operations. For example, have you introduced a new employee wellbeing initiative? Are you supporting a charity in your local community?

One of our clients, global marine insurer North P&I, runs a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives every year, selecting a local charity to support. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, they drew from first-hand experience working with seafarer charities to place attention on the plight of those stranded at sea. Doing so not only demonstrated a finger on the pulse of sector issues of the day, but also showed their members that North is invested in the wellbeing of maritime workers – and therefore the health of the wider industry.

Talking about these CSR and sustainability efforts in a way that demonstrates why such issues matter to you and your team, whilst avoiding self-aggrandisement, can be very powerful in laying out your values. This builds trust between you and your customers, making them more likely to engage with your communications strategy.

Plan ahead

How we can help

Cool Blue has experience in planning, executing and measuring communications strategies for clients in a wide range of sectors.

We can help you with:

Mapping out your communications strategy – refining your key messages, identifying your primary channels, and understanding the needs of your audience
Content development and design – getting your message across in an impactful and eye-catching way
Communicating your values and unique selling points – ensuring your customers, clients and peers understand who you are and what you offer
Getting your message out – making sure your audiences know about your business or organisation and that you’re making headlines for the right reasons

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Cool Blue is a full-service agency that drives brands forwards. Our ideas and innovations are always conducted with purpose. Delivering solutions that combat specific challenges and provide results. Our strategic expertise offer a valuable service to every one of our clients, helping them achieve their goals.


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