You’ve probably run into this scenario when perusing a new, or even your favorite website: a headline piques your interest, but when you begin reading, the content wanders everywhere or nowhere, and you assign it a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) in social media. If you fear the same thing will happen to your communications, when you plan your next project, start with the audience and scope—long before you start writing.
The English Oxford Dictionary defines scope as “the extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant.” Your boss may hand you a communications assignment with little to no context about who it impacts, or what it should cover. As the communication expert (whether technical, marketing, training, etc) it’s up to you to use your expertise to narrow down and refine the scope, so your messages and designs meet the expectations of your management and audiences.
Your scope covers what you are going to deliver, when, to whom, how, and why—known in journalism as the 5 Ws and 1 H (who, what, where, when, why, and how). When you kick off a project, you’ll be given an overview of the project, and some timelines and responsibilities. But if the group doesn’t formally sit down to discuss, define, and refine the scope, scope creep will likely happen, making it almost impossible to deliver the intended outcome to the audiences.
Keep in mind that no communication project will be perfectly defined, and even if everything is laid out well, changes or challenges will emerge. But asking the right questions upfront will help you narrow the focus, and keep a paper trail of how the project evolves.
Who do you need to reach and influence?
Because you can target business communication deliverables to many audiences, you should consider the needs, expectations, and motivations of each audience. For example, the sales team needs to acquire and use the stories that appeal to the thinking and feeling of potential purchasers. The technical communicators need to understand the intended outcome for a user task and how best to communicate those steps. The business leader who needs to make a critical business decision can’t be stuck in information overload, but instead, needs clear, actionable data points.
You need to define the primary audience, or the people in the group who need to take your information and do something with it. Your primary audience should be the one with the biggest impact on the business goals identified for the project.You also want to find out who else might see or use the information, such as higher-level managers or members of the public outside of the company. Even if you don’t intend for those audiences to see it, it doesn’t guarantee they won’t, especially these days when so much content gets shared in social media.
Think about the following for your primary audience, or the people who you want to take action based on the information you communicate:
- Who is going to access this information?
- How can you assist them to get to it?
- Where and how will they use the information?
- What task do they need to complete?
- Why might they resist this message?
You’ll also have audiences who may see the information but don’t need to act on it, as well as the gatekeeper audience. Who has the power to say go or no go, and what do they expect from your communication?
Here’s a quick chart of the information you might want to gather about your audiences.
|Who||Role||Gap||Motivations||Problems We Solve|
|Primary audience||Sales reps||Unsure how to position new products||They get a lot of pressure to reach sales goals, so any time they have to spend reading or learning is just frustrating||We will deliver short bursts of learning material (lessons no longer than 3 pages)|
|Primary audience||Customers||Challenge is understanding how to set up their account information||Frustrated when the system isn’t easy to set up||This instruction manual will deliver clear step-by-step instructions, in both text and audio formats to meet multiple delivery preferences|
|Gatekeeper||VP of Sales||Understands teams need better-defined resources to connect with customers||Concerned that developing more information products is too time-consuming for teams already strapped for time||We will deliver content in an agile approach–short, iterative bursts instead of a lengthy comm campaign|
Why does this message matter?
Why are you being asked to communicate these details to your audience? Are you teaching them how to do something? Informing them about company information? Changing their minds so they’re willing to pay for a new product feature? You need to know why the messages are important to the audiences and to the company.
|Inspire employees and build confidence that the company is doing well||The company is experiencing high turnover, and recent articles seem to be helping create a negative view of the daily work life||Don’t use “leverage” or “harness” – overused and turn audience off|
Do highlight innovation of the actual team members – story-based, audience-focused
|We will ask for team member success stories and comm quick wins|
|Generate buzz about our new product release||Increase upsells with current customers||Focus on the long-term value, future-proofed solution||Upsell numbers and conversation data points will tell the story so we know how to revise|
What do you need to create?
What media are you asked to create? A report that will be saved and shared as a PDF? An interactive course that enables the audience to click, download, and practice? A video posted to YouTube? A presentation deck that you (or someone else) will deliver at a conference and then share the slides publicly?
What elements are included? These can include written text, visuals (photos, icons, tables, graphs), audio clips (background music, narration), and more. Even if your role isn’t focused on communication design and delivery, many people are being asked more and more to develop the skills to create all of these various media types.
When defining your communication deliverables, use a chart such as the one below to document the expectations for what you’re communicating:
|Report||3-5 pages||Financial performance for Q3||IntroductionReview of QuarterNext Steps|
|Video||2-5 minutes||New product launch – iPhone app for tracking purchases||IntroductionKey FeaturesCall to Action|
Where will the communication live?
Where will your document, video, etc. be displayed or published? Where will people go to find and use after its initial release? For example, if you’re writing a blog post, will you publish to a company blog, a LinkedIn page, or multiple places? Will you then share links to it from the social accounts? Will you ask others in the organization to share the information, too?
If you’re creating a report to share progress on a company initiative, will you post to an internal company site? What search terms or direct hyperlinks will you use to make sure people can access the information when needed? Will you send them an email directing them to the information? If so, that’s yet another piece of communication you’ll need to create to fulfill the needs of the project/assignment.
|Company Intranet||Q3 performance||Internal, confidential, do not share (put that in the footer)||Introduce with an email, share link to review the report.|
|LinkedIn, Facebook||New account setup||Public – allowed to share through social networks||Post to LinkedIn, then share to Facebook 1 day later.|
When does it all happen?
What is the timeline for completing the project? Are there milestones or deadlines built in before the final communication is released? Will the communications timeline be impacted by development, production, compliance, or operations factors? Will you be expected to update the communication again?
Here are some examples of details you might want to capture:
|Draft||Expectation||Due Date||Publish Date|
|Draft 1||Must submit the introduction and previous quarter’s financial details||October 30||N/A|
|Final||All content approved||November 10||November 10|
|Update||Check to see if updates needed||April 1|
Delivering on Expectations
These scoping an audience analysis questions provide a number of benefits that help ensure you can deliver on the expectations of your communications project. Of course, asking all of these questions doesn’t mean that things won’t change—sometimes drastically—as you go along. But if you document these questions and answers at the start, you’ll get people thinking, even if they don’t immediately have an answer (it’s always good to be thinking about potential gaps or even jotting down future ideas). Organizing and tracking this information makes it easier to report on status as you move forward. And finally, having this knowledge can help you beat any writer’s block when it’s time to actually start creating content.