The Car Lover's Guide to Your Communications PlanYour communications plan must fit the needs, goal, and operations of your organization.

This is a pretty straight forward guideline. 

However, understanding this to be true and executing upon it are two very different things.

How many times have you started with a client and found their communications was made up of a bunch of shiny toys and buzzwords with very little connection to who they are as a company, their target audience, and their goals?

Likewise, if you work in house, one of the hardest parts of communications plan development is truly being able to take a subjective look at the organization—the strengths, weaknesses, and different factors in play (both internally and externally), all which affect the strategy needs.

What Type of Car is Your Organization?

I went through a phase during my single life where I would assign a car to every guy I dated, based on his personality and appearance.

So, for example, Jared was a Jeep Wrangler, Mark was a Porsche 918, John was a Toyota Tacoma, Henry was an Audi R8 (names changed to protect the innocent).

It was an amazingly accurate and easy way to classify what I liked and didn’t like about them—and a lot of fun.

The same classification could be done with organizations—sort of like an organizational persona. And in turn help guide the development of a communications plan to fit.

So today we are going to do a fun exercise—find your organizational “car persona.”

Vroom, vroom!

Do it for your own organization or choose your favorite client.

Start your engines folks…..because here we goooooooooooooo.

*Disclaimer: This post is meant to be a fun way for you to think differently about your organization. Spin Sucks will not be held responsible for any head-on collisions created if you go to your boss or client and tell them they are running an over-priced mini-van or present your communications plan covered in car oil (#tuneuptime). Also, please remember to always buckle up and never text and drive.

Choose Your Car Body Type

While different car models, add-ons, and frills make them distinct, every car has a basic body type, and that body type sets the foundation of who they are and what they can become.

Organizations are the same way.

While your organization is unique in the details, it will follow certain patterns based on product, team, goals, and structure.

So now is the time to find your organization’s car body type.

I’m going to lay out two examples to help you get the hang of it. Remember, these are not the only car body types to choose from. I just chose these as examples since they are very opposite of each other.

Here are some body types to choose from:

  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Convertible
  • SedanSUV
  • Crossover
  • Station wagon
  • Van
  • Minivan (example below)
  • Sportscar (example below)

With each example, I’ve provided some basic communications plan suggestions based on the tendencies outlined in the car persona.

These need to be evaluated individually based on your unique situations in your own communications plan.

Are You a Sports Car?

You might be a sports car if:

  • You are fast, powerful, and showy.
  • An on-road performer and at your best when you are in execution mode.
  • You focus on speed and performance.
  • There is a need to be front and center. 
  • You might be a luxury product or simply a brand which makes people feel they are part of an elite club.
  • You run efficiently but need frequent tune-ups.
  • Both as purchase price and as maintenance cost is expensive (and expensive refers to all resources—time, money, energy, materials, human).
  • If you make a mistake it is out front and center—media, customers, vendors—everyone knows and feels personally harmed.
  • If something goes wrong it goes majorly wrong and can be difficult and expensive to repair.
  • You might deal with big egos, both internally (team, leadership) and externally (customers, vendors).

Communications Plan Tips for Sports Cars

  • A comprehensive crisis communications plan is necessary
  • Take advantage of your ability to build strong communities (online and off) and brand ambassadors.
  • Avoid the temptation to prioritize the ego-boosts of an all earned media focused plan.
  • Make sure you are very clear on messaging and voice and create specific guidelines. Everyone on the team, and especially everyone speaking for the brand (on social, through earned media, content, or on the front lines—such as sales and customer service) must be trained and checked against these guidelines.
  • There might be a tendency to throw money at things needlessly. This tendency could spill over into the communications plan leading to excesses and pointless tactics that don’t serve the laid out goals.
  • Focus on internal communications should be a key part of any communications plan.
  • Customer service needs to be a focus and extraordinary.

Are You a Mini-Van?

  • You are steady, durable, and reliable.
  • Customers coming to you looking for a practical solution that works.
  • There is nothing exceptional about your performance other than it’s reliability.
  • Your organization structure and/or culture might be considered clunky and outdated, but there is no big push to change because “it works.”
  • Likewise, efforts at innovation or changing the status quo are often met with resistance.
  • You have a hard time attracting new talent.
  • You might be a “behind-the-scenes kind of company. While customers rely on you tremendously, you might not be the product or service they automatically credit when thinking about their success.
  • Talk about gas-guzzler. You use up resources quickly. Not in the flashy way of the sports car, but in a lot of admin and operations costs.

Communications Plan Tips for a Van

  • Your customers like consistency and stability. Messaging must be consistent across all channels.
  • You must work harder than other cars to clearly define yourself based on value. Find unique ways to share customer stories and testimonials. Think about customer spotlights, interviews, and videos.
  • Don’t let yourself default to boring. Think outside the box when it comes to tactics.
  • Just because no one else in your industry is doing something doesn’t mena it’s a bad idea.
  • Make a clear effort to add a strong human element to your brand and outreach. Help your customer see you as more than just a vendor or brand.
  • Think about the problems you solve for customer segments and build a lead generation and nurturing pipeline to address these problems.
  • Don’t assume social media or content marketing isn’t right for you.
  • Earned media is another great opportunity to address customer segment problems.

Pimp My Ride

Now you’ve figured out your body type, it’s time to customize. You can get as detailed as you want with this, but you are going to do it from two perspectives:

  1. Your current situation.
  2. Your goal situation.

Think about things like engine size, fuel-economy, horse-power,  sunroof, heated seats, electric, and so on.

How do these things translate to your company and brand story?

Be honest with where you currently are and realistic about where you want to be.

We’ve all seen pimped out cars that just look ridiculous because they don’t fit. You can put big wheels on a Honda Fit, but it’s never going to be a monster truck.

You don’t want a communications plan that follows suit.

Your Car Persona and Your Communications Plan

Think of your communications plan as the road your car persona can ride most effectively on. Build it to meet the needs of your unique car persona.

And there you have it! What’s your “car persona?”

photo credit: Lotus in a Row via photopin (license)

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino