Communication Strategy Framework (CSF)

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This article provides a practical explanation of the Communication Strategy Framework. After reading, you will have a better understanding of effective communication skills within a team. This article also contains a downloadable and editable Communication Strategy Framework template.

What is a Communication Strategy Framework?

A communication strategy framework is a tool for planning communication with your employees, customers, suppliers and investors. You can use the Framework for a better understanding of the organisation or to improve your reputation with people whose attitude and actions influence your company’s success.

Communication strategy identifies each of the groups you must influence and describes the attitudes you should strive for. Employees and potential employees must have faith in the company, preferably consider it a great place to work. Additionally, the customers, suppliers and investors are also important. Customers must believe that you meet their needs with high-quality products and excellent service. Suppliers must feel that working with your company benefits their company. Finally, investors must be able to trust that your company is properly managed and has good prospects for the future.

A Communication Strategy Framework is the very important part that bridges the gap between the situation analysis and the implementation of a social and behaviour change communication programme (SBCC). It’s a written plan that provides a detailed description of how an SBCC programme will realise its vision, given the current situation. Effective communication strategies use a systematic process and behaviour theory to design and implement communication activities that encourage durable social and behavioural change.

Most communication strategies include the following elements:

  • Short summary of the situation analysis
  • Target group segmentation
  • Programme theory to inform strategic developments
  • Communication objectives
  • Approaches for achieving objectives
  • Positioning the desired change
  • Advantages and messages to encourage the desired change
  • Communication channels to distribute messages
  • Implementation plan
  • Monitoring and evaluation plan
  • Budgets

Various elements of the communication strategy have their own rules and must be revised during the development of the communication strategy.

Communication Strategy Framework in practice

A Communication Strategy Framework is an externally oriented, visual sketch of activities that make up the overall strategy of an organisation or department. It serves as the basis for internal and external messages, where all priorities and initiatives are organised in strategic motivators or pillars that climb towards a goal or high-level goal. A strong framework is ambitious, designed to inspire stakeholders and to show how the organisation works towards their vision, goals or objectives. When your strategy is building a house, the framework is the blueprint.

Generally, a communication strategy framework contains the following elements:

  • Theme – it responds to the goal.
  • Strategic factors or pillars – based on the business priorities, ambitious goals and research.
  • Programmes or initiatives – each under the relevant strategic motivator or pillar.

Why use a Communication Strategy Framework?

A Communication Strategy Framework sets the tone and direction, so all communication activities, products and materials work together to achieve the desired change. Strategic activities and materials advance changes sooner. Additionally, a communication strategy framework also enables stakeholders and partners to deliver input and reach consensus on the best way to achieve progress. With an agreed communication strategy framework, employees and partners have a map they can refer to via the various phases of programme development.

The programme team, including programme managers and communication specialists, must work together closely with relevant stakeholders and partners to develop the communication strategy framework. Participation of individuals and groups that are directly affected by the problem is essential. The active involvement from the start can increase the programme’s impact and lead to long-term durability. The number of people involved in the development of a communication strategy framework depends on the strategy’s goal (a marketing strategy for a single product, for example, demands fewer people, while an elaborate national strategy would include more people).

The Communication Strategy Framework must be developed after the analyses (situation, target audience and programme) have been conducted. The strategy must be final before materials or activities are created and the programme is carried out.

Developing a communication strategy framework is the first step in creating an appealing story to lift the brand up. It creates a consistent stream of messages, which is essential for building brand confidence. From an internal point of view, a framework defines your strategic focus and provides clarity to a team regarding the goals to be achieved. For external target audiences, a framework clearly illustrates the core goal and illustrates how your actions match your intentions.

A Communication Strategy Framework does not only provide organised information, it also inspires and leads to actions. A framework addresses the questions of Why, What and How, informing stakeholders of why it’s important for them and how they can be active participants in achieving your strategic goals.

Without a Communication Strategy Framework, you run the risk of inconsistent messages, an incoherent strategy and a lack of direction.

Getting started

By developing a communication plan, you find out more about the actual attitude of each group and compare the results to the goal. Examine the publications that each group reads and look for references to the company or the products. Look for comparable information on social network sites. Ask sales representatives for their opinion of customers’ attitudes.

Communication Strategy Framework steps

Step 1: Determine the method for involving stakeholders and partners

There are various ways to involve stakeholders and partners in developing a communication strategy. This step is important for gaining valuable and broader input. A common method is to hold a participating stakeholders workshop where programme employees and stakeholders jointly develop each part of the strategy.
The following steps paint a picture of the contents that must be developed for the strategy.

Step 2: Write a short summary of analyses

To make a Communication Strategy Framework effective, the team must have a good understanding of all factors that could affect communication efforts. View the situation, the audience and programme analyses by the team and write a short summary of their findings. Include information on:

  • Nature and scope of the problem (scope and severity, desired behaviour)
  • Potential audience (characteristics, barriers and facilitators for change)
  • Available resources (financial, human capital)
  • Communication environment (availability and use of communication channels, what other organisations do)
  • Areas for programme improvement (when the programme already exists) or focus (when the programme is just getting started)

Provide all stakeholders involved in the strategy development with copies of the summary.

Step 3: Select a theory

SBCC programmes are more effective when they are based on social and behavioural science theories. A programme theory offers a roadmap for studying the problem, designing interventions and evaluating the programme’s success. Based on the results of the analyses, select a theory that will support the strategy development.

Find one or more theories that match the needs of the programme, based on insight into the problem, the environment and the audience.

Step 4: Select target audiences

While the situation and target audience analyses identified potential target audiences for the programme, final decisions are made concerning the priority and influencing of target audiences during the development of the Communication Strategy Framework. View the situation and target audience analyses, and pay particular attention to the target audience characteristics and barriers for change that are described in the summary (step 2). Subsequently segment these potential target audiences in groups with similar needs, preferences and characteristics. Use the guide for target audience segmentation for more information about segmenting potential target audiences.

Determine the priority target audience from these segments. To select the target audience, it could be useful to ask the questions from the table below. In general, the group with the highest rank is the best choice for a primary target audience.

Subsequently determine the influencing audience. To select an influential audience, you ask which audience most strongly influences the priority audience, both directly and indirectly.

As soon as the strategy team has determined a priority audience and its influencing audience, you develop audience profiles for each of these. The profiles must bring the selected audience to life by telling the story of an imaginary person from that audience. Include information on the audience’s behaviour, the motivations, emotions, values, attitudes, professions, age, religion, sex and place of residence. See the guide for target audience analysis for more information on developing profiles.

Step 5: Developing communication objectives

Communication objectives clearly and concisely state the intended impact of communication efforts. They answer the question: “How can communication help to achieve the vision given the most important limitation?” Communication objectives must be aimed at addressing the most important limitation, or the biggest communication challenges, the team has identified (consult the short summary of the analyses the team has prepared).

Look at the vision of the general objectives that has been established for the campaign (for instance an increase of inclusion of family planning (FP)) to be certain that the communication goals contribute to this vision. Subsequently determine for each target audience segment what must change based on the most important limitation. The programme must change possible behaviour, skills, knowledge, policy, standards or attitudes.

Fill in each target audience segment, their most important limitations and the desired change in the communication objectives worksheet.

Then determine how much change the programme expects to see. This must be a numerical or procedural change. Conduct research to find the current level or status of behaviour. State the current and desired level, for instance ‘an increase of 50 per cent to 80 per cent’. Add this to the column ‘How much change’ of the worksheet.

Finally set the time frame for the expected change. This could be months or years. State the start and end date. Add this information to the column “time” of the worksheet.

Step 6: Select strategic approaches

Determine how the programme will achieve its communication objectives by selecting strategic approaches. Usually, various approaches will be used, either phased or concurrently. Examples of approaches include (see the Field Guide and the Implementation Kit for in-depth on these approaches):

View the summary for information on the needs/preferences of the audience and the communication environment. Make a list of approaches that could reach the audience and achieve communication objectives. Consider the following when selecting approaches:

  • Complexity, sensitivity and scope of the problem that is addressed
  • Effectiveness of the suggested approach for the problem that is addressed
  • Literacy level of the audience
  • Desired reach
  • Costs of approach
  • Age, media and digital access and other relevant characteristics of the target audience
  • Selected theories

Use the Strategic Approaches template to list possible approaches, their advantages and disadvantages, available resources and other remarks. Next order the approaches based on this information. Select the best approaches, taking into account which mix of approaches will effectively and efficiently reach a large part of the audience.

Step 7: Determine the positioning

Determine how the programme can position the desired changes (as described in the objectives) in such a way that they are noticed. Positioning determines how the audience perceives the changes that are asked by presenting a clear advantage and an attractive image of the change.

Think about what distinguishes the behaviour, services or products of the programme from the competition. Modern birth control methods, for example, are much more effective than abstinence, give women more control over their own fertility, and are appealing to both men and women. Note down the unique differences between the programme practices. Briefly assess the characteristics and needs of the audience.

Create a positioning statement that names the behaviour, product or service; the unique distinctive difference; and the advantage.

Step 8: Identify the most important advantages and supports

Identify various advantages the audience will receive through the implementation of the change the programme promotes. The advantage must be tuned to that which the audience cares about and must be larger than the personal costs for change. It helps to imagine the audience saying, “How can this help me?”

Step 9: Design core messages

For each target audience, sketch the core information – core messages – that must be conveyed in all messages and activities, by all partners who carry out the strategy. These important messages are conveyed in various ways, depending on the approach. Please take into account that important messages are not the same as the eventual creative messages that are delivered through the various approaches and channels. These are the most important ideas that must be included in the eventual creative messages.

Step 10: Select channels

Determine which communication channels reach the audience best. It’s effective to use various channels, keeping in mind there is no one perfect channel. There are four broad categories of channels:

  1. Interpersonal
  2. Community based
  3. Mass media
  4. Digital and social media

Many communication strategies identify a leading channel and supporting channels. Select a mix of channels that make sense for the strategy, taking into account:

  • Strengths and weaknesses of each channel
  • Planned approaches
  • Habits and channel preferences of the target audience
  • Communication environment
  • Programme and communication objectives
  • Fits between messages and channels
  • Available sources

Step 11: Overview of activities

With the chosen approaches and channels, the team can sketch activities that will lead to achieving the objectives. Activities must be specific and related to each channel. Examples could include: developing a support guide, producing a radio drama series, performing community folk dramas, developing an app, designing a website or conducting community discussion groups.

Step 12: Developing an implementation plan

The implementation plan describes the who, what, when and how much of the communication strategy framework. It addresses partner roles and responsibilities, activities, timeline, and budget considerations.

To determine roles and responsibilities, you must first consider which competences and skills are needed to achieve the objectives and approach detailed in the strategy.

Step 13: Establish a budget

Look at the broader categories or competences for the strategy. Brainstorm about possible costs for each category. For research, for instance, possible expenses could include: salary for developing instruments, printing costs for questionnaires, training for data collection, compensation for travel expenses or salary for data analysis.

Estimate the required amount for each main category and draw up a concept budget using the Budget Template.

Step 14: Develop a monitoring and evaluation plan

When developing the strategy, create a design plan with communication indicators, methods for monitoring and evaluation and tools that will be used to follow the progress and evaluate the effects.

Communication Strategy Framework template

Start setting up your Communication Strategy Framework using this template.

Download the Communication Strategy Framework template

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of Communication Strategy Framework or do you have anything to add? In which scenarios do you think this strategy will be effective? What do you believe are success factors that contribute to the practical application of this theory?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Shaw, K. (2005). Getting leaders involved in communication strategy. Strategic Communication Management, 9(6), 14.
  2. Steyn, B. (2004). From strategy to corporate communication strategy: A conceptualisation. Journal of Communication management, 8(2), 168-183.
  3. Tarone, E. (1981). Some thoughts on the notion of communication strategy. TESOL quarterly, 15(3), 285-295.
  4. Tarone, E. (1980). Communication strategies, foreigner talk, and repair in interlanguage 1. Language learning, 30(2), 417-428.

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