Step 2: Survey the Landscape

If you haven't already, take a look at Step 1: Determine Where You Are Now. This is Step 2, where you begin to look outward on this communications strategy journey.

Whether you do all of these things or not will depend on the amount of market research you've already done, and the scope and depth of your overall strategy. The SWOT Analysis and audience profiles are key to this process, not only for gathering information and giving your plan some focus as you develop it, but also to help guide your priorities and metrics for success down the road.

In order to survey the landscape, I recommend that you:

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

A Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) Analysis is a great tool. Gather your core strategy team together for a brainstorming session. Setup your whiteboard or some of those giant post-it notes with your four headers: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. And then work with your team to fill these in as they pertain to your organization and its communications/outreach in particular.

One important note: Strengths and Weaknesses are typically internal to your organization. Opportunities and Threats (or Challenges, if you don't like the label Threats) tend to be external.

Once you're done you can refine your brainstorm and develop a matrix with these four quadrants to summarize your results. This not only helps to get your team in a mindset to consider the "big picture" of your outreach efforts, but is useful down the road to help ensure that your strategy is leveraging your Strengths and Opportunities and addressing any potential Weaknesses and Threats.

Identify and Profile Target Audiences

Who are you trying to reach? If you (or your leadership) says "everyone!" then you have a problem.

You need to be able to identify a short list of target audiences. Knowing and connecting with your target audience is the core of your communications strategy, so if this is at all murky or unclear, do not be tempted to skip this step. You can brainstorm a big list of potential audiences with your core strategy group if that's helpful. Sometimes you may need to break them down into primary and secondary audiences. Your eventual strategies, tactics, and metrics will be designed to ensure that your communications are engaging these groups.

Once you've identified your target audiences, begin to build profiles of these audiences. Answer some key questions about them, such as:

  • Who are they? Are there any general demographic characteristics of this group? Age/gender/income level/etc.
  • Where are they? Both literally (as in: people that live within 25 miles of our business) or virtually
  • What do they do? Are there hobbies or interests that this group shares?
  • Why are they a target audience for you? Outline exactly why they want to connect with you, and why you want them as a target audience.

Audience Research: Interviews, Focus Groups, and/or Surveys

If you're unsure about any of the details above, or want to test your assumptions (always a good idea), investing some time into researching your target audience can pay great dividends down the road. You can identify some key people to interview from your target audience(s), or conduct one or more focus groups to gain some key insights about the individuals you are trying to connect with. Sending out surveys is another way to learn more about these groups and can provide some extremely helpful information about where to focus (or re-focus) your communications strategy going forward.

Competitor Research: Analysis and Differentiation

Another extremely useful useful tool can be to identify 2 or 3 "competitors" that offer similar services or products, or are trying to connect with the same audiences you've identified. Conduct some of the same "information gathering" that you did in step 1 -- but this time instead of evaluating yourself, you're composing a picture that reveals what tactics your competitors are using.

You can compare social media profiles (some tools like Facebook will let you do this from within the tool itself), messaging, advertising, and more. Sign-up for their email newsletters and read over their blogs. Get a sense of what your competitors are doing well, what audience(s) they're engaging, and more, so that you can see where you might be able to set yourself apart down the road.


Keep in mind that this step may take a while. People can be impatient to get to the tactics in the last step--it can be tempting to jump into a new social media channel or start redesigning a website instead of doing this kind of research beforehand. Set some clear goals for your organization about what you want/need to uncover, and how long you are willing to devote to this process. You don't want to get hung up on conducting this kind of research indefinitely--really there's no limit to what you can learn--but it's also crucial to get a sense of the landscape so that you can set the benchmarks and metrics for your strategy.

The next stop on this journey is Step 3: Figure Out Where You Want to Go.

Check out all of the posts in the
Communications Strategy Roadmap Series:

Communications Strategy Roadmap: 5 Steps to Success
Step 1: Determine Where You Are Now
Step 2: Survey the Landscape
Step 3: Figure Out Where You Want to Go
Step 4: Map Out Your Best Route
Step 5: Get On the Road