Putting together an effective communications strategy

Promotion and communication are closely related. Promotion encompasses everything you do and all the tools you use to communicate your offer and positioning in order to build a relationship that will turn potential customers into clients.

Promotion and communication are closely related. Promotion encompasses everything you do and all the tools you use to communicate your offer and positioning in order to build a relationship that will turn potential customers into clients. This will require putting together an effective communications strategy to:

  • publicize your business
  • publicize your line of products and services
  • generate interest
  • drive sales

Good communications strategies combine a number of promotional activities such as advertising, direct marketing or solicitation, sales force, public relations, branding and social media presence. Promotional activities should complement one another and maximize visibility. The best options for start-ups include:

  • Advertising
  • Networking and public relations
  • Direct marketing (solicitation)
  • Sales promotions (specials, discounts, rebates, bonuses, etc.)


The primary goal of advertising is to attract the attention of the target group to the business's product or service, leading position in the industry, meaningful solutions to customers' needs or main competitive advantages.

Suggested media:

Local newspapers and directories

These media reach a very large audience or target audience in a given neighbourhood. They are the most credible forms of media, often offering a variety of advertising options (size, colour, etc.) and relatively low production costs.

Websites and email

The Internet is the fastest growing media (along with mobile technology). It's one of the best media for targeting an audience, interacting with it and earning its loyalty. Websites can be static (HTML), dynamic (linked to a database) or transactional (for online purchases). They can be used to convey multimedia information about your business (text, images, videos, etc.) and are accessible to all your customers, anytime day or night.

Search engine marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) boosts traffic to your site and enhances your business's brand image among Internet users, while search engine marketing (SEM) uses keywords you've purchased to get your site listed in the "sponsored links" sections of the results pages of search engines like Google. It's an effective way of generating traffic to your website.

Social media and blogs

These communication tools are very inexpensive to set up, but require a substantial time investment. Make sure your target audience uses these media.

Phone books

Phone books are falling out of use. Businesses interested in placing an ad in a phone book should make sure their target audience is likely to use one to find products and services.


Displays are great because you can put flyers, brochures and business cards in them, but literature holders are increasingly being replaced by digital signs.

Networking and public relations

The most important tool available to the self-employed is networking. Building a network is the best way to develop strong, lasting relationships of trust with your potential customers, which is the primary objective of your marketing plan. Maintain your network, attend events where you can meet potential associates and loyal customers, communicate with them frequently through a variety of media and sit on boards of directors if you find it interesting and beneficial.

Being involved in your business's community is a way to strengthen and expand your business network. Attending different kinds of events (trade shows, festivals, cocktail receptions, business lunches, association meetings, get-togethers, etc.) helps get your name out there and gives you a chance to meet key contacts. Lastly, consider writing for specialized publications in order to boost your business's visibility and name recognition.

Consider holding an event. If you have a brick and mortar store, you get to see your customers regularly and get to know them. But if you sell your products or services online, your interaction with customers is limited to phone calls and email, which doesn't build loyalty. Create an opportunity to meet your customers by holding an event where they can discuss their buying experiences and product satisfaction with one another. Don't just invite your customers; invite your partners, advisors and anyone else who is involved in your business. Take advantage of the event to showcase your business's potential and vitality. Again, the satisfied customers in attendance will be your best advertising. If you are selling a new service, you can talk about your passion and approach in person—no matter your line of business.

Direct marketing (solicitation)

Solicitation is attracting attention or generating interest by any means possible in order to inform, survey or sell. Remember that the primary goal of solicitation is to convey a message to your target audience in order to make them want to buy your products or services. The purpose of a solicitation plan is to organize the way you market to your target audience. Solicitation entails the following steps:

  1. Identifying your audience, i.e., making a list of the people and businesses you want to contact. You can do this using a variety of resources (company directories, references, business cards from events, etc.). Make sure the potential customers on your list are part of your target audience.
  2. Choosing a communication tool isn't an easy task. You need to choose a medium that will put you in the best possible light while minimizing any communication shortcomings you may have. Some people prefer to send mailers or emails, while others like to make phone calls or in-person contact.
  3. Determining the goal of solicitation. Are you contacting the potential customer to sell your product or to explain the advantages of doing business with you? Are you looking to set up a meeting to identify the customer's needs?
  4. Formulating messages based on your strategies. Messages should be simple, easy to understand and reassuring for customers.
  5. Implementing your solicitation strategy. You first need to determine how much time and money you have to solicit your potential customers effectively and set a realistic solicitation timeline.

To learn more, see the Choosing an effective solicitation approach page.

Sales promotions

The aim of advertising is to generate long-term returns, while the purpose of promotions is to boost sales immediately. You can run promotions targeting consumers or intermediaries as well as promotions to motivate salespeople. The goal of promotions is to get customers to buy and develop new buying habits.

Here are a few examples of promotional tools:

  • Samples

    You can give away free samples so consumers can try a product, get to know it and experience the satisfaction of using it. This strategy is usually used when launching new products.

  • Bonuses/gifts

    Bonuses/gifts are given to consumers to reward them for buying an item.

  • Price cuts

    Temporary price cuts encourage consumers to buy by creating a sense of urgency.

  • Inserts

    Inserts present information about a business's other products. The information may be on the tag or in the packaging. This strategy can be used with a business's flagship products to promote lesser-known products.

  • Trade shows and expos

    Trade shows and expos open to the public are great places to promote products to future customers who are interested in your products.

Effective communications strategies are structured and personalized, so you need to find the optimal mix of communication means for your business. And remember, your strategy has to be tailored to your budget, resources and ability to execute. If you don't find the right mix the first time, don't sweat it! Measure the impact of your efforts and adjust your tactics for the next time.