Make the most of SWOT analysis for communication projects
SWOT analysis is widely used in strategic planning and can be a powerful tool in assessing your relative position. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It is most effective when you have defined the problem or concern that needs to be addressed and ideally have also developed your goal statement or intended end state for the project. In this way it helps to give clarity between where you are and where you want to be.
SWOT analysis is best undertaken by a cross-functional team of 6-8 people who can provide a range of perspectives, especially people from areas relevant to the issue or problem for which you are preparing a communication plan. Therefore, in addition to communicators, you should include people who are broadly in tune with communication such people from your marketing branch, your PR firm, your market researcher, a representative from operations and HR etc.
SWOT analysis is quite simple in principle, and you should keep the process simple – avoid complexity and over-analysis. but you need to beware of the danger of being tempted to merely compile a list rather than thinking about what is really important about the parts of that list in achieving the goal of the project. You may also be drawn into presenting the resulting SWOT lists uncritically and without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.
You can use specialized software to show the SWOT lists graphically, which can help you to clarify the factors being considered.
A SWOT summary can be useful for strategy development in a communication project or program as well as in an annual communication plan. It is especially useful for deciding the key points in your messaging.
- A strength is a resource or capacity that can be used effectively to achieve the project objective. To identify strengths, ask: “What are our advantages in this situation?”, “What do we do well?” or “What do other people see as our strength here?” Obviously you would want to build on your organization’s perceived strengths in your communication activities.
- A weakness is a limitation, fault or defect in the particular product, service or issue that may be the reason for your communication plan. To identify weaknesses, ask: “What could we improve in this?”, “What do we do badly?”, or “What should we avoid?” Other areas of the organization may be able to resolve the problem caused by the weak point if, for instance, it is a financial, operational or marketing matter, in order to minimize its impact without you actually needing to communicate about it. If it does need a communication tactic, then you can tailor all or part of a communication plan, particularly the messaging, to minimize the weakness, or at least have a communication response in place if it is raised against you by opponents.
- An opportunity is a favorable situation in your project or organization’s environment, often a trend or a change of some kind or an overlooked need that increases the relevance or effectiveness of the project in question. You can highlight this in your communication implementation.
- A threat is a danger or menace in your project or organization’s environment. Often threats are ignored until they become major problems. Threats can be identified by looking at the obstacles faced, initiatives by competitors, changing technology and changing demand or technical requirements for your products or services. As with a weakness, other areas may be able to act to counteract the problem without needing a communication response. If it does need a communication response, you should assess the likelihood and extent of the risk or threat so that if it does emerge, you are able to quickly implement a communication response.
It is all very well to work out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, but what do you actually do with these insights? SWOT analysis is not much value unless you actually use the key factors identified to contribute to your communication plan. To keep all this manageable, the factors should be prioritized. You could note the top three factors from each of the four quadrants to form a total of list of 12 factors, and then reduce the total list to the top 5-6 factors that would have a bearing on your communication strategy. Be careful to evaluate which factors are the strongest and focus on them. As noted earlier, don’t get drawn into presenting the SWOT lists without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.
Since resources are always limited, you can’t afford to follow up every SWOT item, so you need to attend to the most important – prioritize them. The SWOT factors could be prioritized by urgency, importance, strategic advantage, cost, lead-time for completion, duration of actions, etc.
One strategy is to cross-link the four quadrants of factors to identify how strengths can be used to take advantage of opportunities and to tackle threats. Similarly, the weaknesses can be examined to ensure they don’t compound the threats or stop your organization from exploiting the opportunities relating to the project.