Even if you’ve never heard of Dungeons & Dragons, you’re familiar with the fight to get your messages out. It’s a battle to cut through the noise and reach your audiences. Sometimes competitors and the news cycle seem like monsters. So, we’re taking a page from the Player’s Handbook. Here are some lessons communicators can learn from our favorite tabletop roleplaying game.
1. Tell the story with your audience.
Communications and a tabletop RPG are both a two-way street. An adventure is a cooperative process between the adventurers and a Game Master (GM). Together, the adventurers and the GM tell a story. The same is true for communications professionals—tell the story with your audience.
Think of yourself as the GM. You own a communications plan, with messaging and goals. As you put out your content, you need to see how your audience reacts and engages with it. If your audience wants to go in a different direction, take that detour with them. But make sure it ties into your larger campaign. Your players, and your audience, will make choices you could have never predicted. Ask your audience what they want. Listen when they tell you; create a path to meet their needs. By listening as much as talking, you’ll form an authentic relationship with your audience.
2. Don’t split the party or your core message.
In a tabletop game, different characters compose an adventuring party. Each character brings a different skill set. Together they work take on bigger challenges. You need a full, cohesive party to take down an ancient red dragon. The same sentiment applies to your messaging. You need a North Star that drives all your messages across channels. This core message is the foundation of effective messaging. While you tailor content to resonate with target markets, it must ladder up to your core message.
3. Keep your eye on the prize.
There will be moments in time that need more investments. It could be a conference, a product launch or a company announcement. These need a special approach but must still connect to your ultimate campaign goal. In a tabletop game, a side quest can result in a cool magical item or advance a character’s back story. They are fun, but they aren’t the real story. Don’t confuse one-offs with an entire strategy.
4. Know your audience as well as your character.
Creating a character is about more than demographics or psychographics. What would motivate them to go on a journey with you? What’s their backstory? What bonds and flaws are they bringing to the table? Your audience exists outside of your interactions with them. Understanding your audience ensures you can activate and engage them time after time. You also need to know how to reach your audience. Is it close quarters, with segmented email lists or personal outreach? Or are you long-range, reaching your audience through tweets? Two-way communication is important. But few brands know how to create that interesting dialogue. Watch how your audience interacts with your content and adapt.
5. Invest in your strengths.
It’s important to know your character’s skills, and the same is true for your communications plan. You need to know what channels work best for your messaging and your audience. As you ramp up, you must balance new opportunities with your existing strengths. If you’ve found success with video content, don’t stop producing them because you’ve already done it. Breathe new life into that tactic, by featuring a new speaker or using a different platform. Recognize your proficiencies, weaknesses and goals, and how to connect the dots. Honing your existing skills allows you to have a higher chance of critical success. Your audience should never be “the general public,” and your brand can never be all things to all people. Identify your audience and invest in ways to reach them.
The reality is, we’re still learning. The world is changing, new threats and alternative ways of working continue to arise. Together, we’ll keep leveling up as professionals and an industry.
Now roll for initiative.
APCO Alumna Julianne Hyer coauthored this post.