OER - Open Educational Resources
Content Strategy Knowledge Base

The Three Major Alignments in Strategic Communication Research
Martin Pressnitz
Martin Pressnitz

The Three Major Alignments in Strategic Communication Research

Originally published: 4 April 2024
Last updated: 4 April 2024

Read time: 7 minutes

Strategic communication is a multifaceted discipline. It also concerns itself with the alignment of an organization's strategy with its communication efforts. This report provides an overview of the three fundamental alignments in strategic communication

In the field of strategic communication, the alignment between an organization's communication efforts and its strategic objectives is crucial for maintaining a cohesive and effective corporate identity. This concept encompasses aligning communication strategies with the organization's overall goals, ensuring consistency across all communication channels and activities, and harmonizing the relationship between the organization and its stakeholders. Tools like the RepTrak Alignment Monitor and the AC4ID test are used to assess and achieve alignment, aiming to prevent misalignments that can damage the corporate brand. Research in this area focuses on the mechanisms and outcomes of aligning communication strategies with corporate goals and stakeholder expectations. The objective is to optimize the effectiveness of communication in supporting organizational objectives and enhancing stakeholder relationships.

The Three Major Alignments in Strategic Communication Research

Strategic communication is a multifaceted discipline. It also concerns itself with the alignment of an organization's strategy with its communication efforts. (Zerfass & Volk, 2018) This report provides an overview of the three fundamental alignments in strategic communication: Organization & Stakeholder Alignment, Communication & Strategy Alignment, and Communication Strategy & Activities Alignment. Each of these perspectives plays a crucial role in ensuring that an organization's communication efforts are effective and coherent. Although the concept of alignment is broadly used, it is quite abstract.

“Strategic communication is the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission.”

– (Hallahan et al. 2007, p. 7)

Balancing Organizational Goals with Stakeholder Expectations

Organization and stakeholder alignment focuses on harmonizing the relationship between an organization and its internal and external stakeholders. Internal alignment aims to align all employees with a common goal, identity, or behavior while external alignment involves adapting the organization to the diverse and changing expectations, beliefs, and demands of different stakeholder groups. Strategic communication is seen as a tool for creating and maintaining this alignment or for identifying misalignment. The ultimate goal is to create a favorable impression, gain stakeholder support, and secure an unrestricted license to operate. 

In his work "The Alignment Factor", Riel defines alignment as a mutually beneficial relationship between a company and its key stakeholders that enables the company to achieve its objectives and fulfill its purpose. He emphasizes the importance of having a well-aligned workforce, termed Strategically Aligned Behavior (SAB), and views communication as crucial for achieving internal stakeholder alignment. The so-called RepTrak Alignment Monitor is presented as a method to measure the internal workforce's alignment with strategic objectives.

Invernizzi and Romenti discuss the organization's alignment with the external environment through their Entrepreneurial Communication Model, which identifies four contributions of strategic communication: the aligning, energizing, visioning, and constituting roles of strategic communication. These communication activities help the organization to align with external expectations by monitoring and interpreting the environment, building partnerships with key stakeholders, and incorporating their viewpoints into managerial decision-making. Thereby they activate co-decisional processes and stimulate supportive behavior from stakeholders. (Volk & Zerfass, 2018, p. 435f)

The RepTrak Alignment Monitor

To gauge how well a company's workforce aligns with its strategic goals, consider using the RepTrak Alignment Monitor by the Reputation Institute. This tool evaluates five key factors: Media and Messaging, Cascading Information, Dialogue, Recognition and Rewards, and Capability Building. It aims to enhance how effectively businesses communicate with their employees and to find the most effective methods for fostering a workforce that is fully engaged, proactive, supportive of the strategy, and collaborative. (Volk & Zerfass, 2018, p. 435)


When a company launches a new product it must consider how the product and how its associated communications will be received by different stakeholder groups. This might involve tailoring messages to address the specific concerns or interests of each group, ensuring that the product launch is perceived positively across the board.

Integrating Communication Efforts with Corporate Strategy

The Communication & Strategy Alignment ensures that all communication strategies are directly linked to the organization's overall strategic goals. The aim is to make sure that communication efforts support and reinforce these goals, rather than operating independently. Conversely, corporate strategy goals are broken down to transform them into communication goals. While it's widely accepted that aligning communication strategies with overall business goals is important, the actual process and connection between corporate and communication strategies have not been closely studied. There's a lack of research on how to practically turn broad business objectives into specific goals for communication. (Volk & Zerfass, 2018, p. 436)


A company undergoing a rebranding initiative would align its communication strategy to reflect its new brand identity. This would involve updating all marketing materials, social media content, and internal communication to consistently reflect the new branding and strategic direction of the company.

Coherence across Communication Channels

The Communication Strategy & Activities Alignment pertains to the consistency and coherence of communication activities with the overarching communication strategy. It is about ensuring that all communications across various channels and platforms are synchronized and present a unified message. (Volk & Zerfass, 2018, p. 436f)


Imagine that a company called "GreenTech Innovations" focuses on promoting sustainable technology. Their communication strategy aims to emphasize their commitment to eco-friendly solutions. To ensure alignment, all social media posts, press releases, and marketing materials highlight the company's use of recycled materials and energy-efficient production processes. This coherent messaging reinforces the company's brand as a leader in sustainability across different platforms and audiences. By integrating their communication efforts, "GreenTech Innovations" effectively aligns its brand identity with its corporate values and strategic vision.

The following chapters explain two alignment models which detect misalignment in stakeholder and brand communication  in order to support the purposeful use of organizational communication to reach its goals.

Vision-Culture-Image (VCI) Alignment Model

The VCI Alignment model is made to find tracks of misalignment based on several case studies. According to this model, three misalignments can generally be detected:

  • a vision-culture gap
  • an image-culture gap
  • or a vision-image gap.

A noteworthy concept related to misalignment is the idea of narcissism and hyper-adaptation. This example refers to situations where corporations excessively focus on their own messaging and forget to heed the expectations of stakeholders ("arrogant bastards"), while the latter describes instances where corporations over-adjust their actions to meet external expectations, thereby losing sight of their core values and direction ("headless chicken"). With the following four VCI (Vision-Culture-Image) tools, the actual status of the alignment and coherence with the corporate strategy and the consistency between VCI can be assessed:

  • stakeholder surveys
  • dialog between middle managers from key business functions
  • dialog between brand managers and stakeholders and events and routines that connect stakeholders to each other via the brand. (Volk & Zerfass, 2018, p. 436)

The ACID Test

The ACID Test

The ACID Test of Corporate Identity Management, as outlined in the literature by Balmer and Soenen, provides a comprehensive approach for evaluating and aligning corporate identity within the context of strategic communication. This test is specifically relevant when discussing alignments in strategic communication in corporate environments. The ACID Test framework is designed to assess the alignment between four critical aspects of an organization's identity: Actual Identity, Communicated Identity, Ideal Identity, and Desired Identity.

  • Actual Identity refers to the true values, behaviors, activities, market performance, and current positioning of the organization. It's what the organization truly is internally.
  • Communicated Identity deals with how the organization is perceived externally by its publics and the manner in which the organization communicates its identity. This encompasses both controlled communication (e.g. advertising, PR) and non-controlled communication (e.g. media coverage, word of mouth).
  • Ideal Identity represents the optimum positioning of the organization in its markets, taking into account its strengths, capabilities, and environmental factors. This is the identity that would be most beneficial for the organization to achieve.
  • Desired Identity is the identity that the organization's management aspires to establish. It's based on the vision and mission defined by senior executives and reflects the strategic direction they desire for the organization.

The ACID Test facilitates a systematic examination of the gaps and alignments between these four aspects of identity, enabling organizations to identify areas where their strategic communication may be misaligned with their actual, ideal, or desired identities. By conducting this analysis, organizations can pinpoint inconsistencies and develop strategies to realign their communications, ensuring they accurately reflect and support the organization's overall strategic goals. 

The test can serve as a powerful tool to argue for the importance of coherence and consistency across all dimensions of corporate identity. It underscores the need for strategic communication to be integrated with the organization's core values, objectives, and market positioning, ensuring that all forms of communication effectively support and reinforce the desired corporate identity. (Balmer & Soenen, 1999)

Where to go from here

This article may be an abstract explanation of the three alignments in strategic communication research. A model that goes along with the alignment concept from Volk and Zerfass ist the Communication Value Circle (CVC). As a framework, it helps organizations to create, pursue and define their unique communication goals and values. Interested? Find more in here.


Argenti, P. A., Howell, R. A., & Beck, K. A. (2005). The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Balmer, J. T. (2012). Strategic corporate brand alignment. European Journal of Marketing.

Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2001). Are the strategic stars aligned for your corporate brand? Harvard Business Review.

Hallahan, K., Holtzhausen, D., van Ruler, B., Verčič, D., & Sriramesh, K. (2007). Defining strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(1).

Holtzhausen, D. R., & Zerfass, A. (Eds.). (2015). The Routledge handbook of strategic communication. New York, NY: Routledge.

Riel, C. B. M. van (2012). The alignment factor. Leveraging the power of total stakeholder support. London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge.

Volk, S. C. & Zerfass, A. (2018) Alignment: Explicating a Key Concept in Strategic Communication, International Journal of Strategic Communication.

This article is a student-written report on a part of the course Strategic organisational communication in the 3rd semester of the M.A. program in content strategy. It has been authorized by the instructor Lisa Dühring.