I’d like to focus on the characteristics of great business communicators and on two very different self-made men: Richard Branson and Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs has to be at the top of the list. As a presenter, he was entertaining, engaging, awe-inspiring, and compelling. We also know that behind the public face he was an obsessive and self-centred, a perfectionist, a visionary and extremely difficult to work with, and peerlessly brilliant.
His talent for communicating seemed to match his technological skills. He applied communications techniques almost faultlessly. Never was he at a loss to come up with the dramatic, the interesting and audience-grabbing words whether related to philosophy or technology.
He revealed his values and thoughts in an address to Stanford undergraduates:
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
Job’s message is similar to “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” which is generally attributed to Confucius.
Of course, Job’s philosophy is faultless provided of course that you have the talent, skills, passion, resources and energy to do something for which there is demand. But that’s an aside. His words engage, interlock and inspire his young audience. He uses “faith”, “love”, “lovers”, “belief” and “heart” – words which his young, keen and aspiring audience desired to hear.
When talking about what drives him he said: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
Job’s matched words to his audience. When conveying a message about the fabulous design of the Mac’s Aqua user interface, he said: “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” What better way of conveying a message about aesthetics, design, style and sheer attractiveness? Of course he knew what would appeal. His status allowed him to say things that other business leaders may not get away with.
When introducing the Macbook Air in January 2008, he called it “The world’s thinnest notebook.” That sentence takes a little over 2 seconds to say, but was doubtless agonised over for days, perhaps weeks before being decided. Words matter.
He then delivered it with every ounce of motivational enthusiasm he could muster and then supported his message with features, no important detail missed.
Jobs showed us that obsessive attention to detail, market understanding, and great use of words, pay off. He is a pre-eminent role model for business communication and the use of words. Doubtless he will feature in management school case studies for years to come.
My next great communicator is paradoxically a hesitant public speaker, unlikely to win an award for oratory. He is no technological wizard, inventor or technical innovator although he is a great publicist, marketer and business innovator. He is physical brave with great ability to communicate, inspire and generate loyalty. He is the personification of the Virgin brand.
When media agencies talk about brand personality, they usually search around for physical and emotional characteristics. They attribute these to the brand as if it were a person. In the case of Virgin, there is no such media challenge.
Branson and the Virgin brand are one and the same. Branson communicates a message of fun, fitness, entrepreneurialism and courage, but also of staff care and customer attention.
The message is one of quality and friendliness, but also of irreverence towards established players in Virgin’s markets. The language used is friendly, tongue in cheek, and sometimes risqué. Words are always carefully chosen.
Immediacy is a key characteristic of Branson’s communications technique. He never allows any story which isn’t in Virgin’s favour to fester unchallenged. Testament to that can be found on news pages over the past 20 years concerning his planes, trains or bank. As a business communicator, Branson is a master.
Brand strategy involves investment, innovation, sales and distribution.
Brand positioning concerns how the brand competes with other brands.
Brand personality is the concept that brands have human characteristics.
Brand experience is what the brand creates in the mind of a stakeholder.
Quotes – Confucius
It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.