"Show me the money!" Jerry Maguire may have provided us with one of the best movie lines of the last 20 years but when it comes to real life, brands need to show something more than a ruthless pursuit of profit.
In fact the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s superstar sports agent, International Management Group founder Mark McCormack provides us with much more useful advice. McCormack tells us, "All things being equal, people will buy from a friend. All things being not quite so equal, people will still buy from a friend.
The message for marketers is simple. People won’t buy from you unless they believe in you. They need to know who you are and what you stand for.
It’s a powerful lesson. But how do we put it into practice?
Of course, you first need to work out what your firm’s purpose is. Are you a darer like Uber, refusing to accept no for an answer?
Perhaps you’re a sharer like Airbnb, connecting people and information. Or maybe you’re a carer, looking to improve people’s lives like Ella’s Kitchen, whose founder Paul Lindley began with the simple aim of improving children’s diets from a very young age.
Once you have clarified your mission, the answer lies in communication. And this comes from the top. Every entrepreneur or chief executive must become the communicator-in-chief of their business. They are the custodian and champion of the company’s story.
The communicator-in-chief knows the power of words to comfort, connect and inspire. He or she recognises that a story is no good if there is nobody able to do it justice.
They understand that in a world where businesses seek mass belief as much as mass consumption, communication has never been a more important part of the chief executive’s toolkit – it’s the means by which companies stand out.
This is largely down to advances in technology, amplifying the importance of two key factors: transparency and connectivity.
Transparency means that there is an ever-greater need to explain. Customers want to know more and they have the tools at their disposal to do so. Connectivity means that the 21st century customer is a tribal being. If you are not part of the tribe, you will not be able to sell to it.
We explored this issue in great detail writing our new book Mission: how the best in business break through.
In doing so I discovered that entrepreneurs are the most natural business communicators – as the embodiments of the companies they create they are not only fierce advocates for their businesses, they exude their firm’s values and purpose from every pore – gaining trust as a contributing member of the tribe.
The Cobra Beer founder, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, is a great example. If it wasn’t for his ability to express the Cobra values it would surely have proven impossible to go from ferrying cases of beer in a beaten up Citroën 2CV to taking on the global giants of the drinks industry.
Of course this makes sense. Who better to campaign on behalf of a brand than the individual who created it? As Bilimoria puts it himself: "I just had such belief in [Cobra]. I really believed I had this differentiated product that would deliver on my promises."
As he suggests, it’s this personal level of conviction in the value and distinctiveness of the brand that really separates campaigners from other categories of businessperson, "You’ve got to have absolute passion, faith and belief in your ideas and your brand. That gives people the faith and confidence to trust you and give you a chance."
It’s a daunting task and the battlefield is littered with the victims who got it wrong. Take Nick Buckles of G4S or the global consulting firm Arthur Andersen. Both lost their trials in the court of public opinion and suffered the sentence handed down by their judge, the audience.
So how does a communicator-in-chief cut through? Bilimoria provides three top tips:
Picture your success
Have a vision of where you want to go and the company you want to create. Ask yourself not just what you’re building but why you’re building it.
Deploy the brand
Build a strong brand right from the beginning. Constantly campaign to attract attention and raise awareness and lay a strong foundation upon which to build and grow.
Package it right
Breakthrough brands constantly innovate – even the packaging needs to stand out. You should always aim to be unique and iconic.
By adopting this approach and ensuring their chief executive is equipped to act as communicator-in-chief, marketers can help their brands to break through by answering the clarion cry of a modern audience waiting to hear what they stand for…
"Show me the mission!"
Michael Hayman MBE is co-author of Mission: How the best in business break through and founder of the campaigns firm Seven Hills