Here at Quantified, we talk a lot about the power of communication development to enhance internal operations, from boosting employee engagement to minimizing wasted time (and the costs associated with it) to building a more inclusive culture. But as powerful as the ROI of communication development can be within an organization, we know that it can be just as important outside. After all, effective leadership communication is the foundation of a business’s reputation external stakeholders like customers and investors.
While, once upon a time, a company’s reputation and valuation could stand solely on its products or services, things aren’t quite so simple today. Investors, customers (and potential customers), and local and national communities are looking beyond a brand’s products and services to its leaders — the messages they share and how they present themselves online and in person — to make purchasing and investing decisions. And this is especially true as we weather (and eventually move through) the COVID-19 crisis. A recent report from the International Association of Business Communicators APAC and Isentia has found that communication strategy will go hand-in-hand with business strategy more than ever before in the next twelve months as companies and their communication teams work to preserve, maintain, and/or rebuild their reputations in the wake of the pandemic.
What’s the moral of this story? Savvy businesses are investing in their leaders’ external communication skills in order to build and maintain the brand’s reputation.
Here’s an overview of how leadership communication can make or break a company’s reputation with its two key stakeholders: community and investors.
Attract Customers and Engage the Community
Before making purchasing decisions, today’s consumers assess the leaders of the brands they’re considering. Who runs this company? Are they trustworthy? Honest? Do their social and political values align with mine? Do they care about more than just the bottom line? Research has found that 66 percent of consumers base their perceptions of a brand and its products on their perception of the brand’s CEO, while 59 percent report that their opinions about companies are influenced by their executives’ communication.
Today’s consumers have more choices than ever before, no matter what product or service they’re looking for. And as they make decisions about how they spend their money, they’re careful about supporting businesses whose mission, vision, and values align with theirs. And a company’s ability to communicate those principles starts with its leaders — their media interviews, conference keynotes, and online presences.
The leader who attracts today’s picky consumers is one who can build trust with her audience by communicating authentically across every channel. Buyers know when they’re being fed stump speeches and marketing spin — and our BS meters are especially sensitive during difficult emotional and economic times, like the ones we’re currently facing. If leaders come off as inauthentic or disingenuous, they’ll turn off potential customers. But if they can show audiences that they have the best interests of both individuals and the greater community at heart, then they’re on the way to building lifelong relationships with loyal customers.
It’s not just consumers who are looking for effective communication from the leaders of their favorite brands. Investors are also listening carefully to leaders’ messaging in both financial and general communication to get a sense of the business’s bottom line and its plans for growth (or recovery) in the future. And that’s especially true during times of economic crisis.
Quantified’s research has found that, especially when the numbers aren’t strong, investors are looking for leaders to demonstrate four key traits in their communication:
- Accountability: No matter the circumstances surrounding the shortfall (or the win), leaders can build trust by taking ownership of the results using first-person pronouns and active voice.
- Measured Emotions: Especially when things are going wrong, it’s important to stay measured. “Sunshine pumping” — focusing solely or even mostly on the positives — will come across as inauthentic, while dwelling too much on the negatives can have an equally poor impact on overall perception. It’s important to acknowledge what went wrong, but it’s equally important to shift the focus to the future.
- Transparency: When a speaker uses traditionally deceptive language patterns like passive voice and third-person pronouns (even if they are actually telling the truth), investors are likely to wonder what they’re hiding. Instead, be candid, frank, and willing to dig deep into the hows and whys of the message.
- Preparation: When leaders seem uncertain or when executives’ deliver misaligned messages, investors get worried. Be sure everyone is fully prepared and on the same page before delivering the news.
Brand Reputation in Action: Levi’s
One of our favorite examples of the power of external communication to drive company reputation and value is Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh. When he took the reins in 2011, he knew he wanted to make some changes to breathe new life into the brand’s reputation, and he led the charge in updating products, renewing the company’s commitment to sustainability, and modernizing strategies, for starters. But his real success in rejuvenating the brand came in his ability to effectively communicate these changes — as well as the rationale behind them and the business and community results they would engender — to external audiences.
From the company’s “Live in Levi’s” ad campaigns to Bergh’s keynotes, media interviews, and more, Bergh’s external communication strategy is a masterclass in making messages memorable, and persuasive. And he does this through an emphasis on clear, authentic content infused with engaging storytelling.
You can see his talent on display in this 2017 CNBC interview, in which Bergh recaps the brand’s “comeback” from the early 2,000s to today, appealing to both investors and customers through stories about the brand’s history, its transformation, and the specific actions he’s taken to drive that transformation. Bergh’s communication in this interview scored in the top 15 percent of our database for its engagement, memorability, storytelling, and clarity — and in the top 5 percent for innovation. Leaders who are interested transforming, or simply maintaining, their brands’ reputations through external communication would do well to look toward Levi’s as an example.
Turn Your Company’s Leaders into World-Class Communicators
Powerful communication skills are just as important externally as they are internally, so businesses who want to maintain a competitive edge in a crowded and ever-evolving market would do well to develop their c-suite leaders (as well as their up-and-comers) into savvy communicators who can engage and motivate audiences across every channel.
The Quantified platform is here to help, with objective, data-driven communication analytics, actionable, research-based improvement plans tailored to the needs and goals of each individual leader, and ongoing tracking to empower users to measure their progress and adjust their strategies as necessary. To learn more about the ROI of investing in communication skills — from the executive level on down — we invite you to download our complimentary white paper. Then, when you’re ready to discuss how Quantified can help your organization, request a demo, and one of our experts will be in touch to walk you through our platform and process.