Read the full article on LinkedIn here.
As a leader, you’re the de facto communicator-in-chief for your business. If you’re raising money or pitching new business right now, you know this all too well — but it’s equally true for intrapreneurs and internal leaders too. All the hard work you do of team leadership, product development, and strategic planning, all of it depends for its success on how well you communicate to others about the value of your business.
In a special Strategy Session episode of Masters of Scale, four entrepreneurs sat down with Reid Hoffman to ask their burning questions about strategic communication — the art of storytelling about your company, your product, and yourself.
In this Strategy Session, Reid Hoffman spoke with Analisa Goodin, the founder & CEO of Catch+Release; Mariel Reed, co-founder & CEO of Pavilion; Alex Beller, co-founder & president of Postscript; and Greta McAnany, the CEO of Blue Fever, during a live virtual event in alliance with Capital One Business — with a bonus question from Aparna Sarin, CMO of Business Cards and Payments at Capital One. (Read to the end for that!)
4 key insights emerged in Reid’s answers:
Q. How can I be a better communicator of the value of my company? (from Greta McAnany, Blue Fever)
A. You need to measure how well your message is actually landing, not just how it sounds. Are you communicating the company’s category, benefits, etc., in a simple way that is resonating?
I still do some media training myself, because I need to know how my communications are landing. It’s a different ask than saying, “Oh, it’s my vision, and I need to articulate it as best as possible.” Of course, do that, but you have to discover how it lands, and why. Do I have to change my message? Was it said in the right way? Maybe the message doesn’t resonate with me, but it resonates with other people.
In short: Invest time and money in yourself as a communicator. Even if you’re not immediately planning a media tour or a raise, don’t underestimate the value of media training; it will help you bridge the gap between how your message lands and how you intend it to land. People will discover the value in your company if you’ve done this type of groundwork.
Q. How should I communicate with my customers when my product is changing? (from Alex Beller, Postscript)
A. When your customers get comfortable with your product, you’ll discover that there’s a group of people who don’t want it to change. They don’t even want new features, let alone a new thing entirely. So you want to focus on why the feature is good, and be strategic about it. Always be communicating about what’s good about the change — as opposed to being zeroed in on what’s changing.
If you're at an early stage of scale and you're doing one kind of extension, you want to emphasize that the current and old thing will be there together. So for example, in the very early days of LinkedIn, I knew that we were not going to be focusing on advertising on LinkedIn for a while, but I didn't want the community to respond negatively when we did roll it out, like, "Oh, now they've added advertising.” So what I did is, I put in an ad very, very early, a small one, and I made sure it was only really high quality. It served as a bridge for the new thing. The sooner you can hint at a new feature that you know is coming in the future, the softer the landing
As you get to larger scale, you begin to figure out how much of your business goes toward your core and evolution, versus extensions. You want to demonstrate that your main thrust is improving your core product, but you’re also bringing in new things along the way. And throughout, you want to bring people along on your journey and involve them in your arc, even though you will have some resistance. People want to feel heard and listened to, and that back-and-forth will ultimately prime them for change.
Q. What’s the best way to communicate with risk-averse clients? (from Mariel Reed, Pavilion)
A. It's a classically difficult challenge: Your startup has a big, audacious vision. But your potential clients come from a more conservative place. Perhaps they’re government agencies that have a slow, formal, risk-averse way of doing things. Your product might be desperately needed, but it also triggers your clients’ outsize fear of risk, and may even alienate them.
And first, I want to applaud the entrepreneurs who provide new services for state and local governments. But let’s be real: Government clients tend to be difficult customers. They might trust you less than they'd trust people from within their system. And you can’t story-tell the same way you might internally, focusing on your bold map for product evolution. That’s change, and change brings risk.
The key is to find a small set of advocates at first. You won’t persuade everyone right away, but light a few torches, and let those early fans light up others. With a few early advocates, you have room to build up trust over time, even with risk-averse customer bases, slow-moving customer bases, and all your non-early adopters.
Q. When do you, as a founder, pass the torch as “chief communicator”? (from Analisa Goodin, Catch+Release)
A. Well, you'll always be communicating it. It's never a complete pass-the-torch. But you need to get other torches lit before you step away from the key role.
Ask yourself: What kind of torches will I need? Is it a couple of people? It could be three, or 20. You’ll probably need social media creators and folks who can reach out to influencers. It depends on how you want to spread the news for your specific business.
But you need to develop your communications strategy so it can broaden past just you. You will not be successful with your audience without lighting torches across your organization to tell its story, over and over and over.
Bonus Q: How has remote work changed your communication style? (from Aparna Sarin, Capital One)
A. In hybrid environments, it's very easy to lose some of the tactile, emotional things that you get from being in person. One of the things that I learned from the pandemic was, even when you're very pressed for time, you need to go in to do a little bit of a personal check-in. Just something simple like: “How are you doing? How are things? How is the family?”
Get an emotional connection, a dial tone, so you can connect. Be more proactive at engaging with your people on a personal level rather than launching straight into business.
If you want to listen to our live Strategy Session episode, it's available right here.