Who is your spokesperson? Why does it matter? What makes a spokesperson great?
In my recent post, Who Is Your Brand’s Spokesperson?, I examined the various types of brand spokespeople. While we’ve all encountered “Charismatic Leader” types such as Steve Jobs, who serve as both c-suite executives and the public face of their brand, there’s an underrecognized and underutilized voice that we don’t often hear – that of the “Outsider.”
I’ve been considering the “Outsider” type a lot recently due to a story I encountered through a New York Times video. Their series “The Art of Better” takes a close look at innovators in business, technology, and the arts. The recent installment “The Power of Outsiders” presents a compelling case for listening to the voices of innovation whose perspectives we might otherwise dismiss.
Malcolm McLean: The Truck Driver who Reinvented Shipping
This particular video tells the story of Malcolm McLean, a long-haul truck driver who revolutionized an industry with an unexpected observation. In 1937, McLean was delivering a truck full of cotton bales from Fayetteville, North Carolina to the port in Hoboken, New Jersey. When he arrived, he was forced to wait several hours to unload his truck. While he waited, he watched the process by which dock hands manually unloaded trucks and re-loaded their cargo onto a ship.
The loading process seemed hopelessly outdated and inefficient, and as McLean continued to build his trucking empire he encountered this problem again and again. By the 1960s, he had achieved enough stature and means to propose a new solution. Instead of embracing the shipping industry’s focus on building faster and faster ships, he introduced the idea of standardizing the loading process to reduce inefficiencies.
McLean’s simple observation, made from the perspective of an outsider, was that the process could be greatly improved if instead of unloading and reloading goods from the back of trucks, the container itself could be transported from the back of the truck directly onto the ship. Today’s container ships (and resulting speedy shipping) came about because an outsider saw a better way.
An Outsider’s Perspective
While McLean’s story is one of innovation and disruption, it speaks to a truth that the PR and marketing industry is beginning to realize. The outsider’s perspective has great value because of its authenticity and unexpected insight. As brand spokespeople, the unanticipated voices can be among the most powerful.
Just as Malcolm McLean used his outside-in view of the loading process to revolutionize an industry, the “people on the ground” within a company or brand often have the chance to reveal transformative truths. While they may not be the executives in charge of making major decisions or shaping public perception, they possess hard won, hands-on insight that can be incredibly valuable in both internal and external conversations. For a compelling twist on the “Charismatic Leader” brand ambassador formula, we should be looking to the “Outsiders” in our midst.
The Value of Unexpected Voices
Here’s an example: investors and enthusiasts in the aerospace industry are used to hearing from the CEOs of major industry brands. What if, instead of executives, they were given the opportunity to hear a test pilot speak? What unique insights might result from publicizing the perspective of someone who has experienced test flights at several stages along the developmental process?
The same holds true for engineers, coders, and others who aren’t often called on to speak publicly about their work and their brand. While they may not naturally see themselves in the role of “spokesperson,” sharing their perspective can pack a real punch with the public. When we empower those with hands-on experience to share their stories, we can establish a brand’s authenticity and credibility in a compelling way.
Who makes a good candidate for brand spokesperson? Anyone with established expertise in their field. As McLean’s example makes clear, there’s tremendous value in the voice of “the little guy.”
The Credible, Authentic Spokesperson
When we give the public a chance to understand the boots-on-the-ground experience of those who contribute to our work in a variety of ways, we’re providing opportunities for understanding and relating to our brand on a human level. After all, what could be more authentic and surprising than the outsider’s voice?
While professional pitch people, brand ambassadors, or executives may have a studied grasp of PR fundamentals, this very quality tends to make them less authentic spokespeople. Savvy customers catch a whiff of “spin” or “market-tested messaging” and feel distanced or condescended to. This doesn’t mean your spokesperson’s message should be messy or untested, but that you should encourage a multiplicity of genuine perspectives and insights.
The value of credible, authentic spokespeople is clear. The next step is empowering those who may not be comfortable speaking in public to feel confident in telling their story. I’ll be examining this further in future installments. In the meantime, consider this: How can the unexpected voices in your company make meaningful contributions to your brand’s public persona?