When Cicero speaks, the people say, "How well he speaks". When Demosthenes speaks, the people say, "Let us march".
American political leaders as disparate as President Richard Nixon and Governor Mario Cuomo have insisted that political leadership, like all leadership, is a matter of poetry, not prose. By that they don’t mean the fluid and soothing phrases that make the people say “How well he speaks”. Instead they mean the muscular, coherent and vivid language that makes the people say “Let us march!.”
The “poetry of power” doesn’t mean that speeches, e-mails, or op-ed page articles should be crafted in iambic pentameter. Instead it means that executive communications have to go beyond a recitation of the numbers and power-point graphs that describe the facts on the ground, and offer a larger vision within which to interpret those facts. Simply put: a simple measuring device can show that a glass is at fifty percent of its capacity. The task of leadership is to demonstrate that the glass is half full. And filling up.
That’s what great leaders have done since the time of Pericles and his famous funeral oration articulating an aspirational vision of Athens. In more recent times the outstanding examples of effective communication would include Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, among others
There’s an analogy in marketing communications: the facts of a speech or executive communication can be seen as analogous to the actual product in marketing communication, while the vision communicated by the leader can be likened to the brand of the product, a cluster of meanings and values. The product might be sent by truck, train or tanker to capture markets: the brand travels on airwaves and electrons to create a buzz and capture minds.
Those are the foundational principles that define the ways I approach speechwriting and marketing communications, and they have clear implications for how I carry out my work with clients.
First Principles in Practice:
Showcasing the Speaker, Boosting the Brand
When it comes to speechwriting the central insight is that it is the character and personality of the speaker that must shine through to make the compelling case. That means that the purpose of the speechwriter is not to substitute his thoughts and phrases for those of the speaker, not to make the speaker into someone he or she is not, but instead to research and formulate ideas that more fully express the speaker’s character and vision. (Aristotle calls this the speaker’s ethos)
As for communicating brands the process is analogous: the brand manager doesn’t use communications to reflect the meaning that she or he sees in the brand, but rather centers on where the brand connects with the desires, perceptions and values of the customers and potential. When successful, the brand connects with customers’ values, perspectives, tendencies and expectations, not just – in fact, not mainly – the facts and numbers that describe the product or service. This reality means that the emphasis for brand development and brand management has to be on research. And then more research, using every possible instrument, including social media, focus groups, and sales data.