Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tell Them Why

Following on to last week’s post about what investor relations presentations can learn from jazz, this week I take my inspiration from a different pod cast, Ted Talks. Anyone who is interested in communications should listen (the pod casts are available on ITunes) or watch Ted Talks (, where you can find some of the best and most passionate speakers on a wide variety of topics. The TED Talks speakers have the ability to grab and hold their audiences, and if you are in the business of communicating ideas, there is no better way to learn about the process than to watch speakers such as these.

The talk that caught my attention and which I think can be instructive for people trying to get their story across to investors was one by Simon Sinek, the author of a book entitled “Start With Why”. The talk, which I gather distills the main idea of his book, offered one overarching thought, which is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. In a world where there are many competing products and services, the thing that distinguishes the winners and makes them appealing is the underlying passion that forms the core of their product or service. The example Sinek talked about is Apple and how they inform everything they do with a passion for combining technology, design and ease of use, but there are plenty of other examples out there. Everything Wal-Mart does is designed to deliver products to their customers at the lowest price possible. Toyota sells Lexus automobiles based upon a relentless pursuit of excellence. Whole Foods wants to deliver better and more wholesome foods.

When you start to think about this in the context of investors, who are purchasing the future stream of cash flows of your company, it starts to make eminent sense to bring to the fore the why of your company. Products, markets and service offerings change over time. Who your company is and why they do things in the manner they do changes far less often. Investors need to know what informs your basic philosophy and culture, because that is part of what they are buying: it goes into everything your company does.

Yet if you look at most investor presentations, what you find is that companies are good at telling what they do, but not why they do it. What they do is something that can be quantified or visualized. Why they do what they do is much less easy to explain. So my thought for the day is: the next time you are putting together an investor presentation about your company, stop and think about the why of your company. Is your motivation to be the very best at providing customer service, are you experts at solving technical engineering issues or perhaps you want to deliver the best combination of value and product offerings to consumers? Every company has a motivating factor and good investor relations dictates that it should be placed on display for investors to make a judgment about.

As for me, I’m passionate (and opinionated) about getting people to understand the principles of good investor relations.

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