Phil Gomes has written a great post on messages versus “messaging” that is a must-read in my opinion. I’ve long had a problem with those—particularly in social media circles—who say that companies shouldn’t have messages and that in an era of two-way communications it is no longer valid. It doesn’t make any sense to me, for the exact reasons Phil articulates in his piece. Having a message is important if for no other reason than it is essential in communicating who and what the company is to the public at large.
Messaging, on the other hand, should be tossed out—at least in the way that Phil describes it and most understand it to be: “[…] defined as the development and cloying repetition of corporatespeak statements devoid of meaning, rendered in a language that no one uses, delivered without the benefit of listening first, and presented in venues and contexts where they are clearly inappropriate.”
While such language used to be considered acceptable and the norm, it now seems completely ridiculous and people can sniff it out at a hundred yards. For a list of words and phrases that will either have your message dismissed or mocked, please check out Shel Holtz’s Twitter-sourced list of least favorite corporate jargon.
So, we all agree, having a message is good, “messaging” meaning covering things up and not answering the real questions and instead speaking in corporate mumbo-jumbo is bad, and companies who do this should be smacked with a wet noodle and all that, right?
So, then, what is up with Apple?
Yesterday, Steve Jobs put out a letter that kinda-sorta explains why he has lost so much weight, stating that it is a “hormone imbalance.” This is where PR gets a bit tricky, isn’t it? And where so many other companies would get raked over the coals for being indirect and evasive, Apple’s fans quickly have turned on anyone who asks questions about the statement. Just pop over to the Wall Street Journal Health Blog post on the issue and read the comments to get a sense of how protective Apple’s fans are. The real issue, as many have pointed out, is that Steve Jobs drives so much of what is Apple that his health is of interest to stockholders. Apple is a public company…so, how much can Jobs disclose about his health without affecting the stock price—either way? And, since it is his health, shouldn’t he be afforded some privacy? Apple has always managed to keep their messaging—and it is messaging—very tight. What is the role of PR in a situation like this—is it to protect the company by being tight-lipped about Job’s health, or is it to disclose more in response to the general public? There are real consequences to disclosing information or holding it back, as this post on TechNewsWorld elaborates.
Regardless, there is no arguing that there seems to be a different set of rules for Apple. Transparency, active on Twitter, having a blog, directly engaging customers—these don’t apply to Apple, and yet they continue to have a dedicated fan base—and this is important—among the very crowd that demands these attributes from other businesses.
Could it be that having great products and a solid message really is the key to brand loyalty, and that having your entire customer service department on Twitter is a nice to have, not must-have?
Update: This piece by Andrew S. Ross is a great one on the Apple/PR topic; worth reading.