Revolutionary Measures

James Dyson and three lessons for Brexit communications

Sir James Dyson is clearly a very clever bloke. He’s an innovator who has successfully disrupted multiple industries, from vacuum cleaners to hand driers, and is now staking a claim to leadership in the emerging electric vehicle market.

blue and yellow round star print textile

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He’s also an ardent Brexiteer, campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union. Much of his ire is down to his belief that EU regulations are rigged by his rivals, which has clearly impacted his thinking. I’m not going to reopen the Brexit debate, but in the circumstances of a potential looming No Deal, the fact that he’s moving his global HQ from Wiltshire to Singapore has drawn widespread condemnation from both sides of the debate. While no jobs are being lost, and the company is investing nearly £300m in the UK, it is seen as a betrayal, rather than a business decision.

What the press and social media coverage shows is just how poisonous the debate around Brexit has become. At any other time a successful company investing more in the country, while pledging to keep jobs in the UK would be applauded. But whatever the story, business decisions are currently all viewed through a Brexit lens – from Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin admitting that labour costs would be going up in the first half of the year, to the likes of Panasonic moving the registration of its European HQ to the Netherlands.

The lessons for all businesses are therefore clear:

1.Run your announcements through a Brexit filter

Particularly for those companies that have taken a strong stand on Brexit, every communication and action will be scrutinised by both sides. Therefore, take special care to analyse what you are saying from either viewpoint. What story will the press lead on? How will it be seen on social media? It is up to PR and communication teams to give strong, upfront advice on the potential consequences of any story, and how it can potentially be mitigated. For example, this weekend’s Sunday Times had a follow-up story claiming the real reason that Dyson is leaving the UK is fear of a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government – an angle that should have been highlighted much earlier if it was to avoid controversy.

2. Don’t use Brexit to bury bad news

Brexit does have a major impact on many industries and businesses. The drop in the pound following the referendum result pushed up the cost of imports, while current uncertainty means many consumers are not confident in making big ticket purchases. However, despite the temptation, businesses shouldn’t just blame Brexit for all of their woes. Doing so highlights their inability to react to changing market conditions and risks them being seen as moaners by the general population.

3. Either choose a position or stay quiet

Business owners such as Dyson and Martin have been vocal in stating their position. Equally executives from many more organisations, from Airbus to Jaguar Land Rover have warned against the negative consequences on jobs, investment and the economy. To successfully carry this off without impacting public reputation you need to be sure that your position is based on facts, and will resonate with your target audiences. And you need to remain fixed in your views – hence the condemnation that Dyson has received for appearing to not back Britain.

As the Brexit saga/shambles rumbles on, dominating the media landscape, all businesses need to understand how it impacts their public relations and communications strategies. Factoring it into planning is vital if you want to avoid damaging your reputation, sales and future revenues.

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The typewriter trap and innovation

English: QWERTY typewriter key layout depicted...

Despite all the talk of innovation, there are plenty of things that people continue to do, even though they are no longer the optimal way to achieve something.

Take typing for example. The QWERTY keyboard dates back to the first, manual typewriters, where the typist hit a key manually pushing the inked letter onto a sheet of paper. The problem with the first typewriter designs was that people could hit the keys faster than the machine would cope with, leading to jams as multiple keys became intertwined. Hence adopting what was essentially a sub-optimal system in terms of speed, in order to make typewriters more efficient overall. Now, in the digital age jamming is no longer a problem, yet everyone still uses a QWERTY keyboard, as that is the de facto standard, irrespective of the fact that it can give you carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injuries.

Driving is another area where tradition dictates what we do. The reason that in England we drive on the left dates back to the days when people rode horses – as the majority of the population was right handed you could hold your reins with your left hand, leaving the other free for your sword. As part of the French Revolution this was reversed in France, and then imposed by Napoleon on the countries he conquered. This means that the majority of countries in the world now drive on the right, despite the fact that accident rates are lower amongst left hand drivers, perhaps due to right eye dominance.

These two examples demonstrate two things:

  • The most logical, sensible solution can’t necessarily overcome the status quo, particularly if it means people have to completely relearn how they operate.
  • People continue to choose a particular course of action, even if the reasons for it are lost in the mists of time. Tradition rules.

Why is this important? I meet a lot of technology startups, and many of them enthusiastically talk about how their invention will completely change a market or sector. Build it and they will come seems to be the mantra. All it takes is for people to see how outmoded and inefficient the current technology is, and switch to their new, unproven, but potentially much better solution. And normally relearn how they operate. And pay a bit more. Often, they then wonder why they fail to get market traction or growth.

Essentially people weren’t sufficiently convinced of the advantages to change what they did. They preferred to be inefficient rather than invest the time to solve a problem. We’ve all done this, spending an extra minute or so doing something on our PC because that’s how we were taught 20 years ago, rather than spending 15 minutes reading the manual and upgrading our knowledge.

This isn’t to say that innovation can’t happen. Look at the Dyson vacuum cleaner – the advantages of changing (no bag, better performance), outweighed the higher cost and learning how it worked. But in that case the benefits were extremely clear, and, most importantly, marketed very well.

So, the lessons for every business, whether a startup or not, are clear. The vast majority of the population generally doesn’t like change, and therefore the benefits of something new have to dramatically outweigh the disadvantages of how things have always been done. Innovation has to be clearly marketed if it is going to take root with the majority, as opposed to early adopters – it won’t just sell itself. It has to fit inside the ecosystem of what people are comfortable with, and provide them with the best overall experience. That’s why VHS beat the technologically superior Betamax technology – it had the content from Hollywood studios and was easier to operate. Often it can be easier to sell a better mousetrap than a completely new method of rodent killing device. Therefore talk to your audience, understand their pain points and make sure you provide a simple, powerful solution – otherwise you are likely to join the ranks of technically superior, but unused products, and all your innovation will be wasted.

 

March 2, 2016 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments