Shortly after he returned to Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs gave an internal presentation to employees from the Town Hall building on the Apple campus (YouTube link below). This was an important presentation to let employees know where the company stood and where it was heading. A typical CEO may have put together a slide deck and run through a kind of SWOT analysis. But in this presentation, Jobs —dressed in shorts, sandles and a black turtleneck— stood before the audience and took them on a journey, without notes or slides, where he did touch on Apple’s Strong & Weak points, and also on the Opportunities and Threats, but in a way that was conversational with clear examples. Jobs starts the talk by stating the problem (the “ideal world” is implied):
“This is a very complicated world, it's a very noisy world. And we're not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us."
Jobs then reminds people that Apple is one of the world’s top brands, right up there with Disney, Nike, SONY, etc. But even great brands need care. And that care had been lacking.
In the presentation, Jobs said that marketing is not about touting features and speeds and megabytes or comparing yourself to the other guys, it's about identifying your own story, your own core, and being very, very clear about what you are all about and what you stand for...and then being able to communicate that clearly, simply, and consistently. As Steve says, people want to know who you are and what you stand for. The problem was, Apple had for a long time before Jobs came back got away from communicating its core values, and in fact the employees may have even forgotten what they were.
Jobs used the example of Nike as a brand that did a great job of letting customers know what their brand stood for, not by focusing on the product, but by communicating its values:
“Nike sells a commodity, they sell shoes. And yet when you think of Nike you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don't ever talk about the product, they don't ever talk about their air soles, how they're better than Reebok's air soles. What's Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That is what they are about.”
In the case of Apple, the brand's core value, as Jobs says in the presentation, is not about technology or "making boxes for people to get their jobs done." Apple's core value, said Jobs, is this:
"We believe people with passion can change the world for the better....and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who actually do. The things Apple believes in at its core are the same things that Apple really stands for today, and so we wanted to find a way to communicate this."
In the end Jobs introduces the now famous Think different TV ad that was about two months in the making. This campaign was an attempt, said Jobs, to get Apple back to its core values. It was only one of many first steps of the new branding campaign and Apple’s revival, but it worked.
Clarity & Simplicity key
The lessons in this talk obviously can be applied directly to the art of presentation, something Steve did very well in all his presentations, big or small. Good presentation is about story, just as good branding is about story. Clarity and simplicity are key, and the way to achieve these is by being relentless in abandoning the superfluous and identifying the absolute core of your message. Clarity and simplicity are not easy—they are hard. If it were easy to be simple and clear then everyone would do it, but few actually do. It is indeed a very noisy world, and it's getting noisier seemingly by the day. It is those people—and those organizations—who do the hard work to clarify and simplify that will be the ones who are able to rise above the noise, get their messages heard, and make a difference in this world in their own way.
Simple Story Structure
If you look at what Jobs said in this 1997 talk, the essence of it fits well into to the simple story structure.
• Ideal world: Apple would be growing and its marketing/branding message would be clear and powerful.
• Reality: Although the brand is super famous, it has lost its shine (and the company is in a weak position). Apple is in danger.
•Cause: Apple had too many messages and got away from its core values so customers were confused. Also, it is a more complicated and noisy world and more difficult for any brand to communicate its message. Apple has too many products, too many messages.
• Solution: Returning to old ad agency from the Apple glory days, and deciding to communicate in its brand only Apple’s core values through their “Think Different” campaign. (What we know now is that this was a winning strategy, first delivered to employees in a simple, clear narrative structure that resonated with the audience.)