When Nelson Mandela died in December of 2013, Apple made a tribute to his life by removing all promotion of its products and placing his portrait, in black and white, on the home page of its website. Beyond the evident show of respect and reverence Apple was performing an effective and familiar exercise in marketing by association, championing the well-worn values of “freedom and human dignity.” The company had done the same for the passing of George Harrison, Rosa Parks and Steve Jobs. Mandela was an icon whose accomplishments measure up to the greatest civil rights figures. In living a life of wisdom and temperance, he didn’t just serve as an instrument for shrewd marketing machinations, he also set an example that every marketer can embrace.
Communicate Effectively: Above all, Mandela was a remarkable communicator. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head,” he said. “If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Those words weren’t just instructive about how to negotiate, but they say a lot about how to craft a marketing message. Be clear and succinct. Know your audience. Mandela was effective not just in words but in understanding how to carry across his message.
Today it often isn’t enough to just do the work of being a company, many companies have to stand for something as much as doing something.
Be an Icon: It’s well enough to say that Mandela was a lawyer and state leader who happened to be an icon for political and social justice, but we all know better. Today it often isn’t enough to just do the work of being a company, many companies have to stand for something as much as doing something. When a community relations executive at ExxonMobil was once asked why the oil company didn’t contribute more to nation building, he notoriously replied: “We are an oil company; we are not the Red Cross.” Today, that line would not pass, even at ExxonMobil. Companies must be far more engaged in community building and outreach, corporate social responsibility and thought leadership, and that means a robust marketing framework to disseminate their message.
Think Big: “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” These words hang on a banner of our website for a reason. The globalized business world is big and competitive. And companies with large growth aspirations must invest in their brand positioning, their corporate message and their marketing strategy to stand out from the pack. Those are the rigorous standards by which companies must grow and prosper. In life and death, Mandela taught us to never settle.