A little more than a month since his election as leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn and his team are still set on changing the face of British politics. Following years of parties taking the middle ground with little to differentiate them, here’s a man with an ideology; a politician who has very strong beliefs, knows what he stands for and isn’t afraid to shout about it. Whether you agree or disagree with him, the point is that you know his position. He divides opinion and as a result, gets the headlines.
So if getting the headlines is part of your communications plan, how can the Corbyn experience translate into a commercial environment? Although some politicians might profit from polarising opinion, most businesses cannot afford to turn people off. They need to use their personality to garner support and persuade people to buy their product or service. Taking a strong, vocal position on issues relevant to a target industry or sector can make a business stand out from the crowd - think of the successful businesses that people talk about and often as not, they will have a strong personality at their helm.
At one end of the spectrum is Michael O’Leary. He could equally be described as a maverick, a liability or a very clever man. Often outspoken and sometimes controversial, one thing you can guarantee is that he’ll always say what he thinks. He pushes boundaries and has a reputation to match. As a result, Ryanair is never short of media coverage and its brand recognition levels are high and positive – no-one is under any illusions about what they will get.
At the other end is Richard Branson. Although he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, he is always measured, delivering his views with conviction and always talking sense. Taking his stance on the EU referendum as an example, he shows that you don’t have to be outspoken or divisive to be listened to; getting your message across consistently and with enthusiasm is what counts. The value that his ability to do this adds to his brands is immeasurable.
So what can we, as communications professionals, take from this? It sounds obvious, but to be an opinion leader, you need to have an opinion. Saying the same as everyone else won’t get you noticed. You need an opinion that’s your own and you must have the courage to champion it, not temper it or dilute it so it’s the same as everybody else’s.
It’s challenging the norm, not following the crowd, that will make you stand out. After all, isn’t that what an opinion former should do?
Verity Barr, associate director