How Steve Jobs Got His Employees to Believe in Apple

6 minute read

Answer by Jonathan Brill, sales and marketing executive, on Quora.

To get employees to spread the word about your company and product they have to buy into it. If they feel obligated to pitch or share and they’re not bought in, they will sound inauthentic and lame. The effect will be that people will intuitively feel, wow, if the employees don’t sound excited about this, who possibly could be?

For some companies with a really exciting mission or beautiful products, this might seem easy. But that’s never the case, not completely anyway. If you encounter a company whose employees are zealots you should assume that the company has done what you will have to do: market effectively to their employees.

When Steve Jobs assumed control of Apple in 1997 he went on a lengthy and deliberate campaign to re-market Apple to it’s employees. From John Lilly, an Apple employee at the time:

I remember being at a talk he gave shortly after returning in 1997 as Interim CEO. A bunch of us employees (I was at ATG at the time) were in Town Hall in Building 4 at Infinite Loop to hear him, and he was fired up. Talked a lot about how Apple was going to completely turn things around and become great.

It was a tough time at Apple – we were trading below book value on the market – our enterprise value was actually less than our cash on hand. And the rumors were everywhere that we were going to be acquired by Sun. Someone in the audience asked him about Michael Dell’s suggestion in the press a few days previous that Apple should just shut down and return the cash to shareholders, and as I recall, Steve’s response was: “F— Michael Dell.” Good god, what a message from a CEO! He followed it up by admitting that the stock price was terrible (it was under $10, I think – pretty sure it was under $2 split-adjusted), and that what they were going to do was reissue everyone’s options on the low price, but with a new 3 year vest. He said, explicitly: “If you want to make Apple great again, let’s get going. If not, get the h— out.” I think it’s not an overstatement to say that just about everyone in the room loved him at that point, would have followed him off a cliff if that’s where he led.

There are lots of ways to market to your employees and there are really good reasons to do so. But one thing that doesn’t work so well is the kind of gimmicky bulls— you see in social media ad campaigns. After all, the audience inside the company is far less swayed by gloss. These people are making it. They work with the CEO and the decision makers on a day to day basis. If they’re not bought in, it won’t matter how cool or viral your YouTube ads are.

This should not be hard to do. After all, you’re already paying them, they’ve chosen to work for you, and if your product is one they can use hopefully they’re using it. Some non-trivial percentage of them are actually making it and if it’s not a total tragedy they should be reasonably proud of their efforts. Some others are probably responsible for selling or marketing it, in which case at the very least they should be interested in highlighting the material and pitch they came up with. There are a number of things employees can get behind: how great the company is to work for, how great the products are to use, how noble the mission is, etc. Ideally, every employee is bought into all of it. But that’s not necessary. Different people are motivated by different things. But if most of your employees aren’t bought in on any of it, it may be that your company and/or product isn’t good; or just as likely that you need to be more thoughtful and committed to explaining it.

One necessary element for marketing to employees and making them zealots is transparency. I believe this is true for marketing both inside and outside of companies, but whereas I think gimmicky fakery can work to an extent on potential customers, I think transparency is the only real option internally. Coming into the internet age, the canonical introduction to transparency as a new age method of communicating internally and externally was popularized by the The Cluetrain Manifesto. One of my personal favorites, it includes gems like:

Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

The formula behind that Jobs speech to employees in 1997, and the basic dialogue between all good leaders and their employees everywhere, is the same.

  • Tell them how you feel
  • Tell them why you feel that way
  • Lay out a plan of action that a) they can play a part in, and b) is not overly complex or obviously stupid
  • If you’re a person who has a track record of getting things done, doing these three things will move people. Once bought in, you won’t be able to stop them from pitching your products and your company to everybody they care about. They’ll be passionate about you, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and their part in your plan to do it.

    This question originally appeared on Quora: How do I get my employees to market our company through their personal social media?

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