Control your digital presence and harness the vitality of web-based communication

A big part of my job is to bridge the gap between our portfolio companies and the markets they serve. I speak with potential customers on a daily basis about a particular novel technology and the possible value it can unlock; I have found that a large part of successful commercialisation and deal making is in the effective presentation and communication of the product, solution, or service. If it is worth putting in days of preparation around the narrative and framing for a particular meeting that could lead to a million-pound deal, does the same principle not apply to the preparation and maintenance of a company’s communication platforms? Communication platforms are a way of ‘pitching’ to potential customers, partners, or investors as the public image of the company before a face-to-face meeting. I have found, judging by feedback from market validation of some of RIG’s portfolio of clients, that many early stage companies do not pay enough attention to their digital communication which is the most easily accessible expression of their value proposition. This ultimately leads to missing out on deals because the potential value of their technology is not conveyed through clear communication.

Early stage companies are often so focused on lead generation and outbound communication that they forget the importance of the website. A company’s website is a simple, yet extremely effective, tool to build the right narrative – about the technology and about the company itself.

Another considerable part of my remit is to research and find early stage companies with novel, innovative technologies in emerging areas with whom we can engage. There are some extremely exciting technologies that promise to solve critical sustainability challenges; however, this is not always effectively communicated via their websites. Far too often I come across a website that is either a labyrinth of pages with text that requires a code-breaker, or a basic website with outdated information and ‘news’ items.

A website is perhaps the most frequented platform and means of sourcing information: it should be a platform that a company uses to communicate who they are; it should be the keystone of its digital identity. Two of the main causes of page visits are online searches and direct stakeholder engagement. Either it is because an online search has led them to your website, or it is because you have approached a stakeholder, who will revisit the website. I am certain that, every time you have effectively engaged with a potential lead, they will have visited your website at some point. Thus, every aspect of it – the colour scheme, graphics, language, even layout – conveys a message about the company and builds an image. Your company image is only as strong as you communicate it on the website; it does not matter if you have the better, faster, stronger technology. If you are unable to convey why your technology’s advancements or innovation will result in added value for your partner or customer, or the end consumer, then it is unlikely that the technology will be adopted in the first place. Ultimately, this image will form the foundation of your brand.

That said, not all early stage companies will have the resources available to design a swanky, slick website – and given the nature of early stage companies, they will doubtless want to change the content as they constantly iterate, fail fast, and pivot. Therefore, when I have led and overseen website redesigns, I have tried to stick to 4 key guidelines: clarity, conciseness, consistency, and currency.

  1. Be clear. Typically, innovation companies have a unique product, solution, or service that is differentiated by IP. If the technology is not easily grasped, it becomes infinitely more difficult to commercialise. Diagrams, animation, or videos are often more effective than written word.
  2. Be concise. Every word on a website is important and should be used for a reason and avoid over-complication. A website should not publish every detail of a company’s history: there should be enough detail to communicate the core values, mission and vision of the company.
  3. Be consistent. Strive for uniformity in colour, words, and style. This not only consolidates the information and conveys professionalism, but it shows an awareness of strategic brand management; once the product/service is adopted and imitated, the effective use of its brand is one of a company’s main sources of differentiation and defensibility.
  4. Be current. Content is critical. In the first place, up-to-date content shows progression by acting as a log of the development of the company. Your company is only as up-to-date as you publish. Secondly, it highlights the achievements and milestones of the company. Target audiences will not be informed of any developments (e.g. your latest product offering, award, successful test etc.) unless you tell them. Emerging technology companies are judged based on the traction they achieve, and that can only be recognised by generating awareness – keep your news ‘new’.

Whether you are trying to generate leads, fundraise, hire, or simply raise awareness, I can guarantee that people will frequent your company’s website. It is the main platform where your company is presented over which you have control, and it is critical in the development path for early stage companies. Present your company as you want – no one else will do this for you.

How listening to jazz helps you communicate your ideas

Last month, I was on a jazz course in France. I’m a pianist – I can play rhythm and accompany a singer, but soloing has always eluded me. Jazz solos seem so complex and dynamic – where to start?? How to play something meaningful (or even just pleasant)?? I felt like I was looking at the top of the mountain without a clue of how to get there.

I sat with the piano tutor – the fantastic Zoe Rahman – and she showed me how putting together simple phrases – working from a basic theme and using repetition – is more engaging, giving the listener a narrative that links it all together and guides the journey.

As I was thinking about this later that evening, it occurred to me how many parallels there are between jazz in general and communication in business. Here are my top 4:

  1. It's important to have a clear and compelling central theme, reiterating it in different ways
  2. It’s easy to lose your audience when you get technical: the technical bits should always link back to the narrative so that they feel relevant
  3. The best jazz players are great listeners. They don’t play a fixed message on autopilot – they’re highly responsive and, as a result, what they play is crafted to the moment
  4. The value of ‘space between the notes’ – how silence can frame a message and make it more powerful. (I’ll be doing it right when I no longer need to be told “don’t play so much!”)

What does this mean, for example, in a sales presentation?  Well, if you’re going to use Powerpoint slides, make sure there’s a strong story running throughout. The story should be clear and flow well enough that you can deliver it without looking at the slides, which should be uncluttered and favour graphics over text. When you present, don’t offload on the audience and don’t be afraid of pauses – they give more weight to what comes next.

If you want to hear what this sounds like in music, listen to this beautiful track, Do It The Hard Way, by Chet Baker. Pay attention especially to his vocal solo – it’s the perfect illustration. It's also on the album Chet Baker Sings.