Christine Choi, Partner at M13, on Brand Communications and Generating Impact
August 24, 2023
A partner and head of brand/communications for M13, Christine Choi worked with Sir Richard Branson to launch Virgin Group’s North American portfolio and was the first head of communications for Virgin Galactic/Virgin Orbit/The Spaceship Company. She serves on the boards of KIPP NJ and Virgin Unite US.

It is imperative to understand and believe in your core that what you're doing is building community. And this word has really become popular recently. But it is something that we as leaders have always had to establish.

A community is a place of connection. Your brand values and mission bring people together. It also enables you to attract your community, people who are like minded, who can help you and you can help them. I'm talking about a community of stakeholders, meaning not only your customers, but your talent, investors, partnerships, vendors. All of these groups of people are people that you need, no matter how early stage or mature your company is. And in fact, you are in the business of winning hearts and minds.

I’ve learned that there are two types of leaders. Leaders who get brand and then those who don't get brand until they're forced to. There are leaders who really understand brand as a long term and vital investment strategy that enables you to build your community of stakeholders across many, many channels. And you know what all the channels are because these are channels that we're fighting to get attention in every single day.

And then there are those who don't necessarily focus on investing in brand. And instead, they marched on with product and getting early traction through growth. And then they look up and say, well, how come I'm not getting this kind of attention? How come I'm not getting this kind of validation and credibility? Why doesn't anyone love my baby the way I do? Let's go and get mindshare. And then it becomes a bit of a panic to land grab and spray and pray without again, considering the long-term work of building trust and earning your community’s consideration and loyalty.

You don't want to be the second type of leader.


Another principle that I want to talk is practicing the art of persuasion. I think this is one of the things that gets me really excited about working on brand, especially in a time when there's so much change. People are changing platforms and people are getting information in so many different ways. I think fundamentally, we are in the art of persuasion, and that is about achieving emotional resonance and connection that then builds trust, credibility and engagement.

Everyone from Aristotle to Maya Angelou have talked about how lasting it is to remember to feel something versus like what someone may have said to you or done to you. And I do truly believe in that.

Persuasion involves logic, reason, why should I care about you, why should I care about what you're selling me? But it mostly revolves around emotion, how a speaker makes you feel. And that goes to storytelling. We are all in the business of persuading via storytelling across many different channels. And persuading and storytelling is really about captivating, and also winning. Continuing to win hearts and minds of our stakeholders.

It's the single most important skill that will give you that competitive edge in our economy. Think about the role that persuasion has in your daily life. Really quick examples here are again, back to space. It's very hard to excite people around engineering. You think engineering is not that exciting. And, in fact, at the very beginning, the early days of Virgin Galactic, we needed to prove that there was a marketplace for space. And so the focus was really on selling tickets, getting people excited about the romance of space, and not really bringing them into the hangar floor, the factory, where spaceships are made, and they're being tested by engineers. But we realized that this is where so much of the excitement was happening in real time. That to be authentic and genuine about what was going on, it was important to bring people to the birthplace, like the beginning where all the action is taking place.

So we would routinely organize gatherings. These took so much effort to do, but we would organize gatherings for our customers, our investors and media to get exclusive access to the making of the progress of the engineering work. You might think that you know what might be interesting about a factory, but people all want to feel like they're insiders. They want to know that they're getting a behind the scenes experience that's exclusive and unique only to the people with badges getting access into the factory. You just don't know what others will see with the fresh eyes that you can share with them. That enables them to feel like they're part of the process, and part of your brand story.


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