By Stuart Rock, Founder & Editorial Director, Real Business
I have lost count of the number of companies that I have visited since I first started my career in business journalism, more than 25 years ago.
Some companies are destined to be forgettable. They are grey (literally) organisations, with unmemorable products and services. Their buildings are the same. So is their vocabulary. Even the executives are interchangeable. I won't identify any particular sectors, that would be unfair – but we all know where to find them.
Others are destined to be memorable. They make extraordinary things, or are behind extraordinary achievements. Think of the Eden Project, the Bloodhound Project, Help for Heroes. Others have earned their capacity to stand out, from many years of success. You want to meet and touch these companies because of their track record and demonstrable world-class status. Think Dyson, Rolls-Royce, John Lewis, Sunseeker.
Many companies, of course, can't fit into the latter two categories. So how not to be in the first, the forgettable? Here are my observations – drawn from experience and memory, rather than structured research.
Be real. Talk about the company – what it does, how it's doing – in accessible language. Don't hide the blemishes. A company that is prepared to acknowledge its threats and weaknesses provides a far more rounded and memorable understanding.
Be honest. A business that is not afraid to talk about its financial as well as its business model will always stand out. Do I understand how you make your money?
Be interesting. Explain the marketplace. It doesn't have to be the CEO who does this – although that really helps – but a company that will interpret "what's going on out there" rather than just pontificate about its own strengths and opportunities, always gets my attention. I want to know why companies do what they do, not just what they do. Even better are the ones who can tell you with clarity and context. Do I understand your difference?
Be successful. Absolute scale is not what is memorable; it's the quality and nature of the success.
Lastly, it's easy to place all this on the shoulders of the CEO. Sometimes that's dangerous. A really fascinating company can be obscured by a cliché-toting, overbearing CEO. But a CEO who is straightforward and enthusiastic, and who conveys deep knowledge of what makes the company tick, really does play a big part in making a business stand out.
You can follow Stuart on Twitter: @stuart_rock
About Real Business: Established in 1997, Real Business was the UK's first magazine for entrepreneurs and growing mid-sized and smaller businesses. Today, Stuart and his team run the UK's most active network of high-growth businesses, spotlighting the achievements and challenges of this vital segment of the economy.