Mark Zuckerberg Chooses a Noun

At Slice, we’ve recently embraced how the renowned Harvard business professor Michael Porter describes strategy, “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.” In his recent testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked to do just that: he had to choose a noun to define the expansive company he runs.

Too often, companies today skip that step. They refuse to choose a noun because they don’t want to make a choice or put themselves in a category. Instead, they want to leave things open so they can appeal to many different audiences with many different needs. This doesn’t work because it’s simply not strategy. It’s the opposite. Without a noun – without a way to clearly define a company – all marketing and communications efforts are built on an unsteady foundation. Tactics aren’t carefully selected and audiences don’t really understand what a company does.

So what did Zuckerberg do? How did he define a company so wide-reaching that most Senators don’t understand it? A company that services billions of people around the work? That builds and flies airplanes to provide access to the Internet? That has a deal to broadcast games with Major League Baseball? That collects, stores, and analyzes data across the internet? That enables people to send money to each other? That verifies the credibility of media outlets?

From NPR:


What is Facebook?

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., committee chairman, noted that Facebook has exclusive broadcasting deals as well as tools that allow people to transfer money.

“Is Facebook a media company?” he asked. “Is Facebook a financial institution?”

Zuckerberg replied: “I consider us to be a technology company because the primary thing that we do is have engineers that write code and build products and services for other people. There are certainly other things that we do do. … We build planes to help connect people, and I don’t consider us to be an aerospace company.”

Facebook has been testing planes that broadcast Internet signals to the ground.

So why does this matter? In this case, it may determine how Congress regulates Facebook and similar companies in the future. But it’s also a critical business and marketing decision.  

In the same testimony, the corporate Facebook “story” that positions it as an idealistic company that was created to connect the world was also questioned. That’s for another blog post. See FaceMash.

The bottom line here is this: if Mark Zuckerberg can choose a noun for Facebook, you can choose one for your company. Until you do, you may find that you face the same marketing and communications strategy challenges over and over again.  

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