How to Fast-Track Your Career, and an Exciting Opportunity with Dave Kerpen

Please share this episode with a college student in your life!!

Listen to the Zev Audio Zone podcast episode here:

They say you’ll shine brighter if you get closer to the sun. This saying is very true when it comes to advancing your career.

Spending some time working as an executive assistant to the person you admire most, or to a leader who is in a position where you aspire to be someday yourself is one way you can jump-start your professional life and gain experience, which you can ultimately leverage to become a star performer in your field, climb the corporate ladder, or start your own thing in the future.

Taking an internship or a job where you’ll be reporting directly under someone who can serve as a mentor, or a role model can be an amazing learning experience.

Today we’re going to be talking with serial entrepreneur and business influencer, Dave Kerpen, about mentorship, leadership, and how to make your business and yourself more likable.

Dave Kerpen is the founder and CEO of New York based social media marketing agency, Likeable Media. He’s a New York times bestselling author of such books as, Likeable Social Media, Likeable Business, and The Art of People, The 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want. And he’s a renowned keynote speaker. He has recently launched a new venture, chooseapprentice.com, a platform that connects entrepreneurs who are looking for a driven executive assistant committed to professional growth, with smart and motivated college students who are looking for real world experience and mentorship.

Read the full transcipt here:

Zev Gotkin:

Dave, thank you so much for being here with us today. I have long been a fan of your work. This is truly an honor.

Dave Kerpen:

Well thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. And it’s too bad we can’t ride a cab together like our last interview.

Zev:

Yeah, that would be great, wouldn’t it? So tell us a little more about Choose Apprentice. How did this idea come about?

Dave:

Yeah, it’s really, it’s a wonderful story. As you mentioned, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for a while, and in my last two companies, over the last 10 to 12 years, I’ve been very fortunate to hire a whole bunch of college students, while they were in school, who have worked for me as my executive assistant, and many of them have gone on to work for me full time after they’ve graduated from school.

Michelle was my first EA while she was at Syracuse, and she ended up working for me at Likeable Media for over five years, and she is now running social media for a Fortune 50 company. And then Megan worked for me while she was at St. John’s, and then she became a Product Manager, and my first employee, at Likeable Local, my second company, a software company. And Meg worked for me for over five years after she started as my EA, she was my Chief of Staff at Likeable Local. Theresa worked for me for over seven years after she was my EA. She ended up co-authoring my second book, Likeable Business. All these guys were super, super valuable. My last EA, was named Rob, and he worked for me for over two years, while he was at Hamilton. He co-authored the third edition of Likeable Social Media, he worked on $1 million project for a major brand client, for Likeable, and he ran numerous personal projects for me.

Well, Rob came to me about seven months ago, and he said, “You know, Dave, you’ve been very valuable in teaching me quite a bit while I’m in school. I’ve learned more from you than I learned in three years of college, and I think I’ve done some valuable work for you as well. I think we really should scale this and provide the same sort of relationship for others.” And I thought it was quite a brilliant idea of his, so Rob went, literally, from being my executive assistant college student to being my business partner on this latest venture, which is called Apprentice. And Rob and I launched it just a few weeks ago and we’re up and running with our first cohort right now.

Zev

Amazing. Sounds like Rob’s a real take charge go-getter. It sounds like a lot of the other students who’ve been in this program are that type as well, and that’s really amazing. You notice that there’s a trend now of a lot of young people starting businesses right out of college. There also seems to be a growing trend of kid entrepreneurs who start businesses at very young ages. Do you think that all young entrepreneurs should first spend time working for someone else before starting their own businesses? Do you think maybe, before they run and do their own thing, they should train under someone else?

Dave:

Well, I think there are pros and cons to both methods. But here’s what I’ll say. I’ll say that I believe that higher education is in the process of a major, major disruption. It’s an area that has had very little disruption over the last century, and it’s really problematic because the costs of college have gotten more and more expensive, and yet, if you think about it, the value of a college education hasn’t gotten that much better. If anything, it’s gotten worse, relative to the job market. So, if you want to be a lawyer, you need to go to college. And if you want to be a doctor, you need to go to college. And if you want to be an engineer, you need to go to college. But if you want to go into business, I think more valuable, and maybe this will be controversial, but I think more valuable than a four year education is working directly in a business.

Many children, like my children, for instance, are fortunate in that their parents are entrepreneurs or small business owners, and if your parents are entrepreneurs or small business owners then you can probably get a taste of what it’s like to work in a business at a very young age. But if you aren’t as fortunate, my strong recommendation is, in lieu of, or if you want to be more comfortable, in addition to a four year education, that you strongly consider reaching out to and doing a program like Apprentice, or reaching out to an entrepreneur, a small business person, somebody you admire and saying, hey, is there an opportunity for me to come help out?

Zev:

Amazing. I totally agree with that. I think definitely the value has decreased, but if they’re doing this instead, or in addition to college, I think they’ll definitely be prepared for the real business world.

What characteristics do the college kids who apply to join Choose Apprentice need in order to qualify? Do they need to be in college and what kind of traits are you looking for?

Dave:

Yeah, great question. So, we have a very, very big vision for this. We want to connect at least a million entrepreneurs with college students. And the good news for us is that they’re both very, very large markets. In the future, we might be open to people that are not in school or people that have graduated, but for now we are focused on people that are enrolled in school. It doesn’t have to be a four year school. It certainly doesn’t have to be any particular kind of school. But people that are currently enrolled in school. They have to be entrepreneurial. They have to be driven. They have to be ambitious. They have to be self-starters. And we look at… we have a pretty hard application process, to be honest. But one thing that I… that’s the most important to me is writing ability.

I think that the biggest driver of success in my previous apprentices is their ability to write. I think that somebody that can write well can think well and can communicate well, and these are essential qualities in business. So, if you are not a good writer, I strongly recommend that you work on that skill. You practice until you become a better writer because writing is a skill that will absolutely benefit you and differentiate you from others. Whether you want to be an entrepreneur or not, writing is just a really valuable skill. As, obviously, you know.

Zev:

Yes, and maybe I’m biased because I’m a copywriter, but our mutual friend, who’s going to be the guest on the next episode, Jeffrey Gitomer, once said, “Writing leads to wealth,” and I couldn’t agree more with that.

Dave:

I had not heard that quote, but I do love it myself as well.

Zev:

Yes, it’s great.

This brings me to my next question. I guess it’s a little bit similar, but, when you’re looking for an executive assistant, even outside Choose Apprentice, if you have an executive assistant or anyone who’s helping a CEO or a leader, what do you think is the most important trait? I mean, besides, I guess, good writing ability, what do you think is the most important thing they need to remember or keep in mind?

Dave:

I think responsiveness is really, really important. I live a very fast paced life and I think most of the CEOs and entrepreneurs I know live similarly fast paced lives. This means that if I need something done, I need it done right away. And if it can’t be done right away, that’s okay, but then I still need to know, right away, that it can’t be done right away.

So what we do with Apprentice is we teach our kids, look, there are… apprentices rather. If you’re in class, that’s fine, but you still have to respond, right away, saying you’re in class and you’ll get to it in two hours or three hours, or whatever it is. I think responsiveness is a really, really important trait. If I want to keep going, just, like I said before, independence.

Oh, here’s another really good one! Resourcefulness. It shocks me how few people are resourceful. And the difference between somebody who’s resourceful and somebody who’s not. I’ll give you an example. Rob. Rob, I had a project, I had a client that needed a website, so I said, “Hey Rob, can you figure out… have you ever built a website before?” And so Rob said, “Well, I’ve never built a website before, but I’ll figure it out.” And he Googled it and he figured out how to build a website. It’s the kind of thing where most people probably would be like, no, I don’t know how to build a website, who can we hire? Whereas, if you are truly resourceful, you can… and smart, you can figure out how to do just about anything. That’s the beauty of the internet and Google and YouTube. You can figure it out.

So the kinds of people that I look for, not only as executive assistants, but, for that matter, any of my employees at any of my companies, I’m looking for people that are self-starters and are responsive and are quite resourceful.

Zev:

Excellent. Yeah, I’ve seen in my own experience with managing people, those qualities are essential.

So, how can leaders bring out the best in their employees and teams? How can we cultivate that environment? How can we bring out the best in them?

Dave:

Well, that’s a great set of questions, and I answer that a lot in my second book, Likeable Business, that unfortunately, while being my best reviewed book, is my worst performing book. Nobody buys it, which is a bummer. But, oh well.

But, for the purposes of this interview, in a nutshell, I would say that we need to be transparent and vulnerable, and we need to give a little bit of ourselves in order to… I ask lot of my people, but I give of myself and I think that helps differentiate me from some that don’t take that extra time to teach and to mentor and to give of themselves. I think that when leaders take that extra time and that extra vulnerability and authenticity, their people really respond to it.

Zev:

Excellent. I will admit I’m guilty as charged. The only book of yours I haven’t read yet is Likeable Business.

Dave:

(laughing) I’m telling you, nobody’s read it. It’s hysterical to me, but it’s okay. I can live with this, but it is sort of funny.

Zev:

Well, I will be placing an order on Amazon right after this interview, and I encourage everyone listening here, not only to buy that book, but the other two books that I mentioned before as well. They’re all great.

Dave:

Well, thank you. It’s kind of a funny situation, and I don’t want to get too into it, but bottom line is, ironically, because I’ll probably never earn out of that advance, and I’ve already earned out of the others. I actually make money on the other books, and I’ll probably never make money on Likeable Business. But it is, technically, my best reviewed book, Zev, which means, technically, it probably is my best, even though nobody’s read it. It has a very bad cover, and one thing I’ve learned through the years is that, in fact, everybody does judge a book by its cover.

Zev:

That’s important to remember.

Alright, so last question, Dave.

How can businesses who value creating great cultures and wish to cultivate an enviable work environment best use that to their advantage when they’re promoting themselves on social media? How do they make it an attractive place to work? You know a thing or two about social media, how do you convey, hey, this is a great place to work, on your social platforms like Instagram and Facebook and what have you? LinkedIn.

Dave:

Well, great question, but it’s really a two part-er, because the first thing and most important part of that question is to create a great place to work in the first place. You see, if you don’t take the time and energy, and frankly, money, to create a great place to work, then, when you try to promote it, it’s going to come across as inauthentic and it’s not going to resonate. So the first and most important step here is to go out of your way to create a great place to work.

So what do I mean by that? Well, the first thing is, be intentional about creating a culture, and spend money on it. A lot of folks will say, hey, we want to have a great place to work, but then they won’t actually spend money on it. What I am proudest of in all of my business accomplishments is winning Crain’s Best Places To Work in New York for five straight years. Because what that means is, we’ve been able to build companies where people are happy to go to work every day.

So this means spending money on employees, doing retreats. We just took our whole Likeable team on a two day camping retreat, which was an amazing… it was so much fun. Spend money on Christmas bonuses. Spend money on company outings. Really invest in your people.

And then, after you’ve done that, the second part of the question is, sharing it. I think Instagram is probably the best tool, but I think you can really use any of the social platforms and take video and pictures that help to demonstrate the kind of culture that you’ve built, and share that out with the world.

Zev:

Absolutely. It’s interesting you say Instagram. I would think LinkedIn also, because a lot of people put their resumes there. Do you think that’s also a good platform, or would you do it differently on LinkedIn versus Instagram?

I’m hugely bullish on LinkedIn, and I think I would point specifically to LinkedIn Live as a tool that is going to see increased use, and folks will be able to use LinkedIn Live to showcase their company culture. I think that today, in September of 2019, it’s probably still Instagram over LinkedIn, just because that’s where people expect to see slices of life, even in workplaces. But I do think that’s changing pretty quickly and I am very, very bullish on LinkedIn continuing to be, and even evolving to be, an even better place to showcase your company culture.

Zev:

Excellent. Well, thank you so much Dave. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview, and it was really valuable insights that you shared with us today, and thank you so much.

Dave:

It’s my great pleasure. And you know, I talked about responsiveness earlier in my EAs and in my employees and I like to practice what I preach, so one of my personal core values is responsiveness. So if anyone’s listening to this interview and has a question or a comment, you can hit me up on any social network and I promise to respond to you. No matter how many inquiries I get every week I do work hard to respond to everybody.

Zev:

I can vouch for this. He really is very responsive! You often respond to my tweets and emails, and it’s pretty impressive because I know you’re a busy guy.

Dave:

It’s my pleasure and thank you for the shout-out.

 

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Talking Talk Triggers with Jay Baer

To listen to the interview on the podcast, click here:

Talking Talk Triggers with Jay Baer

How do you get people talking about your business?

We all know that word of mouth is the most effective and cheapest form of marketing, and that if we had word of mouth, we wouldn’t need to spend as much on advertising, but most of us simply don’t know how to go about getting word of mouth in a systematic way. We just provide our products and services and hope that people will talk about it.

But what if there was a system or a formula we could use that could sustain-ably and repeatedly generate buzz and get our customers talking about our business in a positive way? Jay Baer and his co-author Daniel Lemin decided to do a lot of research and craft a method for generating word of mouth that’s scale-able and repeatable, and they’ve divulged these secrets in their book, Talk Triggers.

Jay is a business consultant, he’s a founder of Convince & Convert and sought after keynote speaker, he’s highly respected in the fields a digital marketing and customer service, and he is also the host of a popular social media marketing podcast called Social Pros. I listen to it religiously. I really recommend it.

He’s also a New York Times bestselling author of six books, including Utility and Hug Your Haters, and his latest book, Talk Triggers.

Talk Triggers is a comprehensive, but not a dense read and it contains a lot advice about how to generate word of mouth for your company or organization. It’s rife with case studies and interesting examples interspersed with humor and, at times, even heartwarming stories. This book doesn’t simply inspire you with some high level motivation or fluff. Talk Triggers actually breaks the concepts down and provides a step-by-step road-map for implementing the ideas.

Zev Gotkin:

So, Jay, I want to start with the most obvious question, and I’m sure you could do it more justice than I could. What is a talk trigger? How would you explain it to someone who asked you like in an elevator in a sentence or two?

Jay Baer:

Hey, Zev. Thanks so much for having me on the show, first of all, and for the kind words about the book. Indeed, we did want to focus on some process and some how-to in the book, because here’s the thing: there’s a bunch of good books out there about word of mouth already. But here’s the challenge. Most of those books go like this. Word of mouth is important. You should get some. End of book. Right? So, my co-author Daniel Lemin and I wanted to go beyond that and say, “Word is mouth is important. You should get some, and here’s exactly how to do that.”

In our estimation, a talk trigger is a strategic operational choice that you make in your business to do something different on purpose so that customers will notice it and talk about it. I think we can all agree that the best way to grow any business is for your customers to do it for you. That means word of mouth. Yet, here’s the crazy thing, Zev. Fewer than 1% of all businesses have a word of mouth strategy. It’s so important. But nobody has an actual strategy. We just take it for granted. We just assume that, if we do a good job, our customers will talk about us, but they don’t. That’s not how the world works. You have to give your customers a story to tell, and that story is your talk trigger.

Zev Gotkin:

Awesome. That’s a great explanation. There’s a lot to unpack here. I guess my other question would be if we all know that word of mouth is so vital, and it definitely saves you a lot of money in advertising, why aren’t more companies doing this? Its seems so obvious. Why aren’t all companies out there trying to get word of mouth? Why aren’t more spending time on being more talkable?

Jay Baer:

There’s probably a number of reasons. First, word of mouth is a little bit more difficult to measure than traditional customer acquisition vehicles. Second, word of mouth requires you to put some measure of authority in your actual customers to get your clients for you, and a lot of businesses don’t want to give up that kind of control. Third, most businesses are addicted to best practices, right? What they have been taught is find out who the category leader is in our space, see what makes them tick, and do those things, because have proven that that path is successful.

But same is lame, right? If you do the same thing that everybody else in your category does, there’s nothing differentiated or talkable about that. But, in American business, we really have become addicted to best practices, and rolling out a talk trigger does require you to purposely be different. A lot of companies just don’t have the courage to do that, or they don’t feel like they have permission to be different, but some of the best companies in the world have terrific word of mouth strategies.

As you touched on, one of my favorite quotes in business is from Robert Stephens who’s the founder of Geek Squad, and he once said that advertising is a tax paid by the unremarkable. Advertising is a tax paid by the unremarkable. Now, that’s not entirely true. There is a time and a place for advertising, but it is largely true, and the companies that are the very best at word of mouth, who have a word of mouth strategy, who are not afraid to be different, who have differentiated themselves with a talk trigger, are in many cases the companies that advertise the least, because word of mouth and their customers are doing for them the things that they typically have to pay advertising to do.

Zev Gotkin:

Excellent. Yes. And I love that quote. That is so true. So, this is another question I think a lot of people … Anyone with more of a business background or anyone who’s studied basic marketing class maybe listening to this, and they might be thinking, “Well, this sounds really cool, but how does a talk trigger differ from a USP, a unique selling point or a unique selling proposition?” We all hear about USP. You have to have something unique about you that gives you an edge over the competition. In what way does a talk trigger differ from that?

Jay Baer:

A USP, a unique selling proposition, is typically something that’s different about your product or service itself and usually is articulated sort of as a series of bullet points. A talk trigger is an experience, right? It is a customer experience. It’s usually articulated in a story. A USP is the kind of thing that you describe in a conference room; a talk trigger is the kind of thing that you describe in a bar. Now, I’ll give you an example.

CVS Pharmacy, okay? CVS Pharmacy. Their USP is that they have pharmacies everywhere. They are massively convenient because you can go anywhere in the US for the most part and find the CVS or one of their alternatives. It’s like Starbucks but for medicine. Their talk trigger is that, when you buy something with their membership card, doesn’t matter if you buy 1 item or 20 items, they give you a receipt that’s like seven feet long. And I’m not exaggerating at all. It’s like seven feet long. That’s their talk trigger.

That’s not an accident. That’s not a malfunction of their cash register. They do that ostensibly to make sure you know how many coupons you could get, but each of those receipts creates conversations. People say, “Man, I went to CVS. I couldn’t believe how long this receipt was.” Anybody listening right now, pause the show, go to Twitter, and search CVS plus receipt, and you will see dozens if not hundreds of examples of videos, photos, stories, of people talking about their receipt from CVS. It is a story catalyst, and that’s not an accident.

Zev Gotkin:

Yeah. I see those memes like making fun of it all the time, and it’s funny. I remember I was in line not too long ago, and before I read this book, and I was like, “Why do they do that?” Then I realized, “Wait a minute. They love this kind of attention. It must be on purpose.”

You cover a lot of awesome examples in your book. I want to go through a couple of them, but most notably you often cite DoubleTree Hotel, how they give you a warm chocolate chip cookie to everyone who checks in. You talked about … What was it? UberConference, how they let you select humorous on-hold music. The Graduate Hotel that gives you these really fun room keys. There’s a lot of awesome examples. Maybe you could just go through two or three that might be relatable to a lot of listeners out there that would get them that would help illustrate the concept of a talk trigger.

Jay Baer:

Yeah. Absolutely. And thank you. We worked really hard on the case studies in the book, and there are nearly 40 examples in the book overall. We wanted to make sure that there are examples from small companies and large companies, from B2C businesses and B2B businesses, from American businesses and global businesses. We wanted to make sure that everybody who reads the book Talk Triggers can see themselves in the book, because, if you can’t, then what’s the point?

If you’re like, “Yeah, that’s neat, but I can’t do that,” number one, let me tell you that we can. We do word of mouth consulting for businesses all around the world, and it doesn’t matter what kind of business you are. It doesn’t matter if you think your business is boring or small or whatever your presumed deficiencies are. You can do this, and frankly I think that you should.

So, we did spend a lot of time on the case study selection, and now actually the Talk Triggers Awards are coming out next month. We’re having a award ceremony where we found 18 new companies not in the book who are doing great things with word of mouth, and we’ve got trophies and a live webinar unveiling of the winners, and all that kind of stuff, which is super fun. So, I’ll give you a couple of examples that aren’t in the book, just because that’s kind of fun. These are guys who are candidates for the Talk Triggers Awards.

One is a doctor. His name is Dr. Chick Wilson. He is in Seattle, Washington. He is a surgeon, which isn’t in and of itself that interesting, but he is a surgeon that only does the vasectomy procedure. I’m like, “Oh, well that’s unusual.” But what makes him so good at word of mouth is that, when people leave his office post-procedure … You’ve just had a vasectomy. You get three things at the office of Dr. Chick Wilson on the way out the door. First, you get insurance paperwork. Then, you get post-operative care instructions paperwork. A frozen bag of peas or whatever the circumstances are. Then, you get a small, black box. In that small, black box in the offices of Dr. Chick Wilson vasectomy surgeon is an engraved, silver pocketknife. On that knife, it says “DrSnip.com: Vasectomy Surgeon.”

Now, you can imagine. You’re watching football, you’re on your boat, you’re playing golf, you’re hanging out with your buddies, and maybe you open a beer with that knife, and your friend’s like, “Bro, that’s a sweet knife. Where did you get that sweet knife?” Like, “This knife. I got this knife at Dr. Snip, vasectomy surgeon.” Now, that’s pretty great, right? Because, if you’ve thought about having a vasectomy or had a vasectomy, who else is likely to be thinking about that? Your friends who are probably the same age and in the same life stage. It’s a tremendous word of mouth generator. He’s far and away the most popular vasectomy surgeon in the Pacific Northwest and has spent a grand total of zero dollars on advertising effort.

Zev Gotkin:

Wow. That is a very interesting example. Yes, there’s so many awesome ones in the book like that as well that I really encourage everybody to read this book, because you will be inspired by these examples, and they’re for so many different kinds of companies. Or mechanics, you know, like the one … SheCANics, I believe I was called.

Jay Baer:

Yeah, SheCANics. Yeah. It’s all female mechanics, which is a really good angle.

There’s a new steak restaurant in Los Angeles at the top of the InterContinental Hotel, which is the tallest building in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s super swanky, right? It’s a really, really nice steakhouse, French-style steakhouse, and floor-to-ceiling windows and the waiters are in tuxes and the whole jam, a lot of expense accounts and celebrities and all that. So, it’s a pretty cool setting. It’s got an amazing view. You can see all of the Greater Los Angeles.

And that’s a USP. So, their view is a USP. Best view in town. But people don’t tell that story very often. I mean, maybe you might, but it’s just not quite unusual enough. A talk trigger works when it’s something that customers don’t expect. You expect a great view on a steakhouse on the 37th floor of a building, right? How could it not be a great view?

Here’s their talk trigger: You order your steak. After you order but before they bring out your appetizer, they have like a sommelier, maitre d’ type person, but he is the steak knife sommelier. Brings out a cart, and on that cart is a black felt top, and they have 11 different steak knives. They got like the big kind of Australian ones, the super fine bone-handled French ones, American ones, Japanese ones. 11 different steak knives. And they say, “Zev, which steak knife would you like to use this evening with your entrée?” Steak knife menu. Now, people tell that story all the time. Great pictures, people taking selfies with it, the whole thing. It’s an experience. It’s something that customers don’t expect, and the thing they don’t expect is the thing they talk about.

Like, I don’t know everybody listening. I probably know some of you. But I know this for sure. Nobody ever says this. Nobody ever says, “Hey, let me tell you about this perfectly adequate experience I’ve just had.” Right? Because it’s not a story. It’s not a story worth talking about. So, a talk trigger has to be something that your customers don’t anticipate. That’s what makes it worthy of a story.

Zev Gotkin:

Exactly. That actually brings me to my next question. To put the real cynic hat on, someone might say, “Well, what is this, a talk trigger? Is a gimmick? If I just have the best food or I make the best product or I have the best, most friendly customer service, won’t that just be enough to get people talking? Why do I have to get a funny knife or change how I do my room key?” What would be your answer to that?

Jay Baer:

A two-part answer. One, you don’t have the best food, and you don’t have the best service, and you’re not going to be able to. What are the chances that your food is so good that that’s the story that everybody tells? Here’s the challenge. People go to a restaurant. They expect the food to be good. That’s what a restaurant does. That’s what allows you to stay in business. The way we talk about this is that competency doesn’t create conversation. Competency is super important, right? If you’re a restaurant, you’ve got to have good food, but no one tells a story about having good food unless the food is like so beyond customer expectations. And, is that possible? Mathematically, it is possible. It is likely? It is not likely.

So, the things that customers expect you to be, good food at a restaurant, good service in a lot of places, doesn’t become talkable. If I flick off the light switch in my house, I’m not like, “Zev, guess what? The lights just went out.” I’m like, “I know that’s going to happen.” That’s how electricity works. The core things that you deliver as a business is almost never your story, because you can’t deliver that at a level that surprises people. The talk trigger is by no means a gimmick. This is not about going viral, not at all. This is about turning your customers into your greatest marketing advantage and doing it every day, every week, every month, every quarter, and every year. This is not about a short-term kind of contest or something like that.

I mean, you talked about DoubleTree cookies, right? DoubleTree has been giving out a warm chocolate chip cookie at check-in to every guest for 30 years. Every day for 30 years. It’s not a gimmick. Every day for 30 years. And we actually did a bunch of research on that one, because we were just really curious to see like, okay, how many people actually tell the story? So, every day, today, tomorrow, the day after, they give out about 75,000 cookies a day worldwide. That’s a lot of cookies. That’s a pretty good investment ultimately, but how does it pencil out?

So, we did a survey, my co-author and I, Daniel, and we talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of DoubleTree guests. We discovered that 34% of them say that they have specifically told a story to somebody else about that cookie. If you do the math on that, that means that today and tomorrow and the next day, approximately 22,500 stories a day are told about a chocolate chip cookie. Now, companion question. When’s the last time you saw a DoubleTree ad?

Zev Gotkin:

I don’t think I’ve seen one.

Jay Baer:

Right, because the cookie is the ad, and the guests become the sales and marketing department. So, no, this is not a fad, but it’s also not about doing whatever it is that you do a little bit better, because that’s what people expect you to do. That’s why you’re still in business.

It’d be like DoubleTree saying, “We have showers with really hot water.” You’d be like, “Yeah, that’s cool. I appreciate that, but I’m not going to tell a story about that.”

Zev Gotkin:

Exactly. So, if you deliver a great experience, people might like it. They might go back. You’ll retain a customer. But, it’s not going to get … It’s not going to generate buzz. It’s not going to get people going to their friend and saying, “Hey, did you hear about that place. It’s really good. You got to go. You got to check it out, because they do this really cool thing,” something that gets people talking. So, I see clearly why this is a huge differentiator.

Jay Baer:

It’s the difference between what we call reactive and proactive word of mouth. So, reactive word of mouth is … Yeah. Let’s say that you and some friends are talking about hotels. “Hey, where’d you go last weekend? Where’d you stay?” If a conversation is about hotels, you might say, “Oh yeah, and I went to DoubleTree, and they had this great chocolate chip cookie.” Okay. That’s reactive word of mouth. The topic was already on hotels. A better approach if the topic is not about hotels at all. You’re just hanging out with your buddies and you’re like, “Bro, I had the best chocolate chip cookie I ever had last week. I got it at a hotel.” That’s proactive word of mouth where somebody’s trying to tell the story. They’re not waiting for the conversation to be about hotels. That’s the key difference.

Zev Gotkin:

Right. I guess piggybacking off of that, you’re talking about one-to-one conversation, but I guess this is also social media’s become a huge part of our world. It’s something you know a lot about. One thing that struck me in the book that was really interesting and I think a lot of people do confuse social media as the new word of mouth or a replacement for it … I often hear it described as word of mouth on steroids.

I do think it’s a big part of word of mouth, but I can see how all these experiences would get people not only to talk to their friends but they’ll probably post them on Instagram, a picture of the cookie, or they will share it in a tweet. It probably gets people talking in variety of different contexts. But, would you say that word of mouth, the one-to-one, has more value or the same value as when people amplify it publicly?

Jay Baer:

There’s a bunch of research on that. According to studies on this subject, 50% of word of mouth is online, and 50% is offline. It’s almost exactly split down the middle. Now, online word of mouth, Instagram, Facebook, a Yelp review, etc., is going to naturally reach more people just because of the dynamics of the internet. But the persuasive power is higher offline. So, if you and I are having a conversation via Zoom or face to face or even email, and you say, “Jay, I recommend X, Y, Z. Let me tell you a story,” that’s going to mean more to me because you and I know one another than if you just post it in social. So, social has more exposure but less power. Offline has more power but less exposure, which is why you really need both. And that’s the key.

But I will tell you it’s really interesting. We’re seeing more and more companies, including our clients at Convince & Convert, rolling out talk triggers that have some strong visual element to them because of the impact of Instagram and photo-sharing and the fact that social has become more about pictures than about words. It just makes it easier. I mean, going back to my example from the beginning, the CVS seven-foot-long receipt. There are so many memes about that, right? Just go to Reddit, and there’s like a million photos of the people saying, “My receipt is as long as my couch.” “My receipt is as long as my sister.” “My receipt is as long as my car.” There’s so many of those. If you didn’t have that visual, if you just wrote a sentence that said, “My receipt was really long,” you’re like, “Yeah, okay.” But the visual’s what makes it.

So, that’s one of the great things about modern social media is that it actually gives even more amplification to some talk triggers when you can prove it with a picture. Steak knife menu, same way, right? You see these pictures of people with the 11 steak knives lined up in front of them. That’s a really cool picture. You get it when you see the picture even better than you did when I told you the story.

Zev Gotkin:

That makes perfect sense, and that’s really interesting how they’re taking into account that, yes, we do live in a world now where people are putting things online and seeing is believing. I have a couple more questions. One would be … Obviously, if people really want to apply this and truly get the full understanding of talk triggers, they should definitely get the book.

But maybe we should break down … You’re talking about scale-ably, repeatably generating word of mouth. You’re approaching it in a very systematic way. It’s not some high level concept. Maybe you could break down what the criteria is that would classify something as a talk trigger.

Jay Baer:

Yeah, thanks. Because not everything you come up with will work as a talk trigger. Again, I want to reemphasize that this is something that you do in your business every day. This isn’t just a contest or a promotion or “Hey, we’re going to rent an elephant for a week and walk it down Main Street,” or whatever. Right? This isn’t a stunt. The reason I don’t like that kind of marketing, this idea of going viral, is that it’s a lottery ticket. It might work. It might not work. You don’t know necessarily whether it’s going to work or not. It’s hope masquerading as strategy, and I don’t do that. I’ve been a strategist for 30 years. I work on things that I know are going to work, and a talk trigger will work if you keep at it day after day.

So, there are four things that must be true for your differentiator to be a talk trigger. First, it has to be remarkable, meaning that it’s worthy or remark or it’s a conversation worth telling. It has to be something that customers don’t expect. That’s the first thing.

Second thing, it needs to be repeatable, meaning that it’s not something that you do just once or every once in a while or only for new customers or only on your customer’s birthday or only for your best customers, because, remember, what you’re trying to do here is create conversations among as many customers as possible. Consequently, you want the talk trigger to be offered to or experienced by as many customers as possible. So, you don’t want to hold it back just for your platinum customers or whatever. You want everybody to have access to it. Everybody who gets a vasectomy from Dr. Snip gets a knife. It’s not just only if you’ve got really good insurance, or only if you’re paying cash. Everybody gets a knife.

Third thing it should be is reasonable. One of the things that we tend to do in marketing today is we think, “Well, geez, attention’s hard to come by, so the only way we’re going to get attention is if we make it really, really big. So, we’re going to shock and awe people into talking about us.” I call this the Publishers Clearing House effect. Publishers Clearing House would tell you that you can win $5 million or some large amount of money like that.

The problem is that it’s such a big number that nobody actually believes they’re going to win, and that’s why Publishers Clearing House had to spend millions of dollars on television showing actual winners to convince you that it’s not fake. That tells you all you need to know. They have to spend money to convince you that it’s not fake, because it’s too big. If Publishers Clearing House said, “You win, I don’t know, a thousand dollars,” they never would have had to spend any money on television to convince you it wasn’t fake. We think that when we do something really big, customers will talk about it, but actually what we discover it’s the opposite. When it’s too big, it creates suspicion. And suspicion stops the conversation.

Like, I’m not going to recommend something to you, Zev, if I think it might be fake, if I think there’s no way you’re going to win, if I think there’s a catch, if I think there’s some kind of terms and conditions. So, it doesn’t have to be big. Look, DoubleTree has built an entire hotel brand for 30 years based on a chocolate chip cookie. Is it a good cookie? Hell yeah. It’s an amazing cookie. But it’s just a cookie, man. You don’t win a car. It’s a chocolate chip cookie, okay? So, don’t overthink this. You’re not bribing people to talk about you. That’s not the game.

The fourth thing that your talk trigger must be is relevant. It has to tie together with who you are and what you do. This isn’t randomness. That’s why I say you don’t rent an elephant to be like, “Oh, an elephant,” because people are like, “Why do they have an elephant?” Unless you’re a circus, it doesn’t really make any sense. And I’ll tell you how this works in DoubleTree’s case. So, there’s I think 14 brands in the Hilton portfolio, something like that. You’ve got the Conrad at the high end. You’ve got the regular Hilton, DoubleTree, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, all that, right? Each of those brands have their own brand positioning, and that’s important because they don’t want to compete head-to-head for the same traveler as much as they can avoid it, because that’s a really inefficient use of corporate resources. So, they each their own brand position, and they try and stay in their lane.

DoubleTree’s brand positioning, according to their chief marketing officer who we interviewed for the book, is the warm welcome. The warm welcome. DoubleTree wants to be disproportionately good at that, whatever, seven or eight minutes between when you set foot in the hotel and when you set foot in your room. So, they put more time, money, effort on lobby design than most hotels at that price point and more time, money, effort in front desk clerk training than most hotels at that price point. And the chocolate chip cookie thing is a big part of that, because it’s not just a pile of cookies on a counter under glass, because that’s not an experience. It’s not talkable. Zev, I’ll bet you and everybody listening has been to a hotel in some point in your life that had a basket of very nice apples at the counter. Right. You ever seen that?

Zev Gotkin:

Yup.

Jay Baer:

Have you ever told a story to somebody about that?

Zev Gotkin:

Nope.

Nope, exactly. You have not.

If the cookies were just sitting there, nobody would remember it. Instead, DoubleTree has an oven baking cookies in every hotel. The front desk clerk turns, goes to the oven, grabs a fresh cookie, it’s hot, puts it in a paper sack, turns around and hands it to you. It’s a hand-to-hand pass. It’s a tactile delivery. It is a cookie ceremony. That’s what makes it talkable, right?

Zev Gotkin:

Yes.

Jay Baer:

A warm welcome is their brand positioning. Warm cookie is how they deliver that. So, that makes sense. The best talk triggers make sense in the context of who you are. The guy does vasectomies. He gives you a knife. If the guy did vasectomies and he gave you, I don’t know, cookies, it wouldn’t make any sense. You’d be like, “Okay. Thanks, I guess.”

So, those are the four things. It has to be remarkable, has to be repeatable, has to be reasonable, and has to be relevant, the Four Rs.

Zev Gotkin:

Right. Relevance. That’s very important, because actually it brings me into my final question, which was … Let’s say I owned a company. I’m a business owner. Maybe I just own a regular small company, not a big corporate entity. And I want to get more positive word of mouth. I need a talk trigger. Where would I start? Do I call a meeting with my staff and lock them in a conference until a talk trigger comes out? Or do I do some soul searching? Where would I … How would I make sure it’s not random and people see the connection between my business and my talk trigger?

Jay Baer:

Yep, we actually go through it in great detail in Talk Triggers, which you can get all the different ways that you can get books, audio book read by Daniel and myself, Kindle, hard copy. If you go to talktriggers.com, there’s tons of free resources there as well to help you on your talk triggers journey. The book goes into great detail on exactly how to do it, but locking yourself in a conference room is the worst way to do it, is to brainstorm it. If it was that easy, you’d already have one.

The key is to understand very clearly what your customers expect. The best way to do that is I actually talk to your customers and say, “Okay, when you come to the office, what do you expect? When I send you an invoice, what do you expect? When I send you a proposal, what do you expect? In all the different kind of key touchpoints, what do you expect and anticipate will happen?” Because, once you know what people expect, you by definition know what they do not expect, and the talk trigger has to live in the place where they don’t expect it.

If every vasectomy surgeon in the world, for reasons I couldn’t possibly articulate, but let’s just assume this is the case … If every vasectomy surgeon in the world always gave somebody a pocketknife on the way out the door, it wouldn’t be talkable because we would come to expect it. But nobody does. Therefore, when you got a knife from Dr. Snip, you’re like, “Wow. Cool knife.”

You think you know your customers, but you don’t. Trust me, I’ve been doing this a long time. Everybody thinks they know their customers well enough to just sit in a conference room and figure that out. Trust me when I tell you that you don’t. You just don’t. You’ve got to go out and talk to customers and say, “When we send you a proposal, what do you expect?” “Well, we expect that you’ll attach the proposal as a PDF to an email.” Makes sense. That’s what everybody does. Okay.

If I know that you expect me to send you a proposal as a PDF attached to an email, what if instead I printed out the proposal, and I put the proposal in a plastic sleeve of some sort? And then I went to one of those custom bakeries, and I got a sheet cake, and I designed the frosting on the cover of the sheet cake, the top of the sheet cake, to look like the cover of the proposal. But then I put the proposal itself in a plastic sleeve underneath the cake and delivered it to the prospect’s office so that, in order to actually access the proposal, your prospective customer had to eat an entire sheet cake. Would that create a story? Yes, it would. Yes, it would.

Zev Gotkin:

For sure. That’s really awesome. The importance of creating word of mouth cannot be understated. I really recommend anyone out there to get this book, Talk Triggers: A Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth. Jay Baer and his co-author Daniel Lemin really have a lot of awesome stuff to share. You’ll love the examples. You’ll also have a clear roadmap.

But the most important thing other than just reading the book or listening to this interview is actually putting it into practice. It really will only provide as much value as you put in. I think that, if people read it and they put it down, they say, “That’s very inspiring and interesting,” and go on with their day, it’s not going to help very much. But if people take these concepts that you’re talking about and really work to apply it and find a way that they can apply it to their business, they’re going to see a lot of positive results.

So, thank you so much for being here with us today, Jay, and sharing these insights. Really appreciate it.

Jay Baer:

My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

My Interview with Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports

To listen to the podcast interview, click here:

Brandon Steiner on Hustle, Sports Marketing, and Having Balls

Brandon Steiner on Hustle, Sports Marketing, and Having Balls

Brandon Steiner is the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports, an iconic sports marketing and sports memorabilia company. Born right here in Brooklyn, NY, Mr. Steiner founded Steiner Sports in 1987 with only his $8000 in savings and grew it into the $50 million empire it is today.

Steiner Sports is the premier leader in sports marketing pairing athletes with businesses to help them draw customers and best known today as the most trusted vendor of sports collectibles, including autographed baseballs, jerseys, football helmets, and posters as well as limited edition items and even clods of dirt — yes, dirt, helping to bring fans closer to the sports and the athletes they love.

For every athlete ever did anything of note, chances are Steiner has their signed ball that they caught to win the game or their uniform or a piece of the dirt or court they played on. All of this is detailed in his inspiring autobiography, You’ve Gotta Have Balls.

Along the way, Steiner has forged business relationships and even close personal friendships with numerous professional athletes and hall-of-famers over the decades and bought the original Yankees stadium. And despite all those tremendous accomplishments, perhaps greatest of all, he is also the founder of the Everything Bagel, a feat to which all of us in New York are especially grateful.

Hey, welcome back to the Zev Audio Zone, a podcast about entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and self-optimization. Tune in every week to hear from inspiring individuals who are making an impact on our world. 

So today, my guest is Brandon Steiner. He’s the founder and CEO of Steiner Sports, an iconic sports marketing and sports memorabilia company. And in this interview, we talked about his childhood growing up right here in Brooklyn, building a sports marketing empire, and his experience working with some of the biggest athletes and brands in the world, and also how he bought the old Yankee Stadium.

You might want to take notes for this episode, because Brandon shares some priceless, tried and true business wisdom that he’s learned over the past 50 years. 

Zev Gotkin: Brandon, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Brandon Steiner: Pleasure to be here, how are you today?

Zev: Doing great on this rainy day, doing fantastic, thank you so much. Yeah, so I’ll get right into it. I know that you came from very humble beginnings here in Brooklyn. Please talk a little bit about where you come from and how you grew up. 

Do you think that your origins, your upbringing, played a big role in your ambitions and your eventual success?

Brandon: Well, I think a big part of who you are and what you become, it has a lot to do with who raised you and where you grew up, without a doubt. And I think that’s really important. For me, it was Kings Highway, Ocean Parkway — 539 Kings Highway to be exact.  I lived over a Glatt Kosher Butcher.

And I grew up in a neighborhood that had a myriad of people — Italians, Jews etc. I mean, there was a cross-section, and in order to get through, you needed to understand how to get along. I think it was very humbling.

It wasn’t an easy growing up phase, but I worked since I was 10 years old. I’ve been hustling since I was a kid. In Brooklyn, there’s a lot of things you could do to make money. I think in Brooklyn, there’s a lot of opportunity. I always looked at my challenging circumstances as a great opportunity. I wasn’t necessarily thinking when I was a kid that I was poor and disadvantaged. I was thinking about the fact that I had a lot of upside if I can figure things out. It all started there in Brooklyn, and I’m a big Brooklyn fan. I love that brand; love that opportunity that I had.

When I look back on it, I think the things you learn the most sometimes when you’re at a disadvantage, or where you maybe don’t have a level playing field and you’ve got to fight your way uphill. And, I think, as a child, that’s how it was for me. And it’s definitely paid its dividends as an adult. I never take a dollar or a day for granted.

I certainly don’t take the opportunity to be able to be in business, now 30 years at Steiner, for granted. And when you’re in Brooklyn, you are your ego is kept in check. Brooklyn would humble you very quickly. If you got a little too arrogant, there was always somebody… One of the people who lived on the block would slap you around, and smack you down, making sure you had your feet on the ground.

So, a great place to grow up, and I’m very grateful because it’s definitely enabled me to be able to grow and do the things that I’ve been able to do.

Zev: That’s wonderful.In your book, You Gotta to Have Balls, you mentioned how you were selling and hustling as a kid. I know that your mother and her philosophy of “What Else,” which is also the name of your blog, had a big influence on your life and your business, and she seems like she was very supportive of your entrepreneurial spirit. Maybe you could just give my listeners a little bit of an idea of how hard you were working as a kid, and what you were doing to hustle and make money.

When did you know that you had a knack for business and marketing? 

Brandon: I mean there’s a lot of times when I realize, “Whoa, I don’t think in a normal way.” For example, one time, I was selling knishes on the beach. When you’re walking up and down Coney Island Beach — and there’s a lot of characters on that beach — carrying cases of soda with one arm, you got knishes in the other arm, it’s exhausting. And I wasn’t selling all that much, so I decided to sell Oreo cookies as well. I was like: “Get your hot knishes, cold soda, and Oreo cookies!” And people usually bought the Oreos so the Oreos became the draw. All the kids would come running over because they wanted the cookies and then the parents would come over and buy a Shatzkin’s knish and a can of soda, and I ended up doing really well in that hustle. 

Even back when I was really young, and I’m talking seven, eight years old, I would draw a sketch for my grandfather, and when he’d offered me a dollar for it, I’d immediately start negotiating with him: ‘Two, three.’ I learned how to negotiate at an early age and lessons like you never take the first offer, that kind of thing.

So, those are the little things that happen and the lessons you learn when you’re a kid. And my mom was always in my ear teaching me about my options and giving me good ideas as I moved into different business situations. I think it’s really important to explain to your kids what opportunities are possible for them if they work hard, and I had a mom that did that. She taught me things like how money gets made, how you can easily go astray if you’re not careful, how sometimes you need to take a little less money in order to provide more value for your customers, and how you can provide more value to your customers by adding additional services. We would go into different stores, and she would point those things out to me.

Zev: One of the biggest challenges with starting a business is starting up and getting your foot in the door. I would imagine, especially in your industry, one of the biggest challenges is just getting access — access to players, the teams, the franchises. And probably the question everyone asks you, and one that some of my listeners have asked me to ask you is: 

How did you get started? How did you break into the sports marketing world?

Brandon: Well, first of all, I don’t know if I agree with you there. A lot of people think it’s so hard to get started. I say: ‘That’s the hardest thing you’re going to do? Get started?’ No, the hardest thing to do is create value. True value. Not some dream, not some idea, but real value. Something you could do for someone that they can’t do for themselves. That’s how you get started. And then, the second hardest thing is altering that value as new circumstances arise. Compromising that initial value proposition in a good way that works for all parties involved. Being able to maybe tweak it a little bit. You have to avoid getting stuck on your first idea. Your first idea may be a very good one, but your best idea is never your first idea. You need to be flexible enough to adjust to the market. 

You alter it a bit. You have to be willing to give the customer, or the person you’re working with, what they need, even if that is not always what you are trying to sell. And I think a lot of people get stuck on trying to sell what they have without adjusting to the needs of the other party. You need to be able to adjust your idea, alter your idea, and grow your idea; not get stuck on a concept that may have worked a little in the beginning, but now is not producing the same result. And I think that’s the hard part. That is harder than starting. 

The first five years here at Steiner, I only had maybe two employees — maybe at a high, I had three. I was really just trying to figure things out as I went along. My initial goal was to be around for four years. That was my first goal. I wasn’t even thinking about making money! I was thinking: “Can I figure out how to provide value and can I stay open for business for four or five years?” And I kept trying to figure things out by meeting as many people as I could, finding out what they needed, and then figuring out how I could then present as much value to them as possible and help them accomplish whatever it was they were trying to do, whether that was growing their business, increasing their customer loyalty and retention, promoting their new product, or whatever it was.

That’s really how I got started. I probably had 10 different ideas that I had tried when I first started Steiner Sports, and I would say 12 of those 10 ideas didn’t work. I definitely lead the league in ideas that didn’t work. Even at Steiner, I’ve come up with some amazing ideas that have worked, and some amazing ideas that haven’t worked. And I’ve also had some really shitty ideas that didn’t work, and it sucked. So it’s a combination of all those things. And your ability to adapt and move on from some of those ideas, to improve upon those ideas and to tweak them, is really one of the keys to success, as far as starting a business as an entrepreneur. When I first started Steiner in 1987, I was a marketing and PR firm for sports bars and restaurants. That’s what I was mostly doing, and, at first, I only dabbled with marketing athletes. I got into that slowly and gradually.

Until one night, I was sitting there and I realized: “I need more data; I need more information.” I sent out thousands of surveys to thousands of players all over the country — leagues, coaches, players, former players, and just asked them to fill out this survey. 

At the bottom of the survey I said: “Now that I have this information on you, like what is your favorite drink, what you like to wear, where you like to vacation, what kind of car you drive etc, would you mind if I went to some of those brands to try to market you to represent them?” It’s a really old school way of marketing. Like, hey, why not find a talent that loves Tropicana orange juice, and then call Tropicana and say: “I’ve got a celebrity that loves your orange juice who wants to talk about it and wants to be a spokesman for you because he’s all in on your product!”

These days, it seems like branding is a little bit of a lost art. It’s all about how many likes you get and how big you are on social media, and how popular you are at the moment. But I’m more of a long-term brand builder. As I built my first business, which was marketing players, it was all about being a great brand builder. How can I take a player’s brand and your brand and combine the two to make both better? And a big part of that is finding a product that the player actually loved, because then I knew their endorsement would be authentic and that it would be a good match. 

So, those surveys were the initial stages when Steiner started marketing players. Three-hundred of the athletes who took the survey responded to my offer to market them in the affirmative. And that’s how we got started. I got about 300 celebrities to give me permission to go out and market them, and I did. Every day, I called up as many companies as I could, got as many meetings as I could, followed up after those meetings, and just kept doing that again and again, day after day.

Using that process, it took several years until I actually started getting meetings a little more quickly, and the follow-up became a little easier. But, it was those initial athletes that answered the survey, which started it all and got me into the sports marketing business.

Zev: You have to find the starting point or the niche that you can fulfill and where you can help and create value, and be willing to adjust. That is extremely important advice that all entrepreneurs need to take to heart. And, I love that you took the time to make sure the brands of the athlete and the company were a good fit. That might sound like common sense, but too many simply enter into partnerships that are lucrative and bring in short-term gains rather than thinking about the long-term big picture or whether or not the brands are in alignment in terms of values or intended audience.

Brandon: Common sense is not always common practice. I think a lot of people know what is the right thing to do, but they get distracted. Don’t focus only on the short-term gain. Remember, doing the right thing doesn’t always give you an immediate result. There’s no app for that. There’s no shortcut, there’s no discount, no sale, and it’s not something you could pick up real quick with a Google search. But, at the end of the day, common sense has to become common practice if you want to be successful. You’ve got to play the long game and be patient. Sometimes the results take time to achieve.

Zev: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Today you count as close friends some of the greatest pro athletes in professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and more — names like Derek Jeter, Eli Manning, and Mariano Rivera. And you’ve partnered with many of the big franchises like the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Red Sox, and Madison Square Garden. What is that like? It must be a surreal feeling. As a lifelong sports fan, it’s got to be a pretty amazing feeling to walk into the stadium of your hometown team, the Yankees or into the Garden and see your name, Steiner Sports, hanging from the ceiling. 

When you were a kid, did you ever dream that you would ever achieve all of this success? Did you think it was possible? When you were sitting in the cheap seats of the did you ever think to yourself, one day I’m gonna own this place?

Brandon: First of all, I don’t know about owning this place. I mean, obviously the Yankees own this place, but when they sold the old Yankee Stadium, they allowed me to sell parts of it as memorabilia, and I’m very grateful to the Yankees for that. But a lot of people ask me: When you were younger, did you ever think you were going to be this successful? And my response is: Yeah! Of course I did! You don’t think I started this business with all my dreams and goals thinking I was going to be a screw up, do you? Never for a moment! I always thought that I was going to do something great, something extraordinary. I wanted to go into an industry and disrupt it. I didn’t know that it was going to be in the sports business, but I knew I was going to do something great. 

When I walk into Yankee stadium or into any other franchise where I have a partnership, I think of two things. Firstly, I feel gratitude. I want to add that I’m extremely grateful to the Yankees for giving me the opportunity to partner up with them so I can deliver so many fans amazing products. The second thing that goes through in my head is a feeling of incredible responsibility both to the franchise and to the fans. I think to myself: I better not screw this up. More than pride, I’m usually pretty nervous. Like, shit, I got to make sure this goes right. This one of the greatest brands on the planet; the New York Yankees! I got to make this right. I got to deliver, I’ve got to do my best work and I’ve got to bring my A-game to live up to what the Yankees represent.

Of course, I recognize that I’m just a small part of the marketing and promotion the Yankees do on a day-to-day basis. I’m a minuscule little piece of it. But for me, the sense of responsibility and accountability I feel is enormous! That feeling or responsibility rather than ego is probably the thing that most dominates my mind when I walked into any of these arenas. Sure, I’m very proud to have a sign and to be part of these organizations, but the feeling of accountability still trumps it all. 

Zev: I love that. One of my listeners wants to know wants to know:

What’s your favorite or most cherished piece of memorabilia that’s been in your possession? 

Brandon: When I think about my favorite thing, it’s not really a collectible; it’s the thank you notes that I get. Every day, I try to start my day off with two acts of kindness, and I try to do two things for two people who don’t expect it and don’t see it coming, whether it’s sending them a book, a check to a charity or to somebody who’s going through hard times, or sending somebody some flowers or something nice. And then, usually after that I get two thank you notes, or I’ll get a message from somebody telling me that they read my book or they read my blog, and it helped them.

Those messages and thank you notes are my favorite things that I have. I’ve kept a bag of those thank you notes for the past 12, 14 years. I cherish those letters; they give me a lot of purpose and a major source of my “why.” One of the reasons I enjoy writing books and blogs is the satisfaction of knowing I’m reaching people and helping them.

To answer your question about sports memorabilia, I think my favorite actual collectible is an autographed photo of New York Rangers player, Mark Messier holding the Stanley Cup with the quote: “We did it.” There’s a lot of stuff that I consider very important to me, but that was the first collectible that seriously kicked off Steiner Collectibles and put it on the map. 

Zev: You have an amazing eye for determining what sort of things will become sought-after collectibles. For example, you sell dirt from the old Yankee stadium. Nobody else thought to sell something like that! 

How did you train yourself to see so clearly what would be good to market that might not be obvious to others?

Now, there is something I want to express to you and to anybody that’s listening, which will help you understand my mindset: You need to realize that to be extraordinary requires a great deal of collaboration. It’s not like everything Steiner has done that has been a huge success came directly from my brain. Other people are involved as well. But, you have to be in a complete panic mode, meaning you have to be determined not to settle for great, but to strive for doing the extraordinary. And, you need collaboration to be extraordinary. You need to get really into the mud — you need to be very thoughtful about what you do. 

And what you want to do is get deep into the mud over one specific thing, and for me, when I get into these projects, I go into a pretty dark place. It’s probably not my happy place, because I’m fighting and struggling to not settle for the obvious and for what everyone else sees. I want to go further.  I want to go deeper. I want to dig into what that brand and what that player or team is all about.

And that’s really how the dirt came about. I was focused on Derek Jeter. He’s been an unbelievable partner over the years. I was with him at Yankee stadium and I was just looking underneath his feet and I see him kicking the dirt around. Sometimes I’d take a clump or a couple rocks from the field. And I’m thinking, man, every time I go to that field, I always loved getting a little piece of that dirt, and putting it in my pocket. I bet there are some other people who might like to also have a little bit of that dirt. It’s kind of like a good luck charm. So that’s how and idea like selling the dirt comes about.

This is part of the sacred ground that some of the greats have walked on — Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio. We also sell the dirt from Notre Dame stadium. You know, when you think about Notre Dame, you think of Joe Montana, Paul Hornung, and some of the great players who played there. 

We feel that by providing this dirt, our customers get to have a little piece of their favorite team in their home or office. It just brings them closer to the game. 

My mantra has always been, no matter what business you’re in, ask yourself: How deep in the mud are you? How deep in the pool are you? Are you willing to go into an area where maybe you’re not used to swimming and the water might rise a little bit over your head? Because you need to go in all the way and immerse. You need to make yourself a little uncomfortable to come up with the next big thing. I go into that place a lot. It’s not a comfortable spot to be in, but if you have the ability to take your mindset there, especially after you’ve gained some expertise in a certain area, that’s when you can achieve some extraordinary things. 

And, I urge everyone listening that, if you’re really good at what you do, I applaud you. But, that should just be the starting point. If you want to be extraordinary, then being great is just a starting point. For most people, that’s an ending point. You get to be great at something, and you feel like you’ve gotten there; you’ve achieved. But, to get to that next level and achieve extraordinary things, you need to get other people on board with your ideas. You need to collaborate and get other people to want to work with you. And then you can draw on all of the combined expertise to go even further. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of people do great things that probably could’ve been extraordinary, but they stopped there, and didn’t fulfill their potential.

Zev: How do you remain so hungry and determined, always pushing to new levels even after achieving so much success?

Brandon: I talk a lot about purpose, and being hungry is a big part of it. You need a “why,” and I think that if your refrigerator’s full and you feel pretty content and satisfied, you’re definitely on the road to mediocrity. If you’re getting too comfortable, I’d suggest not getting a lot of sleep and starving yourself for a couple of days to get your attitude back in check.

Zev: That’s intense, but I love that. It’s very important to have a why. The following question comes from the Institute for Athlete Branding and Marketing, or @4athletebrands, on Twitter. They ask:

What will sports marketing look like in 10 years? And this is my addition: What’s next for Brandon Steiner and Steiner Sports?

Brandon: Well first of all, sports marketing is a really healthy industry. You’ve got some brilliant people in the business now. It’s taken a while, but when I first got in the business it was really thin on innovation. Back in the late 80’s and 90’s, there were only a handful of sports marketers and only a couple of companies were even into it. You approached a team or a league and they usually didn’t have much talent or really smart, capable people working there. Organizations were thinly staffed, and not much was put into marketing and promotion. Now, you’ve got some amazing people in the business, some incredibly brilliant minds from some of the best schools, Ivy Leagues, and so on and so forth. Sports marketing is now a big part of general marketing in this country, whereas 25 years ago, sports marketing was in its infancy and not taken as seriously.

I think the business is healthy and mature now, and there’s a lot more opportunity in it. These opportunities will continue to grow once the games start getting off of normal TV and move into pay-per-view. Soon you’ll be watching the games on Netflix and Amazon and platforms like that instead of on regular TV. I mean, there’s no question that it’s going to happen. These applications will steal sports away, and G-d knows there will be way more room for product placements and the like. 

Imagine watching football on Amazon, and while you’re watching that game, all the product placements you’ll be able to feature in that game. And just by clicking, you’ll be able to order the football being used or the jersey or the hat that you see the players or the coaches wearing. That kind of stuff is already starting to happen a little bit in Europe. I think you’re going to see a lot more of it in the States.

Pretty soon, rather than commercials, the main way companies are going to sell and advertise products is by creating their own programs and shows and using creative product placements. 

Nowadays, everybody’s DVR-ing and recording shows [instead of watching them on live TV] so nobody’s watching commercials. This is less common with respect to sporting events and award shows, which are still primarily watched live, but many people DVR those things too. 

As far as what’s next for me, I’ve just came out with my third book, Living On Purpose, which I’m excited about. I’ve been speaking around the country and doing a lot of charity work. I enjoy helping people and sharing stories to give them inspiration to follow their dreams and goals.

I’m looking at a couple of different web opportunities for Steiner as well. They’ll go much further than sports alone and give our fans and customers a much better and bigger opportunity to get the little things that they want. And, I’m working on growing Steiner Collectibles. 

I’m also traveling around a little bit to learn more about what’s going on outside of this country, because there are still a lot of sports marketing opportunities abroad. If I was a young person just getting started, knowing what I know now, I’d take my sports marketing experience, and probably go to Europe or Asia. There are so many teams overseas which receive a great deal of fanfare but have nowhere near the level of sports marketing and promotion as we do here in the States. And there’s a great opportunity if you are interested in taking your talents outside of the country.

Zev: That’s amazing. It seems like you’re always moving onto the next opportunity, and you’ve adapted over the years hosting your own sports radio show in the 90’s and now a podcast, a blog, and maintaining a strong presence on platforms like LinkedIn. 

Have you seen significant business results from your digital marketing, growing your personal brand online, or your online presence? What would you tell a business owner who isn’t prioritizing social media or producing content at scale the way you are? Do you think they’re missing an opportunity?

Brandon: Well, I would say, change or die. But, change can be a difficult thing. A lot of companies have CMOs who are 50 years old and older. It’s weird but, this forces you to ask questions like: Can you bring on an 18 year-old to be your VP of digital marketing? It’s tough to make that kind of decision. I’m surrounding myself with youth. I’ve got a kid that’s right out of college as my right-hand helping me build my personal brand online, and I have a high school kid helping me. My assistant is only one or two years out of school to help me with my social media. I recognize that I’ve got to surround myself with people that can do what I can’t do. And at some point, I have to trust them, because they know more than I do. I know what I know, and I’m going to mentor them. I’m going to teach them about life and business as I know it, which they all need — no question about it. And in turn, they’re going to show me what’s really going on in life as they know it. 

And I think this is where a lot of CEOs and executives are struggling. They should be opening up their doors to some young teenagers who are absolutely killing it! I’ve been doing that for the last three, four years and it’s paid a lot of dividends. Does it get me results? I think it does. I think any CEO will tell you his or her first and foremost goal is to make an emotional connection with their customers.

And I’ve got hundreds of thousands of customers that have done business with us over the years. I use social media to make that emotional connection with my customers, keep in touch, let them know what we’re doing, let them know where my mindset is, and what I’m thinking. I don’t know any other way to do it other than social media. I think it can even be better than anything I’ve been able to do when it comes to marketing, and I’ve done a lot of marketing. 

By contrast, when you go on TV or do things with traditional media outlets, which I have over the years, things always get cut. You don’t really don’t know what the hell is going to end up on TV. Social media and the Internet gives you more control over the story. So I like the social media event though I think it’s some of the older people are struggling to adjust to it.

They just didn’t grow up with it. It is a lot to learn, and it’s a lot to do. You know, most people you talk to that are older, high-level executives, are so wrapped up in how busy they are that they don’t realize how important social media is. It’s all about priorities. You’re not too busy to breathe, you’re not too busy to eat. I mean, how busy are you? I’m sure you could find an hour a day to do some social media. I’m not sitting there all day doing social media, but I’ve now learned that in the way I make time work out and do physical exercise, once a day I get up and give my social media an hour a day. I manicure it, do some interesting stuff with it, give some stuff away to followers. 

I reach out to people, respond to some people’s tweets and posts. It’s just an hour a day. And I think social media is a blessing if you’re running a company, because social media allows you to find out what people are actually thinking and what customers are saying about you. It’s a great opportunity.

When it comes to social media management, it’s important that they understand your business and that the social media isn’t siloed away from everything else. Don’t just stick somebody in a corner and let them do their thing. You’ve got to get them into your office, you yourself have to get into it. Learn and take advantage of the opportunity you now have to hear what your customers are saying and thinking.

Zev: What would you would advise a young entrepreneur trying to make their mark?

Brandon: If I were to talk to a young person about trying to make their mark as an entrepreneur, I’d say: Play the long game. It’s all about relationships. It’s not who you know or what you know, but what you know about who. 

Take the time to get to know people beyond their Twitter handle. And just because you throw a couple of texts back and forth doesn’t mean you know somebody. It might mean you’re connected to somebody, but being connected on LinkedIn to somebody and knowing somebody are two very different things. 

So, the fact that you can email, text, hit a quick tweet or add someone on LinkedIn is all great, but that’s a connection; it’s not a relationship. Building a relationship means you get up off your ass, go have a little lunch, pick up the phone, talk to somebody, and see how you can help them!

Not how they can help you. See what value you can provide to them. What you could do for them? Try to find any possible way you can help them and do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. If you do that for a long period of time, you’re going to have a high level of success. Eventually, you’ll be able to figure out what people need, and find a way to fulfill a niche. You’ll find an openings where you can inject your entrepreneurial spirit to provide more value to your customers, fulfill a need that is not being met in your industry or in the company where you work. 

Entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t have to just be coming up with an app or an idea. An entrepreneurial spirit could be in teaching, it could be in social work, or any other endeavor. You can be an entrepreneurial lawyer or doctor. Entrepreneurism is a mindset, not a business principle.

Zev: I couldn’t agree more! In your content — your blog, your LinkedIn posts, and your podcast, you occasionally talk about the struggles you had in school, and with ADHD. As an entrepreneur who also has ADHD, I find it very inspiring when someone with ADHD who’s very successful is open about it. I think it gives a lot of encouragement to so many people. 

What tips, strategies, or words of advice for managing ADHD can you share? What are some things you have found helpful in managing your ADHD? 

Brandon: When you talk about ADHD, or as I call it, attention deficit advantage, I think it’s important to remember that you can do a lot of things that the average, normal person can’t do. But, I also think it’s important that you learn to manage it. ADHD is not something that’s curable, but it is manageable. There are several books you can read and there is a lot of information online which can help you learn how to manage it and control it, so it doesn’t control you to the point where you’re impossible to be around, or family members or spouses or kids start to get annoyed. Having an ADHD personality can really take you far, but it can also take you down. 

For me, a big part of managing my ADHD is eating well. I have to be very careful about what I eat. And also, it’s really important that I exercise vigorously every morning. Exercise is really a great way for me to get a handle on ADHD.

Having said that, everybody is different. There are different forms of ADHD, and everyone has their ways of controlling and handling it. Ignoring it completely is foolish, because you’re leaving yourself at a disadvantage. You’ll be missing out on some things while at the same time you’ll probably be doing some miraculous, amazing things. But, just because you can do some miraculous, amazing things doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to manage the aspects of ADHD that get in the way. 

You can do amazing things and still learn how to tone it down and get a grip on it so that you’ll be more available to others and be able to live in the moment — things that ADHD can take you away from if you don’t learn how to manage it. This can mean just learning how to pay attention to the person sitting in front of you even when you feel like you don’t have the patience or the right tolerance.

I think it’s been proven with a whole bunch of studies that CEOs as a group have disproportionately high levels of ADHD and other issues. Sometimes, you just get emphatic, you get crazy, and you get paranoid. Sometimes your energy becomes uncontrollable. I mean, there’s a lot of ADHD characteristics that are often needed to do something great and in order to run a company. You just need to learn how to channel these tendencies appropriately. You need to learn how to handle it. You’ve got to understand the way you are and work with it. 

I love a book called Driven To Distraction by Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey. That book helped me turn a lot of things around. It provided me with many different strategies for controlling and managing my ADHD. There are also many other resources available online. I think the most important thing is to get educated, learn about it, and then find what’s the right formula for you.

Zev: Amazing! I’m very grateful that you took the time to be here today. Thanks so much!

Brandon: Cool. All right, nice talking with you and call any time, man. All right?

Zev: All right. Thank you. Take care.

 

Pay Attention to the End-User: What Are They Paying Attention to?

Pay attention to the end consumer. Watch your target audience and notice their interests and behaviors. 👀

Let go of the past. Adapt to the new mediums where people increasingly spend their time. 📱

Let’s get real. 🤔

– When is the last time you read a print magazine and looked at the ads?

– Do you use ad-block when you browse the Internet?

– Do you hit fast-forward or reach for your phone whenever a TV commercial comes on?

– Do you click on search engine or banner ads?

Thought so.

It’s not just “kids” spending all their time on their phones or social media. It’s you too.

And, even if it’s not “you,” it’s very dangerous to operate by a 1-person focus group. Open your eyes. Look at the world 🌎 around you.

We live online now, primarily through our phones. And, social media IS the Internet. It’s where we talk, listen, and watch.

The same people who in their everyday life know the above to be true, still market to people as if it’s 10-20 years ago, tone-deaf to the new reality.

They barely invest in social media, influencers, or Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn ads, or write them off completely, But they still blow 💰 on overpriced channels like print ads, TV commercials, and Google AdWords.

You have it reversed. Adapt or fade from relevance.

The Social Mobile Mind-Shift: Time to Put Social First

Have you made the shift? There is a major shift we all have to make in our minds.

We often call the offline world the “real world” while dismissing our social/mobile activity as something that is separate and apart from “real life.”

The “real world” where people now spend their time is on 📱. This is where it’s at, and the sooner we understand this as marketers or business owners, the better.

Mobile devices, the Internet, and the platforms built on top of those channels like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook are now the dominant places where people are spending their time and attention.

And the younger the person, the more likely these are the ONLY places where they spend time. It’s not an escape from real life. THIS is real life.

And, we need to adapt our marketing and messaging accordingly if we hope to remain relevant and get anyone’s attention.

People are blocking your banner ads and fast forwarding interruptive commercials. If anyone under 30 — and it’s not just “kids,” it’s most of you now too — even sees an ad, they reach for the phone.

Social media isn’t something extra. Social media is just a name for “the Internet.”

And the Internet is where we now live. It’s where we watch, where we listen, where we communicate, and where we transact.

No one is seeing your billboard or listening to your radio ad.

This may not be true for everyone yet but the trend is rapidly moving in this direction and most already spend more attention on mobile and social than on anything else.

We’re transitioning from a “mobile-first” world to a “mobile-only” world. And, what’s coming next (VR) is going to make the current situation look old fashioned in the next 15-20 years. If you can’t keep up now, you’ll really have a problem once things get even crazier.

We live in a mobile world, but the platforms where we spend time in that mobile environment are social networks like Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. If your business is not creating content for those platforms and engaging with people in those places, your business is totally irrelevant.

Time to put social first.

If you’d like to learn more, leave a comment or send me an email: info@zevmedia.com.

If You Want Outrageous Things Out of Life, You have to Be Outrageous to Get Them!

If you want outrageous things out of life, then it’s completely outrageous that you don’t do anything outrageous to get them.

How do you expect results if you don’t invest?

Why do you expect enormously positive outcomes — in your business or in life — if you’re not willing to do what it takes to get you there?

Think about anything in life or your day-to-day experience. Nothing comes easy or without paying the price.

Are you dreaming or are you actually willing to do what it takes to get where you want to go?

You want something crazy?

Go do something crazy to get it!

Don’t become an Influencer for the Wrong Reasons

Don’t try to be an influencer for the sake of being an influencer.

Don’t become a personal brand for the sake of becoming a personal brand.

Rather, focus on providing value to others. Let the influence come to you as a result.

I think that’s a recipe for failure and a losing strategy. Perhaps, it will bring you short-term success, but you’ll lose in the long-term because the people who become truly influential and remain relevant are the ones who have a message, who stand for something, and who bring unique value to the table.

That means they say “no” to things as much or more often as they say “yes.” They make conscious decisions based on their values and will turn down quick cash if it means maintaining the health and integrity of their brand.

There is a lot of money in the influencer space right now and we have influencers on all platforms — bloggers, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Almost every kid nowadays wants to be one and thinks they can do it relatively quickly.

I have worked with influencers, primarily on Instagram. It concerns me that many people are not focused first and foremost on providing value to their audience. They simply want to be an influencer and get all the rewards that come with it. But an influencer or a personal brand will only engage and inspire if there is substance and authenticity behind it.

If you’re only doing it for the fame or money and you’re willing to collaborate with any brand as long as it pays, you will eventually lose credibility with your audience.

When you’re not being authentic and genuine and true to your brand values or if you don’t actually believe in the products you’re promoting, people will catch on and get turned off.

People can smell a faker. So, make sure you’re becoming an influencer for the right reasons.