If your marketing doesn't create controversy, you're doing something wrong, says brand guru Sally Hogshead. If you try to appeal to everyone, you'll appeal to no one.
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"It's not working if it doesn't get hate mail," she insists.
In the second part of her interview on the Marketing Smarts Podcast, Sally builds on the previous episode with stories of of companies who chose to "flip the flaw," or turn their difference into something positive. Reposition yourself, don't fix yourself. Identify what you already are and turn it into something valuable.
"It used to be enough to advertise," she explains. "It used to be enough to market. As long as people knew your logo, maybe your tagline, and they could find you on the grocery store shelf, you were fine. That's the world of better. When the world of different was scary."
And there's no going back to that world, so it's time to fascinate your audience with something different.
Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George Thomas: We’re back for week two of this fabulous conversation with Sally Hogshead. Drawing upon her branding expertise, Sally Hogshead created a method to identify how each person is able to captivate their listeners. This Fascination Advantage is the first communication assessment that measures how others perceive you. After researching over 1,000,000 professionals, her algorithm can pinpoint your most valuable differentiating traits. The science of Fascination is based on Sally’s decade of research with dozens of Fortune 500 teams, hundreds of small businesses, and over 1,000 C-level executives.
Her two most recent books, Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist and How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination, were both New York Times bestsellers. Sally writes a weekly online column for Inc on issues around personal and corporate branding. She is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame and Word of Mouth Marketing Association Hall of Fame. Named a top brand guru, her particular marketing system now lives inside of organizations such as IBM, Twitter, the YMCA, as well as thousands of small businesses.
Early in her advertising career, Sally skyrocketed to the top of becoming the most awarded junior copywriter in the US by age 24. Her campaigns for brands such as Mini Cooper, Nike, Godiva, and Coca-Cola have fascinated millions of consumers. At 27, she opened her first ad agency. Her work is on exhibit at The Smithsonian Museum of American History. She frequently appears in national media, including NBC’s Today and New York Times.
Ladies and gentlemen, Marketing Smarts Podcast listeners, it has been my pleasure to interview Sally over the last two weeks to get this series for you. Last week was amazing. This week it just continues to get better. I hope that you have your iPad, your phone, your tablet, it could be a notepad and pencil, I always joke it could be chalk and the wall, but there are some definite golden nuggets to get out of this week’s episode on what makes you different and how different is better than better.
Let’s go ahead and get into the good stuff. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, pause right now, go over there and listen to that, because there are some knowledge bombs that we dropped. It’s dope. Today, we’re going to get even deeper into this conversation of different is better than better.
Sally, where I’d like to start on the piggyback of last week is maybe you have one or two amazing stories about how businesses have used their difference to become its advantage in its marketplace to captivate customers.
Sally Hogshead: Let me ask you a question. Based on what you heard last week, are you able to describe to me what you heard as being the difference between different and better?
George: What I learned last week is that there is a happy mix between the two. They kind of live together, but they are absolutely separate. When I think of this thing of being different, it’s the inner core, it’s the thing that sometimes we may have been ashamed of, but yet it’s what we call our biggest weakness but is our largest strength in reality when we tap into it. Being better in my mind is a treadmill, it’s a ladder, it’s a step that we try to accomplish, but we leave ourselves at the bottom of the ladder when we’re climbing it many times.
Sally: That was beautifully said. I appreciate that you heard it not only on a marketing level, but also there is something very soulful about difference. It’s like a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough, the chips are not perfectly lined up, and maybe the vanilla isn’t quite stirred in yet, but there’s no better time to stick your finger in that bowl and enjoy the cookies at that stage while they’re still embryonic, the cookies are still figuring out their cookieness. That is the creative process. Creativity by definition is sloppy. It’s amniotic fluid.
When I first started in advertising, my first job in advertising was at an agency named TBWA, and their marquee account was the Absolut Vodka account. This was right at the height when Absolut was really redefining what the print medium looked like, and it was an exciting time to be there. I was an unsophisticated girl from Jacksonville, Florida with frizzy hair. I had white patent leather heels, click, click, click on the floor.
Here’s what I noticed inside the walls of TBWA and this advertising agency. People would leave their cameras and their wallets on their desks at night, but they would lock up the ideas. The ideas were more precious than the cameras, the car keys, the wallet, the valuables, because all of those things can be replaced. An extraordinarily valuable idea that is highly differentiated and memorable can not only launch brands and careers, but it can change the way people think.
When I went on from there, when I went on to become an advertising creative director on brands like Nike and Target and Coca-Cola, I would always say at the beginning of the process to the clients, “I’m going to show you ideas on a spectrum. Some are going to be safe, and I’m going to discourage you from those, because in order for the safe ideas to work on this bell curve, you’re going to have to put a huge media spend behind it because you have to pound it in instead of fascinating them with something different. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m going to show you ideas that are going to feel too challenging, they’re going to feel scary to you, but an advantage of that is we’re going to know they’re working when they get hate mail.”
This is where I began setting expectations; It’s not working if it doesn’t get hate mail. My role in advertising was not to continue to crank out the same thing all the time. I was brought in when there was a problem, like a SWAT creative director, to come in and immediately be able to give an idea to the advertising agency or client that they were not able, for whatever reason, to do internally.
You only have to know two things about a brand, any brand, individual or corporate. The first thing is how do you define what makes that brand different in one word. That word is an adjective, and an adjective by definition is comparing two things to each other. The second part is what does the brand do best. My client Godiva was luxurious indulgence. Coca-Cola was a delightful refreshment.
By hyper-simplifying it and being able to get down very specifically what you’re saying, not just identify what the point of difference is, it’s easier for people to be courageous, it’s easier to be able to sell up through the ranks of the approval process to get people to be brave about doing something that is going to get hate mail. If you’re not polarizing, if you’re not pissing somebody off, nobody is paying attention. That’s not to say that you should intentionally be provocative, but if you stand for something, if you have an opinion of authority, a soapbox that you can get on to say something that you believe as an individual or a brand, then it has to attract your ideal client and repel part of it.
George: I love bringing these interviews to the Marketing Smarts listeners because there’s always valuable information, and I get to come along for the ride. I have to be just vulnerable with everybody who is listening to this. I’m sitting here listening to this thinking, “What are my two words?” Listeners, I have to ask, what are your two words? That is literally another action item that you can take after this episode. “What are our two words that Sally talked about?”
There was another little micro piece that you said in there. You said fascinate them with something different. I want you to look at your emails. I understand we’re in B2B, I get it, but I want you to look at your emails, look at your advertising, look at your website, and ask yourself, “When is the last time we fascinated them with something different?”
That kind of leads me to my next question that I want to ask. This is helping people not run into the potholes, the snake pits, the hurdles, whatever analogy you want to use. What are some things that you have historically helped people through this journey of embracing their difference, what are those hurdles or potholes that you would say watch out for this or that?
Sally: Watch out for something that can then become your hugest advantage. I’ll give you two examples. Especially B2B brands tend to have really big budgets, so they can kind of get lazy, and they look at awareness as being more important than engagement. It doesn’t matter how many people know your logo, if nobody is talking about it or thinking about it, because then ultimately they won’t be buying it. I’m going to give you two small business examples.
About an hour away from where I live in Orlando, there is a little town named New Smyrna Beach. It’s a sleepy little surf town, it doesn’t have any chain restaurants. There’s a drawbridge that attaches this tiny little surf town to the rest of the Florida coast. The drawbridge is not on a schedule, so at any point in the day, ding ding, the drawbridge goes up. When the drawbridge goes up, it becomes clogged with carbon monoxide, it’s gross, and there are a lot of people on motorcycles. It just becomes a total cluster mess.
At the base of the drawbridge is a bar named Gnarly’s Surf Shack. Gnarly’s was losing business because as soon as the drawbridge would go up, nobody wanted to sit outside on the patio. So, they created a deal; bridge up, beer down. Every time, as soon as you hear the ding sound for the bridge to go up, beer becomes $0.25. What Gnarly’s did brilliantly was they took something that was a disadvantage and they turned it into an advantage simply by repositioning it into something that becomes desirable.
Similarly, my first advertising agency in Los Angeles was in Venice Beach, and when we wanted to do self-promos, we had no money. We looked and saw that we could afford $0.03 per prospect from Kinkos. My partner and I at the time had worked inside all of those big agencies with private restrooms and sushi lunches, and we knew that we would never be able to compete. If that’s what a client wanted, we would never be able to overdeliver in that area. Based on the fact that we were in the middle of a gang zone, we made rearview mirror hangers that would hang on the top, like the kind that you would get at Kinkos, but it said, “Please don’t slash my tires. I’m visiting the agency.” We mailed these out as the way that we were introducing ourselves. A lot of people didn’t respond because, of course, what they wanted was that ambiance of the big agencies. Of the ones who did respond, they said, “Can you meet in our neighborhood?”
That kind of became an iconic lesson for me. Every time I’ve worked with clients and said, “Let’s take 90% of your budget and we’ll do traditional stuff, but give me 10% and with that we’re going to take a risk,” because when you live in the world of different, you give yourself room to explore. Not only do you get back way better marketing results analysis than you would in a focus group, but this is where you’re going to be able to stretch your legs and do huge media PR blasts.
In one instance, we had a $300,000 budget that became $30,000,000 of free PR because we did something that was so press-worthy. We created an island in the Hudson River for a TV network where a couple lived in a hut with their dog to demonstrate what it’s like to have this lifestyle on the TV network, and it was on all of the morning shows. If we had just stuck to doing banners, billboards, etcetera, we wouldn’t have had that result.
George: So good, these stories. Especially your personal story. It’s funny, you mentioned something in your keynote, I’m going to get to that in a second. It’s kind of gritty. We want gritty. It’s kind of creative. We want creative. This thing of this mentality of understanding who you’re going after. In your keynote, you mentioned brands that are trying to be all things to all people mean nothing to anyone. Can you take some time to unpack that thought?
Sally: It used to be enough to advertise. It used to be enough to market. As long as people knew your logo, and maybe your tagline, and they could find you on the grocery store shelf, you were fine. That’s the world of better. That’s when the world of different was scary. Today, the model is completely flipped. When you think about what is it today that is succeeding, there are two ways of succeeding right now. One is consistency, and I’ll give you an example, and the other one is radical change.
Radical consistency looks like this. My dad is 90 years old, he’s a retired orthopedic surgeon. He did surgery on people’s backs. Fifty years ago, a man climbed up a ladder into a pecan tree and tried clipping off some pecans, and he fell down, broke his back, and was told he would never walk again. My father, the orthopedic surgeon, did surgery on him. The man made a full recovery. Every year at Christmastime, we receive a box with one pound of fresh pecans, but there’s not a return address. For fifty years, every year, we have pecan pie, and we celebrate my dad saving this man’s life. That’s radical consistency.
On the other hand, radical change is Elon Musk taking all of the guts out of what we assume is a car and turning it into a Tesla. It’s taking the problem and reimagining it in a way that doesn’t take anything for granted about how to make a car better, but rather how to reinvent what transportation means.
George: Listeners, I know you’re getting the value out of this conversation. Not just strictly from a B2B marketing business standpoint, but there is some life stuff that we can grab and drag in here of adding value. It’s funny because it’s almost like this is a designed situation that we’re in, because once we get to the point where your dad knew his difference, once the listeners know their difference, once I know my difference, you talked about in your keynote that throughout all of your actions, throughout all of your touchpoints, as you add value to the world, you mentioned that adding value is not always about information and insights, but many times about ideas and a new perspective. I would like you to wax poetic for a couple of minutes about this idea of ideas and perspective when it pertains to this conversation that we’re having today.
Sally: When I was growing up, my sister was the number one swimmer in the world, she had a world record and went on to win three Olympic Gold Medals in the same year that my brother graduated from Harvard. I was the youngest by quite a lot. I spent a lot of time in that question of I have two others in my space who are extraordinarily successful and wonderful, and I love them, but I’m not that. What are the ways that when you think back on your life that you have experienced that? You had to in some way flip it.
What I propose is that we have to flip the flaw. Ask yourself: What is your comfort level with being different? There are many different types of different. Different can mean fresh. It can mean original. It can mean novel. It can be a slight difference. Even slight differences can become significant, as long as they are meaningful to the person that you’re communicating with or selling to. On the other hand, you could have audacious – audacity is totally different than something that is just a little bit novel. Decide how different you’re comfortable being.
Next, in the free sample that I gave to you, you’re going to see that there are five different ways to be different, to identify what you’re already doing in your brand. One of those things is actions. What are the actions that you’re taking that are meaningful in certain situations so they become intensely valuable, but they are not meaningful to everybody? What are you doing in those situations?
In what way can those be perceived as being a negative, being a disadvantage? Remember a moment ago we talked about Gnarly’s Surf Shack and how they flipped the flaw. Instead of the bridge going up being something that would have them lose customers, it has actually brought them customers.
Think of who is not the right client for you, who is not the right employer or team member, or significant other. Who is not right? When you begin to see who is not right for you, it becomes a lot easier to get clarity on who you are and who is right. For example, for me, the kind of client who is not right for me as a speaker or in marketing, clients that don’t appreciate branding tend to not have an appreciation for ideas. When a client is scared, when a client is afraid of losing their job, when they are really in trouble, it’s crucial for you to make sure right up front that you describe that there is going to have to be some element of risk in order to fix the situation.
By that, I mean this. Right now, a lot of companies, a lot of brands are nervous because there is so much talent turnover. They’re worried that they’re going to get turned over or that their key employees are going to leave, or that clients are going to get fickle and move to a different agency. There is a lot of tension out there right now, so what we’re doing is we’re standing back and playing it safe. The winners are the ones who are looking at this kind of a little bit of a fear-based culture and saying now is the perfect time for me to be doing something that otherwise would be perceived as chaotic, this is the ideal time to crack the expectations and come up with something new. The other part of the people are the ones who are saying it was working just fine two years ago, I’m sure we’re going to get back there.
We’re never going to get back there. There is no back there. There’s only ahead of us. What’s ahead of us is not being better. What’s ahead of us is identifying the way in which we’re different and then making that intensely meaningful in a way that doesn’t just get you the job, get you the promotion, get you the media interview, but that helps you build relationships around the dinner table, having that level of engagement with your kids.
George: There is no back there. I can’t believe we’re coming to the close of episode two of the Sally Hogshead how to be amazing at life podcast, it’s been an amazing journey. To wrap this up, as we land the plane, one of the things that you said that made my brain explode was that you can’t just be different just to be different. I want you to take a dive into that pool of goodness for a few minutes, and then we’ll do some last exiting questions.
Sally: It’s not new information. It’s good to be different. That’s what marketing is. That’s kind of the price of entry. The question is why does it matter now, which we’ve talked about, that there is no back there. Then the question is where is it that we’re going to be taking this from here. We all know in marketing when somebody just has a cheesy pun that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, it’s not even a double-entendre. There’s a pasta maker, “Make pasta fasta,” faster.
I’m not suggesting that you’re doing something just to be clever. This isn’t about interviewing for a job and sending a fake foot to get your foot in the door. It’s about identifying who you already are, who are at your best, and then doing it on purpose. There are qualities within you that you have been told over the course of your life that they’re wrong, that they’re not enough, that they need to be fixed or glued back together.
I was in a horrific car accident, you can see here on my face. I was with my father, we were on our way to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on a Sunday morning, and the car was t-boned by a tow truck, and we wrapped around a telephone pole. My father had to climb out of the windshield, cut me out of my seatbelt, pull me out onto the street, and perform CPR. Somebody called my mom and said, “Your daughter has been killed in an accident.” I had a long period of time there during fifth grade when I couldn’t smile, the nerves on this side of my face had been cut. I did make a recovery, but my parents had a lot of worry about how was I going to be psychologically scarred along with the physical scars from this horrific accident.
The truth was that this scar on my face reminds me of the knowledge that I got during that period of time when I felt ugly and rejected, literally broken, they had sewn my face back together. Instead of my scar being something that I hide with makeup or feel shy about, I never have. I’ve always seen it as a gift because it allowed me to have a much deeper understanding of what it’s like to be made so wrong for a period of time.
We all have these scars. You may not have been in an accident. For you, it may have been a set of layoffs where maybe you lost your house. Maybe somebody broke your heart. All of us have these times in our life that become the core of who we are. They don’t just define who we are, they reveal who we are.
The key is you don’t have to change who you are. Being different isn’t about being different than who you were. It’s about being different as the same as everybody else. The great thing is you already have it. You don’t have to buy it. You don’t have to learn it. You already have these qualities within you. I’m excited to be able to continue the conversation of helping you find those traits, the ones that maybe you hid with makeup, the way I used to with the scar on my face when I was a teenager, or maybe it’s something that now you’re ready to unfurl your freak flag and wave that baby loud and proud.
George: Goosebumps during that last part. I know I immediately went to two different times in my life. Our deepest struggle becomes that place that we can go back to that keeps us rooted to who we are as humans, as a brand, as this difference that we’re talking about. It’s so good.
Sally, I want to give you the opportunity, I know you have the book coming out. I don’t know if you want to re-share the chapter that Marketing Smarts listeners can get or if there is more book information that you want to provide. I want to give you the opportunity to talk about that.
Sally: I always love getting to know people on social media. I am @SallyHogshead in all forms of social media, except TikTok where somebody is squatting on my account, a 13-year-old boy who won’t sell it back to me. Meet me on Instagram @SallyHogshead.
The link that we described in our last episode to download a chapter of the book Different Is Better Than Better is SallyHogshead.com/marketingsmarts.
George: Beautiful. For our exit question, I always love to end with this one, what are some final words of wisdom that you would share with the Marketing Smarts listeners?
Sally: The greatest way to empower somebody is to help them identify who they already are and then reward them for what they’re doing right. The greatest way to kill somebody’s spirit is to show them what they’re doing wrong and tell them how to fix it. Remember this, you don’t have to change anything. You are not perfect for everything, you are not perfect for everyone, but you are extraordinary at the right time with the right people. That is how to reach your ideal potential by being different.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take a lot of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know either in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I know for me one of the most mind-blowing sections of both episodes was how not only-business the conversation with Sally Hogshead was, but how human it was. I hope you are walking away with a series of questions like what makes you different, how can you be more of that, and what does the journey of different and better look like over the next two, five, or ten years for you.
We’d like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we’d love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or a friend. Until we meet in the next episode where we talk with Julie Revelant about how to make B-to-B content less boring, I hope you do just a couple of things.
One, reach out and let us know what conversation you’d like to listen to next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B marketing human. We’ll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on June 30, 2022
Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist and How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination, both New York Times bestsellers. Sally also writes a weekly online column for Inc. on issues around personal and corporate branding. She is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame and Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Hall of Fame. Named a Top Brand Guru, her practical marketing system now lives inside organizations such as IBM, Twitter, and the YMCA, as well as thousands of small businesses.
LinkedIn: Sally Hogshead
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