Marketing Superheroes: Chris Brogan, Big Storyteller Plus

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Marketing Superheroes: Chris Brogan, Big Storyteller Plus

Chris Brogan, the President of Human Business Works, is one of the world’s most respected experts in the space where business meets social. Today, he is a guest of SEJ, and shares with you a few secrets of the trade.

Chris Brogan - courtesy his blog

I’ve known Chris since the early days of social networks, when the term social media scarcely even existed, and I was lucky enough to catch up with him for the following brief Q & A, which I know will be of interest to many.

For a slight background on Chris, he is a veteran from what I would call “the trenches” of the Web 2.0 – social – digital revolution. You all know that PR and hype about “the conversation,” well Chris and his contemporaries started (back then it wasn’t hype, but innovation), and then evangelized it. More than this, more than beating the drum of social networking … Let me just put it this way, “you don’t get on the New York Times Bestseller list just without paying the price.”

Accolades, I am sure any of you can “Google” Chris Brogan and see enough. Let’s glean what we can from his answers to what I hope are intelligent questions. (SEJ is in bold italic, Chris follows in plain text.)

Many people are interested interested in the track you book “Trust Agents” takes. Can you elaborate on “trust” as it applies to SM Chris?

It might surprise you that Julien Smith and I don’t consider Trust Agents, or The Impact Equation (our new book) as books about social media. We just use these tools to accomplish our goals. The book Trust Agents is about how to be human at a distance. The book, The Impact Equation, is about how to improve your idea, move it across a platform of value, and get people to care about it. Trust is important because it’s part of our buying decision. There are MANY ways we can derail a sale long before the “buy” button based on several tangible and intangible experiences.

The reason I asked about trust, and your new book, is because of the power SM has as a great influencer, but you also talk about the comings and goings of social networks, too, Chris. Do you think another social network will rise up to compete with the big three? 

I could care less about which social network survives. It’s like knowing which telephone will survive. If I have your number, I can reach you. The social network that will thrive won’t thrive in the future, because we get excited about different things.

For instance, right now, I like Instagram 1,000 percent more than Facebook. But a year ago, I would make fun of Instagram incessantly. What’s changed? I started to realize that Instagram was a much more reasonable look into someone’s life, whereas Facebook has a lot of sharing of funny or snarky messages just because they are clever. Who will win? Email marketing. No question. Not even joking.

In a Forbes interview you just gave, you allude to something interesting and important for “would be” social media gurus, that is an understanding of what SM “engagement” really means. My question is, “How can business professionals be taught SM is not some magic pill, an easy button to marketing success?” 

Business professionals can be taught that lesson quickly. Tweet all day and see how much revenue shifts. None. Engagement is just that: the ability to get someone to give a damn about what you have to say. What happens next is a deeper understanding of how these platforms drive business value. Not sales. All around value. That’s what I’ve come to learn. Know my two favorite metrics for judging your success at social media? $ and # of subscribers. That’s it.

In that same Forbes interview I was a bit amazed that one of the world’s most experienced social media consultants actually recommend email marketing for audience targeting and engagement. Can you quantify the idea of email versus or compared to SM campaigning for instance? 

First off, I despise “campaigning” unless you consider that an instance of a larger storyline.  Meaning, if I want 100 buyers, I will spend a lot of time nurturing relationships until I have the 100 buyers I want. I will then nurture another 20 buyers to be potential replacements, should I start losing people to attrition. But campaigns tend to be transaction-minded. “I need $x or we die.” What I want is “I’m tending the rows so that I’m getting a steady stream of $x.”

Email is the only social network where you hold the cards. If you mess up on Facebook or LinkedIn, they can pull the plug and all your effort is gone. If the world abandons Twitter tomorrow, I could care less how many followers you have. If you don’t have my email, and if I’m not OPENING your emails, then you have nothing. Nada. Nicht.

As a component of an overall marketing plan/campaign, how much resource do you think should be applied to email marketing, paid twitter or Facebook, and etc.? 

I put zero dollars on paid twitter or FB unless you have a ridiculously transactional product to sell. People tell me the stupidest things when they tell me they’re successful. “Well, we got 1,000 more likes.” I say, “Great! Did you get paid?”

Here’s the deal: if I were making up a marketing plan/mix, and online was going to be part of it, it’d be this: 20 percent Twitter, 30 percent blog, 50 percent email. Not RATE of messages sent. Weight of value of platform in your efforts. GET THEM TO SIGN UP. That ensures frequent potential chances to buy.

Referring to your talk with Forbes again, you flatly state AOL and Myspace as pretty much being “all in” where networking goes. If another network does arise from some social ash, how would it be differentiated from Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, do you think? 

I think the next networks will be unlike what we’ve seen. I keep hoping someone will pick up on what Nine Inch Nails (yes, the band) did years ago. They made a loose social network heavily mobile-based, that gave people proximity based networking. NOT Foursquare. Not “here’s everyone.” Instead, “here’s everyone who feels like talking about ____.” That’s the sexiest thing. These “from the ashes” brands are just trying hard to revive, but you know what they’re trying as models? Same thing: ads. The Internet is far more rich than ads. That’s just the easy first layer.

Turning the page for a moment, another of your books; “The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?” deals with essentially the “effectiveness” of messages. Just how much of your effectiveness equation relies on “adaptability”? I mean, how important is it becoming for organizations to be able to “shift” quickly, their focus?

The funniest thing about messages: marketers spend so much time worrying about how to say something. Want to know a secret? If they spent 10 percent more effort on learning to listen better (digitally), they’d make tons more money. Marketers think they’re paid on clever. Agencies propagate that stereotype. Marketers should be paid on revenue claimed. That would change the storyline drastically, don’t you think? To me, listening is the new black and will be for a long time. Deliver concierge-class service and people will buy from you even when you’re the most costly option. I know. I’m such a buyer.

I asked the previous question because in our news and PR business we are constantly presented with what I call “moments” like you suggest in your book. Window’s of opportunity for clients (businesses) arise nearly daily, yet very few companies are able to take advantage. My question is Chris, do you see corporate silos coming down in favor of some new dynamic structures? What do these structures look like?

Silos exist for one purpose: to keep simple systems in place to simply manage simple processes. Is there anything simple about today’s buying environment? Silos need to come down. In the course I developed around my book, I sell it to marketers, salespeople, and customer service types. I invite blended audiences, because to me, if you’re not punching all three tickets, at least to some degree, you’d best learn your barrista skills.

In a recent article on your website you talk about content marketing as a sort of “broadcasting” station, metaphorically that is. I find this extremely useful, especially for newcomers to the online content game (digital businesses). My question is; “How do you consult clients to get them to adopt the “magazine approach”?” 

Companies are flailing a bit right now because they have tried all these strategies that consultants have come up with and they’re coming up short. Meanwhile, the mainstream still isn’t giving them a lot of value. Know who agencies are competing with? Not each other. SAP.

My friend Jamie Anderson at SAP was showing me this retail tech that tells a store where people are lingering in the aisles, and all this other amazing data, and that’s all tied to the back end ERP systems. You think someone offering to give me a great campaign around a pink monkey will win over someone who has hard data on one’s physical proximity to a product and who can show me marketing data in REAL TIME?

When I sell the magazine approach, it’s wide-area funnel activity. I sell the concept that if you want to help the consumption-hungry modern buyer, you’ve got to equip them to be a hero. What does that mean? If you’re selling B2B, you’ve gotta give that person information and serving suggestions and follow-on support that will make them a hero to their boss. If you’re selling B2C, you’ve gotta help that person get the most out of their purchase. That’s what I do, anyway.

Your post “Everyday Is Someone’s First Day” is quite brilliant, for me anyway. In line with this idea, how important do you think it is that businesses try and “consider” customers’ real needs? Will the day come when everyone will be able to identify “good” companies, versus “bad” companies based on a digital footprint? 

I ask really simple questions to people when they bring me in. I ask, “is that how YOU buy?” when presented with their methods. There’s almost always a moment of dead silence. If I’m feeling really cocky, I’ll throw in an eye roll. But I mean it. People wouldn’t sell this way to their mom. Why do they think it’s okay to sell to “the customer base” that way? I push hard that companies adopt a sustainable, relationship-minded approach to business. I call it “human business,” but that’s because I’m frustrated that everyone thinks the shiny toys are what will save them.

Fairly often, I sell the modern approach to the oldest rule in the book: the Golden rule.

Take Away

Chris Brogan is a non-nonsense kind of guy. Some might suggest he is “brisk,” maybe even blunt. He is not really, this is just the effects of being honed I call it. The way Chris operates reminds me a bit of my brother when he came back from Vietnam. A Force Recon Marine, he was there a bit, changed somehow for better and worse. Being a talker, on a car ride one day I asked; “How come you are always so quiet now Paul?” He gave me his golden rule: “There’s not so many things to talk about that are really all that important,” He said. But when people know what they are talking about, those words carry weight.

Phil Butler
Phil Butler is theEditor at Everything PR, Argophilia Travel News,  and Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups,... Read Full Bio
Phil Butler
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