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How to Make Your Brand Fascinating with NYT Best-Selling Author Sally Hogshead

How to Make Your Brand Fascinating with NYT Best-Selling Author Sally Hogshead

Visit our Marketing Nerds archive to listen to other Marketing Nerds podcasts!

Joining us just after the release of her revised book, Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist (affiliate link), Sally Hogshead talks with Executive Editor Kelsey Jones about how to make your brand stand out from the chatter and overwhelming deluge of content online.

How to Make Your Brand Fascinating with NYT Best-Selling Author Sally Hogshead

Here are a few transcribed excerpts from their discussion, but make sure to listen to the podcast to hear everything:

What Sally Hogshead Means by “Fascinate”

I found an old journal in the library back when people actually went into things called libraries and pulled books off the shelf. The sentence changed my life. The sentence said, “The word fascinate is one of the oldest in written language and it comes from ancient Latin fascinare, which means to bewitch or hold captive so your listener is powerless to resist.”

I thought to myself, “That is so cool and dark.”

I remember I looked up and I stared off into the air. I thought, “I’ve never thought about that fascination is different from getting attention or being interesting.”

I looked deeply into it and I found that neurologically fascination is a state of the most intense focus. That when your brain is in a state of fascination, neurologically on an MRI, it looks like you’re falling in love. Your barriers dropped. You stop being skeptical. You start wanting to connect. You start being more open to it.

I thought, from a marketing perspective, this is a really interesting distinction because when we’re paying attention to something, whether we’re writing content that people want to read or we’re fascinating the Google algorithm to make sure we get attention in our search, fascination is qualitatively different.

Over the course of the last ten years, I’ve been looking at the science behind this and looking at it from a marketing perspective. I’ve measured almost a million people to find what makes a brand, or idea, or a message fascinating. When we’re talking about it today, I want to come back to that definition I described at the beginning. That fascination is the brain’s most intense state of focus. That when you fascinate somebody, you are bewitching them. You’re hypnotizing them. You’re spellbinding them, so it’s impossible to resist.

The ROI of Fascination

We did a national study in which we measured the ROI of fascination. In other words, how much does it actually add to a brand’s value if the brand is fascinating?

We found that fascinating brands can charge up to 400% more for the exact same product as an unfascinating brand.

Say, you’re selling a commodity. You’re selling bottled water, or salt, or search engine content. If what you’re selling could be compared very closely to other people in your category, then you have to compete on the basis of price. That’s a really tough position to be in. If you can find a way to make your brand fascinating, in other words, to hook people’s attention so that they can’t stop thinking about you, or talking about you, or following you or posting about you, then you have a massive competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.

Why You Have to be Fascinating and What it Means

One of the key things for people to remember, especially when they’re developing content, or they’re writing about a brand, or for a brand, or they’re doing any kind of marketing, the key is this: different is better than better.

We focus so much on trying to be better but the reality is it doesn’t matter if you’re the best if nobody notices or cares. It doesn’t matter if I’m an author and I write the best book if nobody reads it. It doesn’t matter if an auto manufacturer manufactures the best cars if nobody buys them. This is a key for us in marketing. It doesn’t matter if you have the best idea if nobody pays attention.

The problem is as the world becomes more distracted, and more competitive, and more commoditized, it’s very hard to be better. It’s very expensive. It takes a huge amount of effort to be better than your competition. Even when you put yourself in relation to your competition, you’re still following their game.

What I discovered over the course of this decade was the brands that are most successful are those that are different. That different is the greatest competitive advantage that you can have.

About Brand Fascination

As part of that process of measuring what makes brands fascinating, we created an assessment that’s like Fascination Advantage but specifically for your business or your product. The cool thing is right now, it’s free. The assessment is at

The assessment is 28 questions. It takes about three minutes. I built the assessment on the same methodology that a brand would use to understand how consumers, or customers, or clients see that brand almost like a focus group. Measuring the cues that brands put out in all of their communication, all of their ads and their messages and then creating a profile that describes how people are most likely to see your brand at its most irresistible.

Making Your Brand Fascinating With Limited Budget

If you have the biggest budget, you can afford just a pound a message into your consumer’s brain over and over and over again. If you don’t have the biggest budget, then you must be the most fascinating.

The process that I developed for brands to discover what makes them fascinating and how to apply it goes like this:

Step one, do assessment. Then, step two, take what you find out in that assessment and go find out in the book how to apply that exactly. I literally break it down to describing which words people should use to describe their brand in the marketplace.

This is true whether you’re a solopreneur or a Fortune 500 brand. When somebody gives you that basis, just the basic building blocks, it’s so much easier to take it from there and be creative instead of feeling freaked out. It’s helpful for somebody just to give you a tool so you have a clear strategic brief that then you can modify and customize, but at least part of the heavy lifting has been done for you.

Different is Better Than Better

A key piece of learning is if you’re too cautious to provoke conversation online, then you should just stick to traditional media. If you’re not willing to kick up some dust and get people thinking to provoke new ways of thinking about the product in the world and help people think differently about themselves, then either don’t market or market in very conservative ways.

In the online environment, nowhere is the attention span shorter. It’s a choice. You can either stand out or just don’t bother. Stand out or donate the money to charity.

Pivoting How People See Your Brand

Here’s one of my favorite examples from the book that highlights this beautifully:

There was a soot cleaner around the turn of the century, turn of the 19th century that is, a soot cleaner that helped get the soot from coal ovens and coal stoves off the walls. When coal was outdated and electricity started coming into homes, there was no longer a need for a soot cleaner. They took the soot cleaner and they said, “What else could we do with it?” They turned it into a product named Play-Doh.

You know that weird smell that Play-Doh has, that super distinctive smell? That was part of the original soot cleaner because that was the cleaning agent.

We think of Play-Doh as being something that, not only dates back to our childhood, it’s a timeless brand, but it really wasn’t always timeless. Any brand can evolve themselves.

That’s a great lesson that all of us can look at a small businesses. In order to become fascinating, you don’t have to do something elaborate. You can do something very simple as long as it helps you stand out.

Thinking Out of the Box and Making Your Brand Unique

There’s a system to it. I used to always think the process of creativity was like good luck. Some days I’d sit down and I would be enormously creative and other days not.

What I didn’t get was at the time, what I was doing as I was working inside and around all these amazing brands was I was starting to create my own methodology, a way that I knew that I’d be able to come up with great ideas on a very short timeline. This is something for all of us.

In order for us to do something reliably every single time, it can’t be just luck. When you have a methodology, it turns into more like an algorithm. You know that if you follow these steps, you’re going to get a certain outcome. Then from there, if you want to hyper-charge it with creativity, great.

That it’s kind of marketing hack for non-marketers.

Is Fascination a Continuous Process?

You don’t have to reinvent yourself year after year, but there’s so many different points of contact from a marketing perspective that any company or business has.

There are the emails that you sent out to your list, to your followers. There is your social media strategy, your advertising strategy, paid media, unpaid media. Of course, there’s a whole world of online content.

Once you know what your north star is, strategically it starts to become a lot easier for you to align all these efforts so that you’re not scrambling to try to figure out what you should do next.

What holds back a lot of teams is that there isn’t clear alignment on what the message strategy should be. When that happens, it turns into conflict, and infighting, and confusion, and people just get paralyzed.

Getting All Hands on Deck

When people feel so confident that they can start to take risks, or they can own a certain voice in the marketplace, or they can know with complete certainty that there’s a specific aspect of their brand like the ding, ding, ding, drawbridge or like the clay playfulness of the soot cleaner we now know as Play-Doh. I recommend you do an offsite or a lunch and learn.

Have everybody do the assessment so you can start to see, “Do people have a different concept of what the brand stands for?” Does everybody get the same result, or do you have different results? If people have different results, then it can point to some confusion or divided strategy among the team.

Then sit down with the book and start to go through the exercises. It’s almost like a fill in the blank exercise of what your positioning should be. We have these amazing gems that are already part of our heritage, or our company, or our methodology of how we started or within the existing employees. Once you find that, then you can bring it into the sunlight and you can start using that as a way to, not just earn attention, but to truly fascinate, to make your brand impossible to resist.

To listen to this Marketing Nerds Podcast with Kelsey Jones & Sally Hogshead:

Think you have what it takes to be a Marketing Nerd? If so, message Kelsey Jones on Twitter, or email her at kelsey [at]

Visit our Marketing Nerds archive to listen to other Marketing Nerds podcasts!

How to Make Your Brand FascinatingImage Credits

Featured Image: Image by Paulo Bobita
In-post Photo: Larisa-K/

Category SEJ Show
Aki Libo-on

Aki is a content strategist, marketing consultant, and former assistant editor of SEJ. When not at work, she is busy ...

How to Make Your Brand Fascinating with NYT Best-Selling Author Sally Hogshead

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