A Hustler's Spirit: What It Takes To Be An Influencer

Being an influencer is all anyone talks about these days. And for good reason. Who doesn't want to sleep in, make some YouTube videos, get free stuff, and get paid crazy money while doing it. And the money is pretty good if you’ve got a large following. According to Inc. influencers are getting paid between $25-$75 per thousand followers. Do the math. If you've got 1 million plus followers, you're talking big money.

So where do I sign up? Is there an opening for a bald guy in his late 30s, with literally hundreds of followers?

I had a chance to sit down with Mariale Marrero, a YouTube star, who produces three channels and has a following of 6 million people just on YouTube. She breaks down what it takes:

• Be Passionate: Mariale said, “Without passion, you won't put in the time it takes to be successful. Also, viewers can tell if you're being authentic or not. You've got to be doing it for the right reasons; not just to get famous or make a lot of money."

• Get The Right Equipment: It's all about quality not quantity. Sure, you can post crappy videos all day, but it's better to post one quality video less frequently. To do this takes time. You need to have a good computer, camera, lighting, backdrop, and editing software in order to create a video that people actually want to see.

• Learn Your Craft: When I asked Marrero what it took to put a video together, I was shocked by the amount of time that went into it. “First I'll have a couple of ideas, then I’ll research them to see if they'll work. I'll pick an idea and write a script for the video. Then I might have to buy some things for the shoot, like a backdrop or lights. Filming is the easiest part, although it can sometimes take 5+ hours to put together. If the audio isn't good or the lighting is bad, you have to reshoot. Assuming the shoot is good, the editing begins. This is a beast! It's so important! I spend hours and hours editing. If you look at my videos, you'll see things pop up on the screen or audio changes about every ten seconds. This is because people get bored. Then you've got to pick the thumbnail. That's really important, almost as much as the video. Then you hit upload. But you're not done yet! You've got to decide on a title, tags, and a description. Finally you publish it and then you need to promote it on social. Then you reply to comments." And you thought they put those videos together in 10 minutes, didn’t you?

• Take Your Time: While there are some overnight success stories, most influencers that I've talked to have had more of a gradual, steady rise. Mariale said, “I didn't even look at the numbers in the beginning. My channels didn't grow for three years. I just kept doing it because I loved it. I loved the community; people telling me to try this eyeliner or that lip gloss." It can be easy to obsess over the numbers. I'm guilty of this too. I guarantee that I'll check the views of this article, dozens of times today. We can all learn from Mar and take a step back and focus on producing great content, instead of chasing numbers.

• Be Authentic: Most of us try to show the best version of ourselves on social, instead of just being real. Marrero said, “It's funny because sometimes I'll post a video of myself applying makeup perfectly and then I'll post a video of myself in my pajamas talking about how I just ate a steak, and I'll get way more comments about the steak dinner. People want a sneak peek into your real life, not some polished image of yourself."

Finally one of the most important traits is to be humble.

Don't forget where you came from or get too cocky because you're only one click away from losing your followers.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on March 30, 2017.  To read full article click here

Stop Trying To Make MCNs Happen (It Ain't Working)

Remember 2013? It was the year of the man bun, EDM, and people saying, "I know right?" after just about every sentence. MCNs (multi-channel networks) were all the rage and they were selling for big money.

Awesomeness TV started it off when they were acquired by Dreamworks for about $120 million. In early 2014 Maker Studios was sold to Disney for approx. $500 million. Fullscreen was sold to Otter Media for about $200 million and StyleHaul to RTL for approx. $150 million.

Fast forward to last week when Maker Studios, once the premier MCN, announced massive layoffs and cut ties to the majority of their online talent.

So how did we end up here and what does the future hold for MCNs?

Stephanie Horbaczewski, Founder and CEO of StyleHaul, said, "Three years ago there was a great need for companies like StyleHaul because advertisers weren't getting what they paid for. They were just spending money because they needed to be in the influencer space. You'd see a lot of content that was generating hundreds of thousands of views but only getting 12 comments. There was no engagement."

After jumping into the business, the MCNs quickly realized that the traditional ad driven business model didn't work. After splitting the revenue with YouTube and the creator, there wasn't a large amount left over. Plus, if a creator didn't have a massive following, they weren't generating the necessary revenue to keep creating good content.

The MCNs had to come up with a new revenue stream and the smart ones embraced long form content. AwesomnessTV was an early adopter of this and they have produced many successful branded content series, such as Royal Crush. They have sold shows to Netflix and are getting into the movie business, with their first release, Before I Fall, coming to theaters this month

You can't call them MCNs anymore. They do so much more.

Originally MCNs were created as a way to help YouTube content creators with programming, cross-promotion, monetization, and audience development in exchange for a percentage of the ad revenue from the channel.

Stephanie Horbaczewski says, "We were never an MCN. We create large-scale multi-platform marketing programs with a data-driven management system that identifies consumers with the highest affinity for the brand. Our capacity to analyze trends across their influencer base in real-time to identify the ideal influencers and content strategies for increased engagement and ultimately customer conversion is what has allowed us to take our business to the next level in the digital space."

Fullscreen is another example of an MCN that has evolved over the years. They produce live events, own their own production company, and are in the streaming business.

All these new ventures have their own challenges though. It is extremely expensive producing high quality long form content. Plus there is intense competition for top Hollywood producers.

Some talent are starting to question whether they even need MCNs. The old days of big guaranteed money (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars) are gone. It's getting harder for them to justify signing with an MCN. The ones that do sign with them do so in order to get brand partnerships and help with creating content.

So what does the future hold for the MCNs?

They are getting back to basics: Working with less creators, instead focusing on the ones that have the biggest followings that align with the brands that they represent. They will continue to evolve and create new ways to add value to both their advertisers and their talent.

As people spend more time on digital every day, they will continue to drive innovation and content.

Call them a multi-platform entertainment company, an influencer marketing platform, or an MPN: Just don't call them an MCN.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on March 10, 2017

How To Rock Your Social Like Chrissy Teigen

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chrissy Teigen has amassed millions of followers across her social media accounts, and while there's no formula that's gotten her here, one thing is certain: She's one of the most entertaining celebrities to follow on social. She has a personality, a style and wit that are unmatched. My wife says it best, "When I see a great Chrissy Teigen post, it makes my day."

How do we rule social media like she does?

• Be Hot: I'm kind of joking, but not really. The fact that Chrissy Teigen is a model doesn't hurt. A hot girl on Instagram will definitely get more followers than a geeky looking guy. The same goes for guys. Have you seen any of these good looking doctors on Instagram, posing with puppies? #MillionsOfFollowers. If you're normal looking, like the rest of us, you're going to have to work a little harder to get fans. The same thing goes for brands. If you're a hot consumer brand, it'll be easier to court influencers and make a splash than it will if you're a boring B2B product.

• Have A Voice: Who are you? This applies to brands or people. Chrissy Teigen is funny, quick, serious and silly at the same time. What is your voice? Are you sarcastic? Serious? Passionate? Whatever it is, you need to turn it up in order to get heard. There are a lot of people yelling for attention on social media and you need to stand out

• Be Polarizing: What makes Chrissy so interesting is that she's polarizing. Teigen told Refinery29, "My approach is to always say what’s authentic to me. So, whether or not that’s being completely outspoken, a little daring, a little crazy, if I believe it, then I’m going to say it." According to Evan Assano, founder of MediaKix, "This can be a delicate line for brands. It's easy to say whatever you want when no one is listening, but when you have a massive following you need to be more careful. The recent bad press that Under Armour and Uber have gotten has hurt their brands." The moral of the story is to have a stance but also think about the repercussions before you post.

• Engage In Real Time: How annoying is it when there's an important topic trending, that everyone is talking about, and you see "normal" posts from your favorite celebrity or brand. It's obvious that they are scheduling their posts. What makes Chrissy great is that she posts when events are happening. Dian Oved, Founder & CEO of Empower Digital, says, "She is responsive in real-time to trending topics and events on social media, and provides a consistent stream of wit and entertainment to her followers. Because of her astute sense of timing, her content is often picked up by the news media, which further increases her popularity." Don't just schedule your posts and forget about them. You need to be part of the larger conversation on social. Remember it's a conversation not a monologue.

• Clapback: Chrissy is notorious for calling out her haters. If you put yourself out there on social media, people are going to have negative things to say. You can either address them or stay silent. She chooses to address them. There are so many to choose from, but here are a couple of my favorites:

When she was shamed for going out to dinner 10 days after her baby, Luna, was born:

When trolls told her that she put on weight in her last Instagram photo, she had this to say:

Brands are starting to do this as well.  Most brands choose to ignore negative comments, but that just makes them look like a faceless company.If hundreds of people walked up to you and called you fat and ugly, or told you that your product was crappy, wouldn't you say something?  Brands are clapping back, and I love it. Here's one of my favorites:

Be Authentic: The big difference between Teigen and what other models do is that she shows her flaws. While other celebs will only post red carpet pictures or professionally shot photos, she is likely to take an ugly selfie or show her stomach when she feels bloated. Other celebs only give you a sneak peek into the world that they want you to see. She might comment on her love of Velveeta cheese, and then on the political state of the country. 

Whether you love or hate Chrissy Teigen, you have to admit that her giant personality has translated into a massive following. She has proven that you don’t have to try to make everyone happy; you are better off just being yourself. The old adage still holds true: If you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.

 

5 Influencer Marketing Trends That Will Dominate In 2017

Courtesy Awesomness TV

Courtesy Awesomness TV

Influencer marketing exploded in 2016 with more brands turning to digital creators to reach new audiences, younger customers and to build buzz around their products.

It shows no signs of slowing down.

According to the 2016 Influencer Marketing Report, compiled by CHUTE and THUZIO, 66% of marketers have already introduced an influencer marketing strategy. According to gen.video, “There will be an uptick in investment in influencer marketing: 50% of brands will significantly increase their investment in 2017."

We are in the Wild West stage of influencer marketing; so giddy up, it's going to be a wild ride.

Here's what to expect in 2017 and the years to come:

1. It's Becoming Harder To Get Noticed: Does the world really need another makeup vlogger? How about a fitness influencer? Nope. That's why influencers are going to have to branch out in order to get noticed. Instead of focusing solely on one thing, more and more influencers are getting into the lifestyle segment. This takes them in all sorts of new areas and differentiates them in the marketplace. Max Polisar, Chief Revenue Office at AwesomenessTV, says, "In order to get noticed an influencer needs to be consistent on publishing, have a distinct point of view, and can't be afraid to be themselves."

2. There Will Be More Branded Content: This is still mind blowing to me: A whole series, that's basically a commercial? I guess it's no different than the old soap operas: They were created to sell soap, and they turned into pretty good entertainment. A great example of this is Awesomeness TV's hit scripted series Royal Crush, which is designed to both entertain and sell cruises to teens. Won't viewers get annoyed at watching a giant commercial? According to Max Polisar, "No. If you produce a great show, with interesting characters, then the viewer won't care. It's no different than a traditional TV show, being brought to you by sponsors. At the end of the day it's about telling worthwhile story."

3. Lines Blur Between Celebs And Influencers: I'm not sure what Chrissy Teigan does, yet I follow her on social because she's hilarious. Is she a model, a celebrity, an influencer? How about PewDiePie or Tyler Oakley. Are they influencers or celebrities? The big difference between influencers and traditional celebs is their level of engagement. Craig Lewis, VP Brand Partnerships at Disruptiv Agency, says, "The level of engagement is critical to truly pushing a brand forward. Celebrities are appreciated for the work they do. An influencer is more likely to be appreciated for who they are. The distinction is noticeable and is why you find a trend of "A List" celebrities establishing more of a presence via their social media.”

4. Live Video Will Continue To Grow: Everyone is still trying to figure out live video and you can tell. Most of the production is poor and so is the content. This will change as platforms figure out how to monetize live video. Facebook is testing 15-second mid-roll video ads inside live broadcasts, which will drive more content. Expect to see more of this from other platforms in the future. 

5. Reevaluation Of Metrix: It ain't all about views and subscribers any more. According to Darby Barton and Nichole Brandt from XOMAD, "We've seen traditional marketing metrics applied to influencer strategies, leading to inaccurate expectations and campaign planning. Cost per engagement models will provide more accurate pricing and greater ROI for influencer strategies. Standards will emerge to allow reach and engagement across Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. to be meaningfully compared to one another as well as to log monthly unique numbers."

The biggest trend of 2017 is fairly obvious: Influencer marketing will only get bigger. With the rise of ad blockers, the decline in traditional TV viewership, and the steady rise of social media, marketers need to fully embrace influencers in order to get their message heard in 2017 and beyond.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on February 13, 2017. 

Your Social Media Is Terrible: Stop Making These Five Mistakes

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

“Social media advertising budgets have doubled worldwide over the past two years—going from $16 billion in 2014 to $31 billion in 2016. In 2017, analysts predict a 26.3% global increase on spending for social media ads,” according to Hootsuite.

So why are brands still getting it wrong? What mistakes do they continue to make?

1. Posting The Same Content Across All Channels: This is my biggest pet peeve. If you're going to post the same content on every channel, then why would I follow all of your accounts? I've worked with big agencies that disagree strongly with me on this. Don't listen to them. Joe Legaz, director of marketing for the LA Clippers, says, “Know your medium. Different channels encourage different types of content. LinkedIn is for professional development. Twitter is for quick hits of news. Instagram is for eye grabbing images, etc. Understanding each channel is the key to successful engagement. To this point, don’t get caught in the trap of posting the same thing on each channel."

2. Promoting Too Many (Or Too Few) Posts: Ever seen John Legre, the CEO of T Mobile, on Twitter? Every day there's a promoted post in my feed, asking me to follow him. It's so annoying. It makes me want to punch him in the face. To be fair, it's next to impossible to get heard among all the chatter without boosting posts. According to Joe Legaz, “Don’t feel the need to boost every post. But when you really feel strong about a message, or feel it is particularly great timing for your brand to capitalize, don’t make the mistake of not boosting it. You want to make sure that you not only engage your current audience, but help grow it by reaching others who may not be following."

3. Posting Infrequently (Or Too Much): Again, I see brands going to the extreme: Either clogging up my feed or not posting for days. Thoughts vary here but the general consensus is that you should be posting up to fourteen times a day on Twitter, five times on Snapchat, and two times per day on Facebook and Instagram. This can change depending on the brand, but the general message is to post frequently without being annoying.

4. Providing Poor Customer Service: Are you going to handle customer service via social or not? Every time I go to a Vons grocery store, I wait in ridiculously long lines. I complained on Twitter and ten minutes later they got back to me and asked what location I was at. I replied and then never heard back from them. Cool story bro. Either you're going to do customer service via social or you're not. You can't expect a social media manager to handle customer feedback 24/7. You're going to have to put some resources behind it in order to be successful.

5. Not Being Honest: Ever see a company go through major issues (product recalls, scandal, etc.) and not address them on social? It breeds distrust. Take a page from the sports world. Joe Legaz, of the Los Angeles Clippers, states that, "No matter how painful it might be (say you’ve just been blown out by 20 points) you still have to find a way to engage with scores, pictures, quotes from the locker room, etc." Be honest with your followers and they'll appreciate it.

What do you think? What are brands getting wrong on social?

Article first appeared in Forbes on January 21, 2017

 

New Year's Resolution: Do Social Video Right In 2017

Photo Courtesy Of Delmondo

Photo Courtesy Of Delmondo

Social video is everywhere.  Every time you check Facebook, it turns out one of your friends has been “Live.” When you need to put together furniture you “YouTube“ it. When you’re out on a Saturday night, you post videos on Snapchat.

But social video is much more than putting together Ikea furniture or watching how your friends spent their Saturday night.

Facebook and Snapchat each have over 8 billion daily video views and YouTube has over 1 billion users watching videos every day.

 According to Media Kix, “Traffic from online videos will constitute over 80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2020 (Cisco) and eMarketer estimates that U.S. spending on both mobile and desktop video advertising will reach nearly $10 billion in 2016, more than a 23% increase than last year. By 2019, the total U.S. digital video advertising spend is projected to eclipse $14 billion—nearly 50% of that figure ($6.86 billion) is attributed to mobile video.”

What should your business be doing in order to keep up?

1.   Pick Your Channels:  Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram all have video features.  For live video you’ve got Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Periscope and Snapchat. What channels should you focus on? According to Nick Cicero, Founder and CEO of Delmondo, a social video analytics company and creative studio, “You need to ask yourself, what is the least amount of content that will reach the biggest audience?  What channel does your audience use the most?’  If you’ve got a large Twitter following, Periscope might be a good idea.  If Facebook is your main focus, Facebook Live is probably your best bet. There will be more platforms added every year and you can’t be in all places.”

2.   Create Content That Works. Funny vids that are shareable are always great.  “How-To” videos are the most popular search on YouTube and are a nice way to connect with your audience. Nick Cicero says that, “Episodic content works especially well. It really is a great way to show the personality of a brand.  Try to create a series that is fun and shareable.” Whatever you choose you need to integrate your brand personality into all of your videos and tell a consistent story.

3.   Break Down The Walls Between You And Your Customer.  Don’t hide behind your logo! A great way to do this is to simply ask your audience what kind of content they want to see.  Shanda Maloney, former Social Media Director at UFC, says, “We asked our fans what they wanted to see and were very surprised by their answers.  I expected to hear from creepy guys who wanted to see the ring girls getting dressed but instead, our audience wanted to get a peek inside the life of a fighter.  How did they cut weight?  What kind of meals did they eat after their weigh in? We created a cooking show based on this idea that has been extremely popular.” 

4.   Be Consistent:  This is true whether you’ve using live or recorded video. If you broadcast a live feed of your restaurant every Friday at noon, then you need to keep up the schedule so your viewers know when to expect it. Think of it like a TV show.  HBO doesn’t air Game Of Thrones on Sunday night one week, take two weeks off, and then air it on Thursday morning.  Why would you?

5.   Don’t Be Scared Of Live Video. Nick Cicero states that, “People have this attitude that everyone out there is a troll and are scared to put themselves out there.  Don’t be.  Live video is an excellent way to engage your customers.  Use it.”  You don’t need a huge marketing budget; you can shoot live video on your phone.  Don’t except to have a massive following right out of the gate.  Experiment, engage with your viewers, and have fun! 

Live video is on every “trend” list for 2017, including mine, and will dominate 2017. One of the other trends that you’ll see in 2017 is that influencers will have an increased role in helping brands get reach. Finally, more companies will be turning to studios to help them create professional quality content.  Remember that everyone now has the ability to broadcast but the difference is the quality of the content. Anyone can have a public access TV show, but it’ll never be as good as something on HBO.  Don’t be public access; you’re better than that.

 

This article originally appeared in Forbes on December 23, 2016

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Influencers (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Photo Courtesy Of FameBIt

Photo Courtesy Of FameBIt

Anyone who thinks that millennials are lazy hasn't met an influencer. They're out there hustling all day, errday.

 

Ok, they’re not saving lives but it’s actually a tougher gig than you’d think. They've got to write, shoot, build brand partnerships, handle social media, supervise their team, and constantly sell. Let's not forget that they are also entrepreneurs and are running their own businesses.

They are the future of advertising. 

So what exactly is an influencer and what do they do?  

Agnes Kozera, co-founder of FameBit, an influencer-marketing platform, states that, "An influencer is someone who has a substantial following and can command an audience.  They have specialized knowledge about a certain subject.  They are all experts at building a brand." Influencers have unique ways of advertising a product, that doesn't feel like advertising. 

So where can you find these influencers?

According to Kozera, "YouTube is the most popular channel for influencers and is where they are financially rewarded the most.  Video is the most intimate way to connect with viewers.  They use YouTube, and other social channels, to make strong connections."

 How the heck do they become influencers anyway? 

 Usually it starts with a passion for something: makeup, cooking, gaming, etc. The truly successful influencers start because they have a desire to share what they're into. They're like your cool, older cousin telling you what kind of sneakers to buy. Influencers get a following by finding their niche, focusing on a couple of channels, and by producing quality content, consistently.   

 YouTuber Brandon Skeie explains, "I started putting myself on the Internet when I was in high school. I started posting covers of my favorite Top 40 hits and things just started to build up.  I kept at it, until I was making enough money to stop working. It was a lot of consistency that really got me to an 'influencer' level."

How do brands and influencers connect?

Do they both swipe right on Tinder? Nah, there's a different way they hook up. Usually influencers will use a platform for branded content, like FameBit.  Anyone with 5k or more followers can sign up and then sort through the various brands' postings.  If they find a campaign they like, they'll send a proposal.  If the brand likes their pitch, they'll hire them.

Marissa Rachel  (1m YouTube followers) told me, “FameBit was the game changer for us.  Before that you needed to get discovered. It's also a much more informal way to interact with the brands, which we prefer."

Multi channel networks, MCNs, are another way that brands and influencers connect but it's harder for those with a small following to get deals. Rachel says, "We signed with an MCN three years ago and haven't gotten one deal from them.  They represent a large group of influencers but only really pitch the same top influencers to each client.  If you don't have millions of followers it's going to be tough to get a deal through an MCN."

How do they make money?

Most top YouTube stars make money from video ads, brand deal sponsorships, affiliate commissions, and by selling their own merchandise.

How much do they get paid?

It's all over the place.  Some will do it for free product; others won't post for anything less than $100,000.

The highest paid personalities are those with massive followers on YouTube.  According to Forbes, Mark Iplier earns $5.5 million annually. Roman Atwood rakes in $8 million. And the richest influencer of them all, PewDiePie, gets paid $15 million a year.

If you're thinking about starting your own YouTube channel to get rich, slow your roll.  It takes an extremely long time (for most channels) to get followers and make real money.  It's like a startup.  Most will fail. 

Also, the money isn't consistent.  For example, ad revenue is highest in December because it's the busiest time of the year for retail. When January rolls around, it gets slow. It's like being an actor: You could make a lot of money during one project, and then go on a long dry spell

What do they do all day? 

According to Shanna Lisa, Marissa Rachel's business partner, “Our schedule changes depending on the day!  We usually film 2-3 days per week. On filming days, we get up early to catch the natural light, put on makeup, set up the background, camera, tripod, lights, and spend a few hours filming multiple segments at once. Sometimes we'll travel to a different location to film. The rest of our time is spent either editing, making thumbnails, preparing future videos (pre-production takes a lot longer than most people realize) as well as general administrative work (answering business emails, communicating with brands, attending meetings, etc.). Being self-employed means that although we have some flexibility with our schedules, we also have to be highly self-motivated."

What do they hate about their job?

Every influencer I spoke to said the same thing: The FTC regulations are unfair and need to change.  Currently, the FTC requires that influencers let their audience know that a brand is compensating them for their post. Marissa Rachel makes a great point. “Why do influencers have to disclose every time that they are compensated by a brand? When you see the new James Bond movie, no one mentions that a watch company spent millions of dollars to get their product featured in the movie.  Why are we held to a higher standard?"

Are they afraid that they'll have to grow up and get a real job someday?

If YouTube were to end tomorrow, most influencers that I spoke with have a backup plan like going back to school or pursuing another career in the media.

Brandon Skeie told me that, “I was terrified that one day all of my followers would just be bored with me; After a while that fear went away and I focused on just being the truest form of myself and working hard.  So if one day I had to get a ‘real job’ I would be OK with it, even though I don't see that happening! Haha.”

After speaking with several influencers for this article, my main takeaway is that these are good kids. Influencers sometimes get a bad rap as being narcissistic and unprofessional.  Sure, they have a desire to be famous (who doesn’t) but they are going about it in a very organic way.  They are growing their following by providing something that their audience wants.

They are also authentic, which is why they’re such a great advertising platform. Everyone I spoke with mentioned that when working with a brand, the first thing they ask themselves is if it’s consistent with who they are. It’s not all about the money. They are looking for products that they use or will benefit their audience.  There’s a human element that’s not found in other forms of advertising.  When done well, there’s no better way to connect brands and people.  That’s why they are the future of advertising. 

 This article originally appeared in Forbes on January 10, 2017

 

 

How To Do Influencer Marketing Right In 2017

Paul Zimmerman (Getty Images)

Paul Zimmerman (Getty Images)

Are you tired of hearing about influencer marketing yet? Well according to just about every year-end review, it’s among the top trends for 2017 so you’d better get moving if you want to keep up.

A study published in eMarketer showed that nearly 85% of marketing and communications professionals worldwide expected to launch at least one campaign involving an influencer in the next 12 months. If you look at Google's keyword search for influencer marketing, it's increased more than 90 times since 2013, according to Adweek.

With the rise of ad blockers, the decline in traditional TV viewership, and the steady rise of social media, marketers need to fully embrace influencers in order to get their message heard in 2017 and beyond.

So where do we start and how can we be successful?

  • Do Your Homework: Whether you're using an agency, a multi channel network, or doing it yourself you need to do your homework first. Who is your target audience? What content do they respond to? What social channels do they use most frequently? Where do they live online?
  • Research Social Media Influencers: There are a number of ways to pick an influencer. According to Marco Hansell II, CEO of Speakr, "The easiest default is to hire an influencer agency to help do the search for you. Your next best bet is using some of the tools out there to help you with your search. If you don't have a lot of money to pay for any of the above then you can always search on your own.  Some platforms are easier than others and have either top lists, top users, or suggested users to help the process."
  • Understand Your Influencer: Spend some time building rapport to find out who they are and what motivates them. Surprisingly, money isn't always the top motivator for influencers. Authenticity, brand fit, and good press often matter more than getting paid. Marco Hansell reminds us that, "Influencers are people too! You're not buying a radio spot, you're interfacing with a human being and you need to understand that all influencers aren't made the same."
  • Define Your Metrix: How are you going to measure whether your campaign is successful or not? Measurement tools are readily available for Facebook and Twitter but are still in the infancy stages with newer platforms. That being said, there are still ways to measure success on any channel. Remember what gets measured gets managed.
  • Set Expectations: What are you hoping to accomplish with your campaign? Do you want to drive sales, traffic, or create brand awareness? Marco Hansell states that, "You need to focus and have only one goal. You can't try to do everything. Remember that a person will only engage one way with a post. They'll retweet it but not like it. They'll like it but not comment."
  • Determine Where The Content Will Come From: Will the influencer create the content or will you? I think the best method is to give the influencer is an outline and let them run with it. Tell them the message you are trying to get across, along with some requirements (like including a link or a hashtag) and give them the freedom to do what they do. It's best not to be dogmatic and to work together to convey your message.
  • Don't Forget About FTC Compliance: One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is that they aren't FTC compliant. According to Adweek, "The rules are clear just be ‘honest and not misleading.' For short-format or ephemeral platforms, the FTC has agreed that ‘#ad’ effectively notes that the influencer has been compensated in some way. For YouTube videos, influencers should state that they are working with the brand, received compensation or complimentary products." Will this hurt an influencer's reach? Nope. Marco Hansell says that, "As long as the product they are endorsing fits with their brand, the audience won't care. They actually want to see the products that they like and use."

It’s funny how things come full circle. Back in the early days of TV and radio, content was created in order to sell a product. Soap operas were actually there to sell soap. With the rise of DVR, Spotify Premium, etc. we’ve figured out ways to bypass ads. Now the social media stars are taking it back to the old school: Inserting ads into their content in order to sell us stuff.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on December 13, 2016

5 Social Media Trends That Will Change The Game In 2017

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

There are over 2.5 billion active social media users worldwide and the number is growing at a rate of 9% a year. The advertising spend is rising even faster. According to Advertising Age, social media spend grew 55% to $10.9 billion, up from the previous year’s $7 billion.

1. Live Video: Although there have been strides in the streaming space (FB Live, YouTube Live, Periscope Pro) we are still in the infant stages. A new study by market research firms Focus Vision and Zanthus found that a whopping 41% of pay TV subscribers (cable, satellite, etc.) are planning to either cut back on or sever completely their subscriptions in the near future. Those viewers are moving from TV to social/digital. Networks and content providers will have no choice but to move to where the eyeballs are. According to David Brickley, CEO and Co-Founder of STN Digital, “You better have a FB Live strategy or you’ll be left behind. If you already have a great following on Instagram, and you don’t have an Instagram Stories strategy, its time to pounce while its hot.”

2. Messaging Apps: Chad Martin, North American Director, Social and Emerging Media at VML, states that, “The idea of being able to engage with a customer in a one on one way is huge. The hurdle will be figuring out how to develop relevant content to so many. Developing bots that provide relevant content and learn from the customer’s behavior is expensive at this point but the cost savings, especially around customer service, validate them quickly.”

3. Social Commerce: Social commerce is huge around the world with WeChat and will soon take off in the US. Chad Martin says that, “We have been able to send money through Google and Messenger for some time but this was a peer to peer exchange. Pinterest and Twitter are allowing for purchases and that will help with mainstream adoption for brands.”

4. Virtual Reality: We didn’t see much VR in 2016, although we certainly heard a lot about it. Most of the content came in the form of 360 VR Videos, uploaded on YouTube and FB. David Brickley states that, “It’s definitely the future. It’s not convenient enough for consumers yet, and wearing a huge headset in your living room daily won’t scale. However, it’s the future and a space that will only continue to grow.”

5. Social Channels Will Continue To Evolve: Snapchat continues to rise, but it will have to make it easier to organically find fun and interesting accounts. David Brickley says, “I would love to follow Kevin Hart or Mark Cuban on Snapchat, but Snapchat makes me work by searching on Google to find their handle or by guessing their username. Instagram has done two amazing things recently with Instagram Stories and the Explore tab. The Instagram Explore tab’s algorithm works incredibly well, and you can get lost (much like with YouTube) in clicking videos for hours.” The more time that users spend on Instagram equals success.

The biggest trend of 2017 is fairly obvious. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms have become such a part of our life, it’s hard to imagine how we lived without them. As people come up with more innovative types of content and ways to distribute them, social media will only get bigger.

This article originally appeared in the November 22, 2016 edition of Forbes.  For complete article, click here.

How Theo Epstein Wins (And How You Can Too)

Theo.jpg

Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in the history of Major League Baseball when the Boston Red Sox hired him at the age of 28. In 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series championship in 86 years and won another championship in the 2007 season.

In 2011 he resigned from his job in Boston to become President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs finished the 2016 season with best record in Major League Baseball, winning over 100 games for the first time since 1935. They will be facing the Cleveland Indians, in the World Series, tomorrow night.

So how he did win a World Series with the Red Sox and is on track to do it again with the Cubs, who haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

What can we apply to our own careers?

Know Your Business: It takes passion, almost an obsession, to become an expert in your business. Do you sell microprocessors but have never taken apart a computer? Do you design ovens, but never cook? You’re probably not going to be the most successful in your field. It sounds simple but you need to understand your business fully in order to be successful. When starting his career in San Diego, his General Manager told him the best way to learn the sport was to sit behind the plate and run the radar gun. Every night he sat there, learning what a fastball looks like, analyzing very players batting stances, etc. Become a sponge and learn everything that you can about your business.

Use Data To Make Decisions: Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland A’s baseball team and its general manager, Billy Beane. It focuses on the team’s analytical, evidence-based approach to putting together a baseball team. Epstein has believed in this since he was a kid reading Bill James’ By The Numbers, a statistical analysis of major league players. While with the Red Sox, he sent interns to the NCAA headquarters to search through 30 years of stats to see if there were any trends to becoming a successful major leaguer. Don’t always rely on your gut to make decisions, see what the numbers say first.

Have A Vision: All successful leaders have a vision. When Epstein took over the Cubs, he had a meeting in a Mesa, AZ hotel and invited 150 scouts, coaches and front office personnel. There he created a vision for the Cubs: He clearly defined what the personality of the players would be, what the pitching would look like, what their offense would consist of, etc. That vision spilled out onto the field. Whenever they would see an a player make exceptional play, they would yell, “That’s a Cub.” This was meant as a compliment, despite the fact that the team was losing 100+ games.

It’s All In The Details: Theo Epstein is obsessed about details, whether it’s drafting a player or interior decorating. According to Sports Illustrated, “He obsesses over details, from the draft board to the recruiting videos…to the time he spent trolling taxidermy websites to find the perfect stuffed bear for the cafeteria. Last year, while the Cubs were building a new clubhouse, he hyper focused on the number of inches between the couch and the ottoman.” Remember, how you do anything is how you do everything.  You can’t ignore the details and expect a great outcome.

Have Fun: How else does Epstein get interns to work 100+ hours? He hits golf balls in the office while kicking around ideas. He rented a house in Cape Coral, where he lived with and eight front office personnel. They would carpool to the office, blast music, play poker, work out, and eat meals together. He realized that changing a culture takes buy in from everyone. It needs to be embraced by the majority of the team.

There’s More To Life Than Work: While Epstein was with the Red Sox, he attended the funeral of a longtime club employee. The coffin had a Red Sox logo on it. He was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to be buried in a Red Sox casket.” He grew up after getting married and having kids: He started a foundation to help inner city youth and spent more time with his family. People close to him think that he will eventually pursue a career outside of baseball.

A famous Chicagoan, Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Go Cubs!

This article originally appeared in Forbes on October 24, 2016.  For more Forbes articles, please click here.

Creative Inspiration From A Nobel Prize Winner: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize Winner? He is the first musician to win the award and his selection last week is probably the most controversial in years. The prestigous literature prize is given for a lifetime of writing, rather than for a single work.

According to the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize, Dylan won the award for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Bob Dylan has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when his songs focused on civil injustice and he was celebrated as the spokesman of his generation.

Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has also received numerous awards including eleven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

We can learn a lot about creativity from Bob Dylan, which we can all apply to our businesses:

Try Something New: In 1965, Bob was king of the folk world. Coming up through the small clubs in Greenwich Village, he was beloved for his acoustic protest songs. In 1965 he decided that he wanted to break out of that mold and decided, on a whim, to play an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan was met with boos and jeers from the crowd but continued with his performance. He kept touring with his new rock and roll band and he was heckled mercilessly, as can be seen during this rollicking Like A Rolling Stone from the 1966 tour. Eventually he gained an even larger following, while still holding on to the majority of his folk fans.

Good things happen to those who take risks.

Get out of your comfort zone and try things that make you feel uncomfortable. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. You could try working in a different industry or trying a new field. Trying something new in the public eye is another great way to grow. You can create videos on YouTube, write a blog, or teach a course.

Get Inspiration From Others: When Dylan was starting out he sought inspiration from his hero, Woody Guthrie, and other folk artists. Over the years he’s collaborated with everyone, including: The Band, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, even joining the supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys, with George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison.

Build a network of people that you admire who have different backgrounds, occupations, and interests. Meet with them on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas, talk shop, or just listen.

Take A Break: In 1966, Dylan crashed his motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, New York. Bob withdrew from the public and didn’t tour again for again for eight years.

By the following summer, he was ready to make music again, so he recruited The Band and recorded more than 100 songs in his house, which were later released as The Basement Tapes.

Sometimes taking a break from the daily grind is the most creative thing you can do.

Many of the largest companies in the world, including Apple, Facebook, and Google, have formal programs in place to foster creativity. 3M, for example, has long had the “15 % rule” designed to allow employees to have time to work on their own projects.

The most important ideas come to you when you’re relaxed. Try mediation, taking long walks, and turning your phone off if you really want to have creative thoughts.

Dylan is one of the most important artists of his generation and his career has spanned for more than 50 years. He knows a thing or two about being creative.

In a 1995 USA Today interview, Dylan said, “Creativity isn’t like a freight train going down the tracks. It’s something that has to be caressed and treated with a great deal of respect…you’ve got to program your brain not to think too much.”

It doesn't hurt if you're a major talent too!

This article originally appeared in Forbes on October 15, 2016. For more article please visit Forbes 

Better Call Saul: 3 Sales Tips From Slippin' Jimmy

Better Call Saul follows the story of small-time lawyer, James Morgan “Jimmy” McGill, six years before his appearance on Breaking Bad as Saul Goodman.

It has received critical acclaim. It has won several awards, including: A Writers Guild Award, a Satellite Award, a TCA Award, two Critics’ Choice Awards, and one American Film Institute Award. It is nominated for seven 2016 Emmy awards, which airs on Sunday, September 18.

In Season 2, we see the rise of Saul: From his humble beginnings working in the back of a nail salon, to a corporate law firm job, and later to a successful entrepreneurial endeavor.

It’s impossible not to like, or at least be entertained by Saul. Through his charm, wit and perseverance he makes friends and new customers wherever he goes.

So how does he do it and what can we learn?

1. Identify Your Ideal Customer: In Season 1, he spent all of his time with low paying, high touch customers.

His advertisements attracted them:

“Johnny Law on your tail? Need to sue your neighbors? Whatever your legal quandary, Albuquerque’s resident criminal lawyer Saul Goodman has the solution.”

He quickly realized that those customers required a lot of energy, didn’t pay much, and didn’t have the potential to become repeat customers.

Look at your current customer base. Who do you hate doing business with? Which accounts are declining? Which ones don’t pay their bills on time?

One of the things that ITW beat into my head was that all of your customers should not be treated the same. Remember Pareto’s principal? Eighty percent of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Who are your “80” customers? Who do you want them to be?

2. Go After Your 80s? When Saul realized that his time was better spent helping elderly residents of a nursing home, he went after them with all of his energy.

He printed up business cards that said, “Need a Will, Call McGill.” He also visited senior centers and assisted living facilities, delivering yogurt with his ad on the bottom, and ran a bingo game. When he discovered a chain of assisted living facilities were overcharging residents for basic necessities, he filed a class action lawsuit against the chain.

He finally found his “80” customers: People that were going to give him profitable, consistent business. He went the extra mile to get to know them. He went shopping with them, played their favorite games and ate dinner with them. Remember that the stronger relationships you make with your “80s” the more likely they will be to refer you to new customers.

Figure out who your “80s” are and do everything that you can to make sure that you’re an inseparable part of their business.

3. Be Yourself: When Saul accepted a cushy corporate gig, he quickly realized that it wasn’t for him. It was too stuffy an atmosphere and he couldn’t be himself. He tried to act like everyone else at the firm and in the process he lost who he was: A charismatic, loyal, and street-smart attorney.

When finally got fired he brought back his pinky rings, loud suits and his “Slippin’ Jimmy” personality.

Companies do this all the time. They try to be all things to all people. What ends up happening is that they become a blander version of who they actually are.

Who are you as a person or as a company? If you’re not sure, look at the data. What do your customers say? What do they love about you?

Sometimes not being who you are is what’s holding you back.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on September 18, 2016

You Can Learn A Lot From A Car Salesman

Car salespeople are among the most despised human beings on the planet. According to a recent Gallup poll, car salespeople are tied with telemarketers and members of Congress as the second least trusted profession in America. The only group faring worse is lobbyists.

I spent four years selling Toyotas after college and I learned more there than I ever did in business school.

Know Your Product: Have you ever been in a situation where you knew more than the salesperson? Chances are that you didn’t buy from them. Knowing your product inside and out is key to gaining credibility and trust with your customer. I saw a ton of salespeople lose deals because the customer knew more than them. If that’s the case, what do they need a salesperson for?

Know Your Customer: What items do most customers inquire about the most? What are the demographics of your customers? What is important to them? What’s not? While each customer is unique, you’ll obviously run into the same scenarios over and over again. It’s best to be prepared.

Treat People With Respect: I was always shocked when I saw a salesperson ignoring the wife or the children when showing a car to a family. Forget that it’s rude and disrespectful, it’s bad business: Even if the car is for the husband, the wife is going to have a major say in the budget, the model, etc. When calling on a large corporate account, don’t treat the secretary any differently than you would the president of the company. Treat everyone with respect, it’s just good business.

Ask The Right Questions: You need to understand everything about your customer so you can recommend the product that best meets their budget, needs and wants. If you can find a product that meets all three attributes, closing the sale is relatively easy. Remember that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason; Listen more than you talk.

Demo The Product Every Time: I worked for a manager who wouldn’t give a salesperson a price for a car unless he took the customer on a test drive. If you don’t demo your product how do you even know if it’s the right choice for the customer? Also, if you just focus on price, you’ll lose every time. There is always a cheaper option out there. You need to build value in your product in order to justify the price.

Ask For The Sale: I would see people lose sales simply because they didn’t ask the customer to buy. They asked the right questions, made a connection with the customer, demoed the right product, and the customer left, never to come back. Why? Because they never asked for the sale. Sure it can be scary, but remember that a customer is seeing you for a reason. They want to buy something. If you present the right product, ask the right questions and treat people with respect, you have every right to ask them to buy it.

Sales Is A Numbers Game, Don’t Take It Personal: You did everything right and the customer still didn’t buy. It’s easy to get discouraged but don’t. I worked with a guy who calculated that he needed to give 100 presentations in order to sell his goal of 20 cars in a month. When he went on a cold streak, he would just tell himself that he was one step closer to his 100 demos and his goal. You’ll always go on a cold streak (and hot ones too) but in the end you’ll finish around your closing percentage. Talk to more customers and guess what? You’ll make more money.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on September 28, 2016.  

How To Crush Your Social Media Like The UFC

The UFC has 20 million followers across all social media channels, 80 brand accounts, and they use paid media, branded content, sponsorship integration and influencer marketing to successfully market their product. 

Their most recent event, UFC 200, was one of the most successful in UFC history, with over 13 billion impressions. They had 3.2m engagements on Facebook, 246m impressions on Vine, their custom UFC200 emoji was used over 1m times, their Instagram had 4.3m engagements and they gained over 270k new fans across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram during the event.

What can we learn and apply to our own businesses?

1. Embrace New Channels:  It doesn’t end with Facebook and Twitter. According to Shanda Maloney, Director Of Digital Marketing & Social Media for the UFC, “Keep up on new platforms and understand that your audience is engaged on those platforms.  If you are going to have a voice in the space, create content that is unique to that platform/audience. Don’t assume the best practice is to push the same content across every platform.”

 

2. Focus:  You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t try. Do you really need that Tumblr page?  If you’re going to explore new platforms, go all in. It’s better to choose a few social media channels to focus on, than to try to be everywhere. If you want to take on new channels, call in an agency or reach out to influencers.

 

3. Look At The Data: One of the most important pieces of a successful social campaign is looking at your metrics and understanding what they mean. According to Maloney, “Many times I see people reporting cold metrics like ‘this is how many followers we gained’ or ‘this is how many posts we made.’” Instead, you should be reading further into the data to understand how the numbers can help you determine the type of content to share with your followers, or more importantly what to stop doing immediately.”

 

4. Tell A Story: Be consistent, have a purpose, and try to give your audience an emotional connection to your product. The UFC does an excellent job at putting the audience in the fighter’s shoes. What does it feel like to enter the ring?  What is going through their mind before a fight? Telling a visual story (photos, videos, live stream) is a great way to engage your audience. 

 

5. Plan Ahead: If you’re not using a social media calendar to schedule your posts in advance, you’ll constantly be in “reaction mode” trying to catch up with trending topics. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to be part of a trending topic, national holiday, celebration, etc.

 

UFC 201 will be held on Saturday, July 30th and you can guarantee that they already got their calendar filled with fun and interesting content. At the end of the day, it’s all about telling a story and this applies to the UFC or a product launch. What story are you telling?

How J.K Rowling Rose To Success And How You Can Too

Rowling’s new book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, sold more than 3.3m copies in the US and Canada, publisher Scholastic announced last week. It is currently ranked number one among all books on Amazon.

The Harry Potter franchise has been extremely lucrative for Rowling. According to Forbes, she has earned approximately $1b over her career, making her the world’s richest author.

But things haven’t always worked out so well for her. Before publishing her first book, she was living a small apartment in the UK with her daughter, jobless and penniless. She had to rely on state benefits just to keep food on the table.

How did she rise from such humble beginnings to become one of the most successful authors of our time?

1.     Have A Vision: Rowling always knew she was going to be a writer.  According to her website, "As soon as I knew what writers were, I wanted to be one.” But it took more than wishful thinking. She started writing the Harry Potter series during a delayed train ride from Manchester to London.  Rowling envisioned all of the characters and the story started to take shape.  She spent the next five years outlining the plots for each book and wrote down the name, house and magical powers of every single student of Hogwarts. It’s that attention to detail that make the stories so great.

2.     Accept Setbacks: Soon after she started writing, she was hit with the devastating loss of her mother and sank into a deep, dark depression and stopped writing. She then took a job teaching English in Portugal where she met her future husband. Her goal was to have the book completed by the time she got back to England. Not only did she not finish the book but her marriage failed and she had to go back to England with a newborn baby and no job.

3.    Be Persistent:  While on welfare and taking care of a small child, she would spend every free moment writing, often in coffee shops with her baby napping beside her. Still, it took her five long years to finish the book. Finally having completed the book, she now needed to get it published.  The first 12 publishers that read it turned her down.  Finally, Bloomsbury Publishing agreed to buy the rights to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $4,000.

The book became an instant hit and soon caught the attention of U.S. publishers. A bidding war broke out, with Scholastic Publishing eventually purchasing the story for over $100k, the largest sum they had ever paid an author.  It’s been almost 20 years since Harry Potter made his debut and he still hasn’t lost that magic touch.

J.K Rowling went from being an unemployed single mother, living on welfare, to become one of the best selling authors of all time.  She was plagued by self-doubt and rejected countless times along the way but kept pushing on because she believed in herself.  Not all of us will become famous authors but we can become the greatest version of ourselves by having a vision, accepting setbacks, being persistent and making a little magic along the way.

 

 

4 Business Lessons From The Country Club

With the dog days of summer fast approaching, and thousands of teenagers starting their first summer jobs, I’d like to offer some advice:

Everyone should work in a service industry at least once in their lives.

They could work in a restaurant, a resort, or the local ice cream shop. It’s a great boot camp for business or just life in general.

My first job was at a private golf course in New Jersey (shout out to Medford Village Country Club) and I learned more working there than I ever did in business school.

Here are some of the business lessons that I learned. It wasn’t all just trying to hustle beers from the beverage cart girls!

1. Help Others: You are in business to help others solve a problem of some sort. If you do a good job at that, then you’ll make money. The better we treated the members, the more tips we made. Unless you are in a business where customer service doesn’t matter, (cable TV industry) you’re going to have to help others. The Beatles said it best, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” The profit you make is equal to the level of the service that you provide.

2. It Ain’t About Me: One of the biggest criticisms of any young generation is that they’re completely self-absorbed. This isn’t always a fair generalization (I got your back millennials) I think that we can all get wrapped up in our own drama. When you are working in a service industry, no one cares about what’s going on in your life: It’s all about the customer.

This is a valuable lesson to learn in business. Instead of looking inside out, you need to look at your business from the customer’s point of view. What are you doing to serve the customer? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes; would you be happy with the experience that you are providing?

3. How To Deal With Difficult Customers: Unhappy clients will be there throughout your career, it’s as certain as death and taxes, so you better learn how to deal with them. Can you separate yourself from your emotions and hear what an angry customer is saying? Can you resolve it? Can you make the necessary changes so it doesn’t happen again?

Dealing with unpleasant customers also helps us in our own lives. You’re not going to want to yell and scream at an employee for a mistake if you’ve been berated by a customer before. Lesson? Don’t be a jerk.

4. How To Work Together: We used to have to wash and put away 72 golf carts, clean all the members golf clubs, and pick up all the golf balls on the driving range before we went home every night. These are tasks that took several people to complete and we had to figure out for ourselves how we’d finish them. We’d take turns doing the undesirable tasks, assign duties to different team members, etc.

These are all skills that have served me well in my career, and I’m grateful for the four years that I worked there.

What was your first job? What important business lessons did you learn?

How To Build A Brand As Successful As 'Hamilton'

The hip-hop musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers is nominated for 16 Tony Awards, more than any other show in Broadway history.  It’s nominated in just about every category: Acting, writing, directing, dance, music and design. The Broadway production is sold out well into next year and is the hottest ticket in town.  A recent article in The New York Times Magazine estimated that the show earns $500,000 a week and could surpass $1 billion in ticket sales in New York alone.

How did the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, build such a successful brand and what can we learn from him?

 

- Create Something New: The idea for Hamilton started when the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, read a biography about Alexander Hamilton and saw someone who embodied hip-hop.  It’s a thought that I doubt many people have had.  Deciding to compose a show around the historical figure, he decided to ditch the “traditional” Broadway songs and instead focus on hip-hop.  Here’s a great Spotify playlist exploring some of his influences, which range from Big Pun to Julie Andrews.

 He didn’t start writing a musical for the exercise; he was inspired to create something new and interesting.  I see a lot of startups just copying an existing idea, in order to say that they created something. After working for Gymsurfing, I had a lot of startups reach out to me to help them grow their sales.  The overwhelming majority of them weren’t bringing anything new to the table.  Most of the elevator pitches I heard went something like this, “We’re the Uber for X or we’re the Classpass for Y.”  Not only were these ideas unoriginal and uninspired, but similar companies already existed.

Inspiration doesn’t come every day, so sometimes you need to wait for the right idea in order to be successful. 

A recent article in Rolling Stone described Miranda’s meeting with LL Cool J. “I remember asking him, ‘Are you going to make any new music?’  And he said to me – this is a great quote and it’s always sort of stayed with me – ‘I don’t want to make something that isn’t a classic.’  But the way he said it was, ‘I want to work in marble.’  That really stuck with me.  So when he came to the show, I said, ‘I tried to work in marble sir.’”

 

-Set A Lofty Goal: The goal doesn’t need to be formal or involve elaborate bar graphs but it does need to seem unattainable. Miranda’s goal was simple:  To have the hip-hop community embrace his show.  Not an easy task, considering the hip-hop and theatre worlds rarely crossed paths. He measured his goal by tracking who attended his show and listening to their feedback.  Some of the attendees that loved his work were Andre 3000, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Eminem and Nas.  

And don’t sell yourself short.

As famed self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

 

-Be Bold: In 2009, Miranda was invited to perform music from his Broadway show, In The Heights, at the White House. Instead he performed the first song from The Hamilton Mixtape, which would later become Hamilton's opening number. 

Promote yourself or your product on the biggest stage that you’ve got and don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.

It’s funny that throughout my sales career, I’ve found the hardest part of any sale is simply asking for someone to buy your product. It’s because the thought of someone rejecting you can be terrifying. 

When Lin-Manuel met Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, he asked him if he could compose some music for the film, which Abrams excitedly agreed to.  Miranda told Rolling Stone, “Ask the thing you want to ask your hero while your hero is in front of you!  Don’t be a dick, don’t be obnoxious.  But also know that you may never get that opportunity again.”

You may not be standing in front of J.J Abrams or President Obama but when you get a chance to sell yourself, or your product, you need to find the courage to be bold and take a chance. 

Hey, the worst they can say is “no” or maybe turn your mic off!

 

How X-Men's Mystique Earned Respect As A Leader, And How You Can Too

Spoiler Alert. This article reveals several plot twists of X-Men: Apocalypse.

With an $80 million opening weekend, it looks like X-Men: Apocalypse is the summer’s first blockbuster. The story centers around an evil character, named Apocalypse, who awakens, after thousands of years, to create a new world order. The fate of the Earth hangs in the balance while Mystique leads a young team of X-Men to stop Apocalypse’s world domination.

So, how did Mystique earn the respect of the younger generation of X-Men and successfully lead them to defeat Apocalypse?

What leadership lessons can we learn from her?

1. Be Humble: Humility shows your team that you’re confident, self-aware, and can give credit to others without feeling threatened. Humble leaders make others feel important and valued. Being humble is an important part of any leadership role because it makes your team better. According to a study in the Academy of ManagementJournal, humble leaders are more effective and better liked. Leader humility is also associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees, and lower employee turnover.

When Mystique first revealed herself to the students of Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, she was viewed as a messiah-like character because she saved the world at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past. But she quickly dispelled any hero worship and was viewed as just another member of the team, ready to help. As a result, her team stayed with her during the toughest battle of their lives.

2. Be Inclusive: Mystique has her own mission early on in the movie: Rescuing oppressed or enslaved mutants. She exhibited this by setting Nightcrawler free from a cage match with Angel, which he was doomed to lose. She also recognized his special talents and later let him join her team. This simple act of kindness secured his loyalty and he would later prove to be an important asset in their fight against Apocalypse.

Being inclusive means recognizing and appreciating the unique talents and perspectives that each team member brings to the table. When employees feel included at work, they’re better team players and show increased performance.

Mystique said it best when she told a group of mutants, “We can’t control our powers so don’t try to control them, embrace them.”

3. Be Inspiring: With Apocalypse in the process of destroying the world, Mystique looked at Magneto (who was fighting for the opposing side) and said, “We’re going to fight what’s left. Are you?” She issued a challenge, which is an excellent way to inspire others.

Some other ways to inspire your team are by simply caring about others, offering encouragement and telling stories.

One of the most powerful ways to inspire people is by sharing your own experiences, especially if you overcame great odds. I was out of work and homeless in my 20s and rose out of the rubble by selling cars. I showed my team how I did it and how they could change their lives the same way.

The X-Men are mutants. They have a special “X-gene” which gives them supernatural powers. We’re not so different. We’ve all got some sort of superpower. I wish I could fly, but it turns out I’m really a great sales and marketing guy. A good manager helped me figure that out a long time ago and I’ve made a career out of it.

What is your superpower? Are you helping others find theirs?

For more articles, please visit www.TomWard.com or connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter

Started From The Bottom, Now We're Here: How To Rise To The Top Like Drake

Drake started from the bottom and now he’s here. The Toronto native has risen from his role as an actor on the television series Degrassi: The Next Generation to become one of the most popular entertainers on the planet. He is the fifth wealthiest rapper in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $60m. He has received numerous awards, including a Grammy, and is nominated for 11 awards at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, which airs on May 22nd.

So how did he get to the top and what can we apply to our own careers?

1. Get A Side Hustle: Don’t quit your day job! You can find your passion, and make additional income, while continuing to work. When Drake was starting his rap career, he kept his role on Degrassi High, for eight years before pursuing rap full time. He eventually got thrown off the show because he would spend his days on the set, and then go to the studio to record until 4 or 5 in the AM. I’m not suggesting that you work until 5 AM every night, but you can manage having a part job without quitting your day job. I was the head of business development for a fitness app, Gymsurfing, while still keeping my job at ITW. Most companies will allow this, as long as you aren’t working for a competitor. It was a very valuable experience for me; I got to learn about a new industry, experience start-up culture, and make a little money on the side. It’s a great way to test out a new career, industry or company with no risk. 

2.  Create Great Content:  It’s kind of embarrassing these days to talk about your old MySpace page, but that’s exactly where Drake got his start. He started distributing and promoting his music on his MySpace page years before he signed his first record deal. He kept his fan base growing by constantly giving them great, new content. He was still unsigned when he released his first mix tape, Room For Improvement, which featured industry heavyweights like Clipse, Trey Songz, and Lupe Fiasco. No matter what your profession is, you can create relevant, high quality content that will establish you as an expert in your field: You can blog, write for industry trade publications, create how-to videos on You Tube, etc. I was just a sales guy, yet I started writing a popular business blog, which gave me credibility in my field. This led to other opportunities, like becoming a contributing writer for Forbes. 

3. Surround Yourself With Winners:  One of the first people to believe in Drake, was Jas Prince, the son of Rap-A-Lot Records founder James “J.” Prince. Prince was close to Lil Wayne, who was just handed the keys to a subsidiary of Cash Money Records. Wayne was so impressed with Drake’s music that he immediately flew him down to meet and later sign him to a record deal. Since their initial meeting, Drake has collaborated with Lil Wayne on dozens of songs, as well as collaborating with other high profile artists, such as Rihanna, Jay Z, and Nicki Minaj. My mom said it best, “You are who you hang with so you might as well hang with the winners.”  She was right.  Studies have shown that a person takes on the qualities of the five people they associate with the most.”

Who are you hanging with? 

Are you hanging with the “Lil Waynes” of your industry or negative people who are constantly bringing you down? 

 

 

 

What Ran Ban, Pabst And Amazon Can Teach Us About Reinvention

Luxottica Chief Executive Andrea Guerra Holding A Pair Of Ray Bans (Giuseppe Aresu/Bloomberg News)

Luxottica Chief Executive Andrea Guerra Holding A Pair Of Ray Bans (Giuseppe Aresu/Bloomberg News)

In this increasingly competitive business environment, it is no longer an option to stand still while your competition changes with the times.   We can give countless examples of companies that failed to adapt to a changing marketplace and had to close their doors.

Reinvention is the only way for companies to stay relevant in this ever-changing, fast-paced global economy. 

Let’s take a look at some companies who reinvented themselves successfully. There are many out there but these are three of my favorites:

1. Ray Ban: Ray Ban was originally made by Bausch + Lomb for the US Army and have been worn by everyone from JFK to Tom Cruise.  But the brand suffered in the 90s because the company was mismanaged, with poor quality and increased competition from Oakley and other rivals.  It was eventually sold to the Italian eyewear company Luxottica in 1999 for $640 million.

The subsequent reinvention was beautiful.  Luxottica stopped selling Ray Bans for a year to reinvigorate the brand.  In 1999 you could buy a pair of Wayfarers for $29 at a drug store or a gas station.  Now those same sunglasses can cost as much as $150 or more.  Good luck finding them at your local convenience store.

The Lesson: Sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward.

2. Pabst:  Just a few years ago, Pabst was just another generic beer sitting on the shelves.  A beer that was once extremely popular in the 70s, it lost popularity in the 80s and 90s, eventually leading to the closing of their flagship brewery, located in Milwaukee.  Then something happened around 2009 that defied logic:  It became the beer of choice for hipsters everywhere.  According to The Huffington Post, sales jumped 20.3% in 2009 and continued to rise steadily over the next few years.  By 2013 Americans drank more than 90 million gallons of PBR, according to Euromonitor, which is nearly 200 percent more than they did in 2004.

So, how did they do it? 

First, they got lucky.  Millennials were attracted to Pabst’s history, their blue-collar image and their low price point.  But Pabst also had a focused marketing strategy:  Taking a more organic approach to advertising.  Instead of spending millions on TV, radio, and billboard advertising, they sponsored cool events such as bike messenger rodeos and DJ sets. Millennials grew wary of traditional sales tactics by the liquor industry and Pabst “advertising” resonated with their audience.

The Lesson: To reinvent your brand to become “hip” you need to take a non-traditional approach to your marketing strategy.  Luck doesn’t hurt either.

3. Amazon: Amazon is a great example of a company that reinvented itself while it was still successful. A company that started as an online bookseller is now the world’s largest retailer and also a web-hosting, content production and distribution company.

So, how did they do it? 

According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “I would define Amazon by our big ideas, which are customer centricity, putting the customer at the center of everything we do, invention.  We like to pioneer, we like to explore, we like to go down dark alleys and see what’s on the other side.”

Lesson:  You don’t need to wait for business to take a downturn in order to reinvent your company. It’s best to be constantly evolving. 

So, the message is clear:  Continue to listen to your customers, never stop evolving, and look to the future because change is inevitable in any business. 

Remember, you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.