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In this episode, Anneli and Chris discuss the traits of what they refer to as magnetic brands. That is, brands that customers prefer over others and that have true fans. If you are interested in branding, brand strategy, or trying to figure out how to bolster your brand, then give this conversation a listen.
The word authentic gets thrown around a lot, especially when describing brands. But what is an “authentic” brand? And why do some brands garner loyal customers while others do not?
In this episode, Anneli and Chris discuss the traits of what they refer to as magnetic brands. That is, brands that customers prefer over others and that have true fans.
If you are interested in branding, brand strategy, or trying to figure out how to bolster your brand, then give this conversation a listen.
The word authentic gets thrown around a lot, especially when describing brands. But what is an “authentic” brand? And why do some brands garner loyal customers while others do not?
In this episode, Anneli and Chris discuss the traits of what they refer to as magnetic brands. That is, brands that customers prefer over others and that have true fans.
If you are interested in branding, brand strategy, or trying to figure out how to bolster your brand, then give this conversation a listen.
If people don't accept you, they don't deserve you. I see brands that are afraid because people are afraid of being judged and being rejected. So what if just all brands could let go of that fear of being judged and rejected, and instead just being themselves in all imperfection? And I think people will connect more deeply with you because who do we actually admire? We admire authentic brands.
Lately I've been reflecting a lot about brands and how we can inspire brands to be more brave and authentic, maybe transparent and vulnerable, and maybe I think that is the way we truly connect and build stronger relationships with people. So I ask myself questions like, we say we want to humanize brands, but what does that really mean? And can corporate brands learn something from personal brands when it comes to connecting with people? And what holds brands back from being authentic? Is there really a lack of knowledge and information on how to build brands? Or maybe, maybe, it's just a fear of rejection, a fear of being judged, fear of losing an audience. So what I'm thinking is, maybe we're just really tired of perfection. We are tired of brands pretending to be perfect, but we are also tired of people trying to be perfect.
When everything is so perfect all the time, I don't think we believe in it. We don't believe in people, we don't believe in brands, and we just wait for that opportunity to prove them wrong. And we do it on social media. I truly believe that brands needs to lead more with empathy and compassion and maybe even kindness because we want brands that stands up for something and take stand for what's right. I think we want more authentic and real brands. So, after I've been reflecting on this a little bit, I'm thinking about, maybe we need to rethink how we build brands because if we want to attract a big audience, but we also want to turn them into fans, I don't think we can keep doing the same thing and hope for another result.
I have been working with a lot of brands and all of them, they need advertising because they don't have fans. They don't have that engagement on social media, and most of them, and maybe you, also, in the audience, are too focused on your products and what you offer instead of how your brand can make people's lives better. So a brand is so much more than just a product we sell or the service. We need to go much deeper. We need to connect with the audience on a much deeper level if we really want to matter in their lives. So, Chris, back to you. I really want to hear your thoughts on people's relationship to brands.
Thanks for asking me, Anneli. I've been thinking about this a lot and I've been reflecting on the different things I've read, the things I've experienced as a customer and how we have fostered a relationship with our customers. And there's a couple of different things I'm going to reference, a few books and ideas, but I think they succinctly sum up some of the ideas that we've been talking about. The first truth is people, customers, don't buy anymore. They join tribes and they want to be around like-minded individuals who share a worldview, and it's because we're in search of identity. We're trying to figure out who we are, we're trying to find meaning to our lives.
When you buy something I think it says something about you and there's a difference between how we perceive ourselves. Say, if we are in the market for a car, what we say about ourselves if we want a Porsche or Mercedes or a Tesla? And when we buy something, it speaks about our values or beliefs and our opinions, can we imagine a person who shops at Whole Foods or Harley Davidson, what are they like? Can you visualize this person in your mind? Or someone who shops at IKEA or Patagonia? And for each one of us a different image might conjure up, but there will be some overlap for sure.
So as it turns out, what we buy and consume, who we give money to, says something about us. If I buy this, what does this make me? And it is said that you have a brand if your customers have a preference for your product or service, are they willing to make a little bit extra effort to cross the road or pay a premium for what it is that you do? So, Anneli, I was wondering something. Do you have a personal story about why brands matter to you? I know you're a brand expert. I'm curious how you got started in this journey. When did you first become aware of your preference of one brand versus another?
Hmm, yeah. That's a really good question, Chris. The thing is, I remember exactly when it was. I was 13-years-old and I was just starting a new school. I'm from a small island with just 400 people, and where I came from people didn't care about fashion. They didn't care about trends. And to be honest, we didn't have any money. I mean, of course we had money, but not so much money, and I can still feel the feeling, how it felt like not looking like everyone else when you start a new school. To look like everyone else is important when you're 13-years-old, and my dream was a pair of Levi's 501. I think they're called 501, right? And I know we couldn't afford them because it was me and my sister. So one day my dad takes me shopping and I was like, "No. Not shopping with my dad."
I was not happy about that. He didn't know anything about fashion, but he turns to me and he says, "Why is not just a regular Levi's good enough for you?" And I was like, "What?" I just tried to hide my excitement. "What did he just say? Levi's?" So I got my first pair of Levi's and I was so, so, so happy, and I just remember the feeling to look like everyone else. So I wear them to school the next day and probably most of the days after. Almost every day. I just hope that people didn't notice that I just had one pair. So for me, that was my first meeting, and for me Levi's meant belonging. I mean, it meant to fit in, and when I was 13 that was really, really important. And a kind of funny anecdote after that, was actually 15 years after this, I started working at my first agency and the very first client I had was Levi's.
That is so cool.
Yeah, it is.
Yeah. So what about you, Chris? Do you have a story?
I'm sure many of us are going to have a very similar story, and mine's not that different than yours. So I'm starting to reflect on the story you shared about Levi's and how buying a silly pair of jeans can get you entry into the club that you wanted to get into. And this is the thing that we want to start thinking about. Growing up as a first-generation immigrant, a refugee from Vietnam living in America, I've had a hard time. I've struggled with feeling like I belong anywhere and you start to become brand conscious at a very young age, I think, because I'm on the outside looking at the cool kids or the place where I wanted to be. And seeking social acceptance is what I wanted because I didn't want to feel like I was ostracized by a community. I just wanted to fit in, to be in that club that I belong.
And just a slightly traumatizing story for me is when my mom decided that I should join the Boy Scouts. So she had met with the Scoutmaster and decided to voluntarily enroll me in the Boy Scouts, which I didn't want to be a part of. And some of you know, Boy Scouts have a very specific uniform. Now my mom, even though we weren't poor at this point in time, she was pretty handy and she considered herself a seamstress and she could make clothes and things like that. So she decides, instead of buying the uniform, she was going to make it for me. If you're horrified by this thought, as I might have been as a teenager, it's much worse when you have to actually live it because I didn't want to join this group, but the least you could do is not to make me feel like an outsider within a small group.
And she did it from memory. She sewed a uniform by memory. So maybe people can't tell, but for sure, I could tell. I knew. The fabric was a little different. The color was a little bit off, and it just felt like the entire time there was a neon sign on my face saying, "Look at me. I do not belong." So even if there isn't a brand name attached to it, there's this idea that the things that we consume, the things that we buy, get us initiation into certain groups, like you're a Nike person, you're an Adidas person, you're an iPhone person, you're an Android person. Thankfully, as a older, more mature person, I can make more rational decisions about what it is that I'm doing, so I say to myself, but there's definitely this emotional connection with the things that we do, the things that we buy, that says something about us.
Yeah, it does. Aw, that was a little bit sad, that story.
A little bit. It's okay. I got over it.
Yeah. But they're kind of similar, both stories. Yes. But we're from very different parts of the world, but they're not so different, so probably a lot of people can relate to this. Yeah. And I wonder, when you told this story, what actually makes you connect emotionally to a brand, Chris?
Well, maybe less than now, but for me I start to look at things that I buy. I've done this before where I work with an architect and they'll present to me four pieces of glass for a building project that I'm working on. And I don't know, but I tend to almost always pick the most expensive without knowing the brand or the price tag attached. That quality of glass is clear. There's no green tint to it. It seems like that's the better quality. Or that's the nicest quality of leather that I'm looking at, and it also turns out to be the most expensive. So as a design snob, I like to think that quality matters and that design and aesthetics matter to me, and that if there's a story behind the company and the product, there's a heritage, like the original.
That matters to me because I don't want to buy a knockoff who's taking a shortcut, if I'm in a place where I can afford to do so. I want to add that. I also think about who else buys this product and what tribe am I joining. Before I briefly mentioned the Porsche versus the Mercedes versus the Tesla. As I'm a student of advertising, Porsche had a problem with its image because there were jokes that people who owned Porsches were d-bags. They were jerks, and it was a huge image problem. You don't want to be a Porsche owner because certain hatred is going to be thrown towards you. And so we could definitely think about that. Like, If I buy this, am I joining that group? And I want to be very conscientious of that.
Yeah. Okay. So now we talked a little bit about why having a strong brand matters, but I want to dive into the first step on how to create a magnetic brand. So, guys, if you have paper and pen, and if you want to take some notes, so let's get started. The first step in our three steps here is finding your soul, also known as your why. So, magnetic brands. They have a clear why and they stand up for something good. Maybe they even disrupt something, and they can create this feeling of belonging for their audience. Many of you know we often refer to Simon Sinek and his famous quote, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it." So sometimes we just say things without reflecting so much about what it is, but so let's talk a little bit about what the why really is.
For me, I think the why is the combination of your purpose and how you live it, the mission. So if you have a mission statement it often describes why the brand exists, for whom it matters, and what difference you want to make in the world and in people's lives. So when we think of brands with a strong mission, I often tend to see inspiring leaders behind those brands, and those leaders often are on a mission to make the world better in some ways. So, Chris, I want to ask you, because one of those inspiring leaders with a clear mission is actually you. So I would like to hear a little bit more about the mission for The Futur and why is it important for you to teach one billion people make a living doing what they love?
Let me see if I can explain this, Anneli. There's a little story behind it. I don't want to bore you with the story, but for a long time what I did was I made commercials and music videos for a living and that did a lot of things for me. It afforded my wife and my family, my parents, a better life, but there was something that was empty inside of me because I was just doing something that didn't contribute to any meaningful impact on the world. Now, I know it might sound grandiose to think of things like that. In the meanwhile I've been living this double life where I was a teacher at ArtCenter and I taught sequential design, main title design, for 15 plus years.
That was very nourishing for my soul, but I was at odds and there was some conflict here. Several things, actually. One was, I wasn't making very much money as a teacher. I also thought about the limited reach I had as an instructor who taught at a private art school coupled with the rising cost of tuition, such that it becomes crippling for many people. I also think of things like private schools as creating barriers. Whether they believe so or not, there is a financial wall and even a concept you have to get over. There is a physical wall that if you don't live within proximity of a school that you want to go to, you might not be aware of it, or it just might be economically just not feasible for you or your family. And so I keep thinking about that.
Once I got into a place where I felt like I had "enough", enough money, enough resources, enough acclaim, I wanted to do something different and so I set on this idea that I can teach people, but I needed to teach people at scale. That required a different model using open platforms and networks, and that's how I landed on this mission of teaching a billion people how to make a living doing what they love. Now, that sounds complicated so let me explain that a different way. Think of The Futur as a private art school without the crippling debt, built for the 21st century to tackle the issues and the things that you need to know as a creative person in the 21st century.
I love that. When someone have a mission and if you really feel that mission and you want to be part of it, that is how we connect. I love that mission. Okay. So, Chris, if I want to find my why, where do you think I should start?
That is a really difficult question because you're asking people to figure out why they exist, and that's probably some kind of giant existential question that may take you a very long time to sort out and for you to revisit. But as I reflect on my own life, I think there are probably two stages that you go through as a creative professional. So as I mentioned earlier, stage one could be something like where you're trying to prove your concept, your business model, and you want to be able to provide for your loved ones, your family, your friends. You might want to develop your craft and make enough money so that money is no longer your primary driver. And that was my story there. That starts to lead you to potentially stage two. And I just want to just throw out this caveat that the timeline is completely individual.
Some people might reach stage two within two years of their professional life. Some might not ever get there and I'm not here to judge anybody. But I think when you start to enter stage two, where you have "enough", you're searching for meaning. What do you want your life to add up to? What impact do you want to create in the world? Is there a higher purpose? And when you start to ask yourself those kinds of questions, it might lead you to finding your why, the reason why you exist beyond making money. So one exercise that you can do, and it's referred to as the obituary exercise and it's referred to in a couple of books, one by Marty Neumeier, but it's so that you can write your obituary as if you've passed away. It'll start to make you look at different things and reconnect with what matters most.
It's this opportunity to reflect, to prioritize, and then plan forward because there's probably a pretty big gap between that life that you want to live or the legacy you want to leave behind, and where you're at right now. So that's the obituary exercise, to write your own obituary and see what you learn about yourself. And I think it's a pretty amazing exercise to contemplate your own mortality and to make different decisions because it's not too late. If you're still breathing, if there's still blood going through your veins and you're able to do things, it's not too late. Option number two I've referred to as ikigai. I know that there are people that are Japanese that take umbrage with me using this term. It's propagating potentially a false concept, but ikigai in Japanese, I believe, literally means reason for being.
I've talked about this on our channel. It seems to be a popular idea that resonates with people, that we're looking for the intersection between four main pillars. The pillars are, one, what you love. The things that excite you, the things that you're passionate about. The things you do in your own free time. The world would be wonderful if you got paid a lot of money just to do what you love. Pillar number two is what you're good at, where you're skilled, where you have training, where you've put in practice, whether you acquired this knowledge through formal education or if you're an autodidact and you've taught yourself. Either is okay. And those two things are pretty good. You're good at something and you love it. This will fuel you for the rest of your life, ideally, so that it's long-term sustainable.
Pillar number three, what people pay for. So if the market finds what you do to be valuable and you're good at it and you love it, this is a wonderful place. I think most people could stop here and it'll be okay. So I love design. I went to school and was trained to be a graphic designer, and then I was mostly self-taught to create commercials and the market valued this and paid me a lot of money to do this. This was wonderful. But notice in my story before, there was something missing I couldn't put my finger on it.
But the last pillar, as you may already know, is what the world needs. This is about creating impact and hopefully leaving this earth better than the way you found it. So that was a big piece of the puzzle that was missing for me and so what I needed to do was realign my life, my priorities, my business model, so that I could hit all those things. What I love, what I'm good at, what pays well, or what the world will pay, and what the world needs. And in that sweet spot potentially could be a clue to your why. Back over to you, Anneli.
Yeah. I love ikigai. I know. I love also that you said that it's different stages in life because there are a lot of people who get really stressed about finding and they start talking about their purpose and life purpose, and that's something that is really, really big. It could take a long time. So I love your two steps there. Also another simple framework to summarize the why is, if you think about what the brand offers, who you talk to, but this is still important part also, why does it matter to people beyond money? So it's not about the profit. It's beyond money. So what difference do you want to make? For me, for example, it's to teach the many creatives how to build sustainable brands so that we together can save the world. And for The Futur is to teach one billion people how to make a living doing what they love.
Another example is Google, to organize the world's information and make it universally open and connected. So that's a really simple framework how you can use it. But I think I want to just point this out because I actually heard something today also, Chris, that you had something on your Instagram about mission statement. So I want to make sure that you let the why actually be something that guides you and drives you because this is what keeps you going when it's get tough, when it gets difficult. So this is what should guide all of your decisions in your business. Chris, do you have anything you want to add on that?
Yeah, it was just this idea that we can fall in love and become enamored with fancy words that we put up on a wall or plaque, and we tend to define our mission or our purpose in super complicated ways that sound really good to our investors and to our board of directors, but actually don't help us to govern our company to help us make informed decisions. I think no matter what you call it, if you call it a mission statement or defining your company culture, it should be a decisional filter. And so this is where the complexity of words fight against our ability to remember it, and more importantly our ability to act upon it.
Many years ago when I ran my company, I didn't manage the culture and we wound up attracting some toxic personalities and I didn't even know it. In the world of design you can bring superstars that are amazing at what they do, but they can be poison to everyone else and undermine this fabric of us trying to connect as humans and taking care of one another. So once I started to define the culture, and if it has any real meaning, it's going to filter people in and filter people out. It took us almost a year-and-a-half for us, once we defined who we were, to sort of clean house and align ourselves with the right kinds of people.
I share this because if we hadn't done this, I don't think the company, our company, The Futur, would have been possible because there was a radical departure from doing creative services for clients and making commercials and music videos to being an education company. But the reason why this was fairly painless for us to transition was, one of our core values was to embrace and drive change, and so we only wanted to have people who thought that way. So instead of the resistance that I might have felt with my old team, the new team raised their eyebrow and they said, "Curious. Let's try." And they did. And it's one of the reasons why that transition was so seamless for us.
Oh, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think it's so important because sometimes, like you said, we just get trapped with words and it's the same with brand strategy. Sometimes we get so into just a framework and we don't think about how to really activate it in real life. So defining your soul, we don't care about what we call it, like you said. I think it's actually good to combine the purpose and then the mission, which is more the drive, and to form that to your why. The most important thing is the reason why you really want to do it is because have that motivation for yourself and also to tell people, this is what you can base stories on later. You want to tell things that emotionally connect to people.
So it's really important to have it. You'll also kind of draw the right people to you and you want to have the right people around you. So that was the first step, finding your soul, finding the brand soul. So let's go over to step number two. This is an exciting one, Chris. Unlock your personality. Okay, what do I mean by that? By unlocking our personality, we become magnetic. We can become magnetic to new opportunities and to the people who align with who we are and with our mission. This has been by far the most difficult step for me when it comes to personal branding because I know this is where I got stuck and you know that, too, Chris. I thought I was authentic, but I was not embracing all sides of me.
And because there were sides that I tried to hide, there were stories that I probably felt shame about. So I thought I was authentic, but I know now that I was just really afraid. And you, Chris, you pushed me to show a little bit more of my personality, more the real me, and I didn't want to do it. I really didn't want to do it, and I think now I know because I was afraid and what are we so afraid of? I know that I was afraid of being judged. I was so afraid of rejection. And I remember telling you, Chris, because this was one of the most difficult things for me, was to actually lose people that I know and people close to me. And you were the one supporting me so much on this journey, so I said, "What if I show myself and you, even you, will not even like me anymore?" Do you remember that? Do you remember what you said?
I don't really remember what I said. So remind me. I'm scared.
Yeah. You were like... And I love this. I love that you said this, because this was a totally new perspective for me. So you said, "If you show up as you, if you show me your true self and I don't like you, I don't deserve to be your friend, or I was never your friend." That was really powerful for me because no one else has showed me that perspective before. So if people don't accept you, they don't deserve you. They're just not your people. I want you to remember this. I can see it now. It's like in the movie Sixth Sense. It's like, "I see dead people."
I see brands that are afraid. I see brands, company brands, and I see personal brands that holds back because people are afraid of being judged and being rejected the way I was, or maybe even the way I am. It's a journey. So I see a lot of marketing directors afraid of losing their job. So what if just all brands could let go of that fear of being judged and rejected, and instead just being themselves in all imperfection? And I think people will connect more deeply with you because who do we actually admire? We admire authentic brands.
Well, I want to point out a few small things here and maybe give you an opportunity to speak about your own transformation, your own journey, okay?
So, here's the thing. Anneli and I both shared a story about our childhood where we wanted to belong and it's natural for us. We're vulnerable. We're not sure of ourselves. We haven't found out who we are and who we want to be in the world. And hopefully we grow up and we find ourselves and we're comfortable in our own skin and we accept ourselves for who we are exactly the way we were, or are. I look at this a lot and when you say you see dead people, I think really what you're saying is, you see people hiding under some veneer of who they want to project to the world. Now here's the dilemma, and I do talk about this quite a bit on social media. People are afraid of showing up as they are, so they live this very curated life. They only talk about their success.
They bury their failures. They bury the things they're afraid of, the things that they feel ashamed of. And so when you ask me, "What if I show up as my true self and you don't like me?" Let's consider the two possibilities for a second. One is, if it's the fake you, doesn't that consume a lot of your energy always trying to pretend to be this other person? To be more posh, or to be more educated, or whatever it is that you're pretending to be. Isn't that requiring too much of your mental energy to keep living up to this thing? And if people do fall in love with you and they admire you for that, who are they falling in love with? It's obviously not you.
And there are many stories that explore esteem, the subject, where, I think it's Cyrano de Bergerac where one person's ugly but has all the words and knows how to get people to fall in love with him. And the person's beautiful, but has no soul. And so neither person is deserving of love. So even if you show up and you're not truly yourself, people are going to fall in love with a totally fake thing. And then there's the other side. It's like, if you show up for yourself, to be true to yourself, to be real, to be genuine, to be ugly at times and be totally okay with that. I mean that in every sense of the word, inside and out. And then there might be a lot fewer people who are going to be attracted to you, although I don't believe that.
At least they're showing up for you and they accept you, and you accept each other. Isn't that the community, the tribe that you want to build? Versus a bunch of people pretending to be something that they're not? That's the real challenge here. So if you have a smaller audience because you're being real and you're being true, the good parts and the bad parts, your shadow self as well, that's the kind of tribe you want to build. And I know this about myself, and I know that I've accepted this part of my journey, is that I can communicate in a way that people find unpleasant, that I'm too direct or I'm too animated. You just fill in the word "too" and add another adjective and they're going to feel that, and I'm totally okay with that.
So the question I have to throw back at you, Anneli, for a period of time you lived in this fear that you're trying to get people, I think, to like you, to accept you, to appreciate you, and possibly even to love you. And that fear was crippling that you didn't want to show up. You didn't want to embrace all those parts of you. Do you know why or how you got through that? Because it's easy for us to lecture, to tell people what to do. It's harder for us to live that. So I'm just curious, from a learning point of view, what it is that got you through that?
Yeah, I know. I actually know what got me through that and I can tell you. It was a lot of small things I did, and it was under a period of over one year. It took a long, long time because I think when you spend so many years working for clients, just trying to fit in my whole life, and I didn't feel like I... And also what I realized was, I was very strongly connected to you and to The Futur and The Futur Pro Group. And that was also people accepting me for that. Maybe not for me, but just for that. So I think when I finally took the step and also created my own thing, that was super scary because I didn't know if people were going to show up for me or not.
But when I did it and I felt like, "It doesn't matter if they're five people or if it's 50 people or 500, I will do this because it's really important for me to do it." That was over one night that it actually changed. And then I felt very strong about that. Now I'm truly showing up as me, exactly the way I am, and I will just wait and see what happens, if people accept me or not. But I was very clear that I accepted myself first. So I think that was the big step for me, to letting go and letting go of a lot of things and then just take the step.
It sounds to me like you have to be willing to embrace and risk the fact that you're not going to be all things to all people, and that there are going to be plenty people who like you, and there's going to be plenty of people who dislike you. And you're going to be okay with the result either way.
Yeah. And I was. And for every day after that, because it was really overnight, every day after that, I just lean into who I am more and more and more. I feel so much confidence in that, and I also feel so much more relaxed because I don't have to have any mask or facade.
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back. Welcome back to our conversation.
Okay. So we talked about brands now and personal brand and being authentic and everything. And I am curious about if you have any good examples of people we might know of that you think have this, like we talked about, who's being authentic and real. Do you have any good examples?
Yes. And I think it's hard for me to say, because I don't know people that well, but there are two people that are on the opposite spectrums of personality types and how they present themselves that I think are worth talking about because they have their own energy and they have their own tribe. The first person is someone I'm just getting to know now. Her name is Sam Horn and she's written the book Pop! and also the book Tongue Fu! as far as I'm aware of and as I've seen her do public speaking. And when I talked to her, she's very different than what you would expect. She's very soft-spoken. She seems very kind and warm, though she's so sharp and funny. She's got a really witty sense of humor and I really like that. And I see her as very disarming.
And so there's this gentle quality to Sam, even though she's a professional public speaker. She's been doing this for 25 plus years. She's the author of several books, so there's a lot of credentials there, but she comes across as this warm person that you can relate to that makes you feel really comfortable. And then the opposite on the spectrum is Cindy Gallop, who is the founder of a company called MakeLoveNotPorn. It could not be more different these two women. I read something about Cindy Gallop and she's also done TED talks. She describes herself as the Michael Bay of business. She likes to blow stuff up. And it's like, these two people have embraced who they are and they presented that and they let you decide if they're right for you or not. And I admire and respect both women.
I really like both of them. They're really different, but good examples. It takes a lot of courage to not pretend to be perfect, even if you're a company. We see through it. When you try to be perfect and when a company try to be perfect, then people really just want to prove you're wrong and give you a hard time on social media when you do something wrong, because that happens. That happens to everyone, even the perfect ones. So being transparent and authentic, it's so important, that it's not just words that you flash with as your values. It needs to be words that you really live. So, okay, how do we do it? Don't hide your flaws. Try to own them.
And Brene Brown is one of my favorites and also, Chris, I think, and she talks about this a lot, that we have to be able to drop our armor and be vulnerable. That is how we truly connect with people. But doing that is also scary and we all have our inner child that want to protect us. So it takes a lot of courage to show up in all your imperfection. So, let your flaws be seen and try to own your own story. And with that, Chris, I am curious because you made this amazing transformation, going from this shy introvert to this loud social media machine. So, have you ever been afraid of showing your true self to people?
Of course. I mean the journey towards self-acceptance is long and perilous. It really is because I guess we're socialized to want to belong. It's how we are able to survive, and to be an outsider, to be different, is something that sends signals to people like, "Hey, you're not one of us." So I have, for the most part, most of my young adult life, did everything I could to fit in. And it wasn't really until I started making videos on YouTube when I was 42-years-old, in January of 2014, that I started to embrace this, to put my voice out there into the world and starting to become more comfortable with not only speaking my mind, but also seeing and hearing my own voice. That was a whole thing to embrace in itself.
As many of you know, you don't sound nor look like the way that you think, and when you look back at yourself, you're like, "Who is that weird person?" And it's been a struggle, but I believe in this exposure therapy. The more you expose yourself to the things that you don't like, the more you build resistance to it, the less power it has over you. I think that's something important. So if we take a look at say exercise, nobody is born super strong and ripped, but we know that if we expose our muscles and we push them beyond their physical limits, microtrauma happens in the muscles and they build up and you get a little bit stronger. And if you just keep doing this without overexerting yourself, one day you'll wake up and you're like, "Wow, I have more muscles than I thought." And it's not that different in showing up and being your true self.
Part of the journey there is to begin inward before you go outward, which is to do the innercise, as one author writes about this. To learn to accept yourself, to acknowledge not only the things that you're great at, which some of us have a hard time doing, but also to embrace the things that you're not so good at. The good and the bad live in unison versus being fractured as an individual, I'm a quiet, shy, socially-awkward introvert, and those words tend to be attached to the word introversion or introvert, but actually they're not mutually exclusive. You can be a loud introvert. You can be a socially smooth introvert, but just the introversion part is about how we spend our energy and how we are able to manage it. So for me, I'm confident at what it is that I do. I know how to do this. I know how to be a teacher.
The challenge for me was to do this in larger and ever-expanding circles of people. That's the part that's frightening, and so those are just the mental blocks I have to overcome, the limiting beliefs, the things that I tell myself. And for me, like I mentioned before, the beginning step was to create a video on YouTube. That process took probably a little over a year for me to start to fully lean into myself. And the little breakthroughs are very small and you can only probably see and feel them in hindsight and not as you're going through them. The first part was just agreeing to appear on camera. Okay, now that you're on camera, now the second part is to say something and to continue saying things that add value to the conversation and deliver value to your audience tuning in.
So for me, preparing, reading, writing, researching, gave me greater confidence for me to be able to speak my mind on camera, so it wasn't just done off the hip. I had to lean into the 15 years of teaching and to use that to translate that energy through a piece of glass, which is a very different process. And as I started to do this, people would see the change because they can see you captured in a moment in time from video one to say video 50. One of the common comments that I used to get was, "Chris, you're totally changing. It's so neat to see you go from this really shy person to this more magnetic person." And I know that was a compliment, but it wasn't accurate as far as I felt. I was becoming more of myself. I wasn't changing and becoming someone else because I started to let my guard down.
I started to worry less about being goofy or saying things that might rub people the wrong way, and I did say many things that did rub many people the wrong way. And I have to just come to peace with that because I'd rather people like or dislike me when I've spoken my mind than for them to like me while I'm trying to be someone else. That was the process, and once you start to have that new relationship with yourself, it's actually very easy to then translate that into other platforms. You can write a post on LinkedIn. You can create a carousel on Instagram, and you're going to want to speak your mind. See, the world is drowning with an overabundance of information. We're over communicated to. So what we need is, and what sticks out to us, is someone who says something a little bit different than the way everyone else says it.
So, you suppressing your personality, your point of view, your lens with the world, is also dulling your message down so that it becomes like everyone else. So if you want to do one thing right now, if you have to leave in two minutes, what I would strongly suggest you do right away is to write as if no one was reading and just write from your heart and communicate and express what it is that truly you feel passionate about, that you need to get off your chest. Try that for some time and see what happens. You get pushback initially, but you'll find that it's very freeing and you are not meant to be caged. And unfortunately a lot of us it's a self-imposed prison. Back over to you, Anneli.
Yeah. Okay. I think this is so, so good. And I also wonder because we see it all over social media as well, that people do share a lot of things. So I just want to clarify a little bit with you. When we talk about having a mask or not being authentic or real, are we talking about that we need to share everything about our life, and just totally share everything with the world? Or, what are we talking about here? Where is the line? And do you have a line where you feel it's, "No, I'm not talking about things like this. That is just too private for me." Where do you draw the line?
I think there's some rules that we can live by. The easiest rule that I can think of is, don't share someone else's story as a means to make your story because if they're not comfortable sharing it, don't use them as a prop to either make yourself look good or whatever. Everybody has to be able to tell their own story, so we have to move away from that. That's storytelling by proxy. The other thing is, if you're still struggling with something and you're not healed, I would caution you against sharing that because we're not trying to use social forums as a means of public therapy. It's referred to as trauma dumping. And so someone else who's still going through it, who's still struggling, if you share that, then you're using them as your therapist, and it's really difficult.
People would use the word triggering. If you've had a traumatic experience that could trigger other people as they're still working through it, that could be pretty dangerous. There's a concept and someone shared this with me. It's the difference between a scab and a scar. A scab is a wound that's not fully healed. It's very easy to reactivate. It's still tender. If that's a story that you feel that is a scab, don't share that story. But if it's a scar, it's healed and sometimes it heals stronger than it was before, then feel free to share it. When we say you should share openly the good and the bad and to take off your mask, it's really about speaking your truth and speaking your mind and having the intention of, "I'm sharing this for a purpose and a point."
A lot of times it can be about the intention behind the story. Some people will share a vulnerable story, not because it's true and authentic to them, but because they're trying to get you to connect to their backstory. They start to fabricate some struggle, some trauma, some moment when they're really vulnerable, and we can feel that. We know this. So when we say, when you're showing up as a brand, as a personal brand or as a corporate brand, you got to let people in if you want to really connect with them. And people are smarter than you give them credit for. They can see through it.
Like right now in this audience of 300 plus people, people are going to make decisions about both you and I, Anneli. They're going to say, "We connect with this person. We don't connect with that person," and that's totally up to them. But they're also going to say, "Some of this feels fabricated, or some of this feels really true and I resonate with that." So, rather than risk coming across as disingenuous or artificial, I'm just going to tell you what it is that I think and feel and I leave it up to you decide how you want to feel about it. But I'm not going to hold back. There's very few things I do hold back on and I'm okay with you judging me and not even liking me.
Okay, great. So if we're going to try to help out people right now, how to do this unlock that is difficult but necessary of your personality, can you share some steps? How do we get started, Chris?
I can. I think a lot about where we fit in the world. When I started to describe myself as a loud introvert, it was mostly to explain and to give a quick answer to a question I get a lot, which is, people are hit with disbelief because they see me making so much content on different platforms, their question is, "How can you be an introvert? There's no way you can be." So then I explain to them, "I'm a loud introvert," and they seem to buy that. So that works for me. And then that's evolved into me saying something like, "I want to be so good at content creation, that's the loud part, that I don't actually have to develop social skills." I have a hard time connecting with people in a big public space, and so I'll make the content that begins the conversation so that I can connect with people so that they'll just come to me, and it's like, "Oh, hey, we like your content. We like what you're saying."
Or, sometimes, "That was a dumb thing you said. I want to talk to you about this." I'm like, "Great." So I've been able to find what I'll describe as my two-word combination. Two words that are sometimes diametrically opposed that create a hybrid third meaning. This is the important part. So as a brand, whether you're a personal brand or a corporate brand, you're looking for that white space to be first in a market that's unclaimed by others, and the way that you do that is to be not just different, but to be radically different. So the problem, the thing that fights against you is, we all desire to be good. If you're a brand strategist or a marketing director and you talk to your client, the clients are only going to use positive words and words that everyone else has used like fresh, innovative, even sustainable. People just throw out words and there's no meaning to that, and it's become cliche.
A question I like to ask people is, "What are some of your flaws? What do people criticize you about? What do your naysayers lob against you?" When we start to look at our brand from multiple angles, it gives us a richer picture as to what it truly is. So if we can juxtapose a word from one category or one column with another and find that hybrid where the two added together equal a hybrid third new meaning, it can be amazing. When you juxtapose these two words you just need to make sure, A, that it's true, that it builds delight in the pairing of the two words, and that it's not redundant, like say, creative genius. Like, aren't geniuses creative? Or you're going to say like, "I'm a brave visionary." Well, to be a visionary, you have to be brave.
That's not creating a hybrid new meaning. It's just double downing on one meaning. Here are some examples from different brands. Like Apple used to describe themselves as insanely great. I love those two words because there's a lot of truth and a lot of meaning you can unlock from that. Like Apple, it's true that they make great products. They're singularly obsessed with everything from the packaging to the way the guts are inside the machines. That is some level of obsessive compulsive, insane, anal attention to detail. So that is the insane part, but it creates a delightful user experience. The great part. And I think that succinctly sums up their brand. Insanely great. On the other side, there's Hooters and their tagline is something like delightfully tacky.
They're self-aware. It's a little cheesy to have women wearing tank tops and short shorts serving you chicken wings, but they understand that people aren't there for the chicken wings. Adele has this campaign a little while ago called perfectly imperfect, and it's about your journey towards self-acceptance. And there's some other strange combinations like Johnny Cupcakes, a friend of mine, who took the word T-shirt, which is pretty common, pretty boring and whatever, and the word bakery, which is also a common word. And then to be able to claim they're the world's first T-shirt bakery. And then an image conjures up in our mind and then the story travels. So if you want to craft your two-word brand, it's quite simple. Make two lists. One list, use neutral but positive words to describe yourself.
And if you are stuck there as a personal brand, imagine someone who is your friend, someone who admires you, a fan, how would they describe you? Because oftentimes we're pretty thrifty with the positive words. You probably won't have a hard time with list number two, which is the neutral to negative words, because those are the words you tell yourself, the words that you open yourself up to, the ones that you magnify in your mind. Once you're done, and the key here is to generate as many words as possible without thinking or without judging, just write it down. Stream of consciousness. And then to mash them up. And what you want to do with your two-word brand is to create something that's short, that's memorable, that has some kind of repeatable story, that provokes curiosity. So you may forget everything that we said today, but hopefully you won't forget that I'm a loud introvert.
And now we are going to talk about the last step, which is, attract your tribe. So now, people, you know why we exist and who we truly are. So we stand up for something and we hopefully now also stand out in the sea of safe. So now it's time to find your people. You not just have an audience, you actually have true fans. And the fans, they're following you from platform to platform. So I'm really, really curious about this and I really want to learn how you do it. So let's look into how to do this and maybe we can break it down so we also know how to do it. So, Chris, can you tell me a little bit about your approach to marketing because it's a little bit different. How do you actually attract people instead of chasing them?
Thanks for saying that. I was like, "Shoot, I don't know how to answer this question." I'm panicking here a little bit. Okay. My approach to marketing. Well, as previously established, I'm an introvert and we tend to think of people who do well in sales and marketing as having a big personality who is very charismatic on camera and in person, and I need to find a different way of doing this. But oftentimes when people ask me, "How do I get leads for my company? How do I build an audience?" They're thinking of that other type of personality and I'm not really good at that. So I started thinking about the difference between say farming and hunting as a way to explain outbound and inbound marketing. And the hunter has a very specific type of personality, so we'll refer to that as outbound, going out and looking for leads and creating relationships.
It's high friction, and what you're trying to do as a hunter is you're going to work for long periods of time and you're going to look for that big reward. You're going to have a lot of misses and days and nights when your stomach is growling because you didn't catch anything, and your entire community or tribe depends on you coming back with the successful hunt. It can be dangerous because you can be killed, you can fall off a cliff, and there's a certain type that it's built for and you live in this cycle of feast and famine. Like when you catch something, there's that amazing gratification, the blood rushing through your body, the adrenaline, and you're the champion and you're seen as such. That is not the kind of marketing that I do. That's not the kind of sales that I do.
I do something that's more akin to farming, which is like inbound. It's slow. It's methodical. What we have to do is we have to make lots of decisions about what it is that we're going to plant. We have to deal with things like crop rotation, selecting the best seeds and preparing the soil, so to speak. And if you neglect it for a little bit, you basically waste the crop. So consistency and long-term planning and showing up is a requirement for you to be successful. But what's really neat is, once you do all of this work, you can reap the rewards. You can do this in a very predictable and methodical way. It's slow. No one's going to throw you over their shoulder and say, "That was an amazing head of corn." And I'm not even sure... A bushel of corn. I don't even know my farm terminology, right?
Nobody says that. But what you do is you can feed everyone and you have surplus if you do this well, that you can sell off the excess. So to me, I'd like to think I'm pretty good at doing inbound marketing. Creating things, planting them, nurturing them, and then being able to reap the harvest. And that is in the form of content creation. The content creation, the seed, the kernel of your idea, begins with writing. And you could do that effectively on almost every platform. But the wonderful thing is, once you write, you gain clarity through articulation, David C. Baker, and you learn something about yourself. You start to say, "Huh, I didn't know I knew that." So you discover your own process and how you make decisions, and if you can explain this to other people that's easy to remember, they reward you for it by showing up again and again.
This takes me back to a couple of different concepts that I've read from mostly, I think, Seth Godin, that marketing isn't advertising. Marketing isn't spamming and asking for things. Marketing is an act of generosity, to give without expectations, where when you do it well people will volunteer to participate in a long-term marketing campaign. So ask yourself this question. When was the last time you gave a brand, a company, or someone else permission to market to you? Probably not that often. And if you signed up for a campaign, what was it that they did? And write the things that triggered you into volunteering, and then why do you stay or why do you leave? Did they send you too many emails? Was the best piece of content the first piece and that was it? Think about that and you can learn a lot and just reverse engineer. "Well, if I responded well to this and they deliver another promise, then maybe that's something that I should do."
I know one thing that I think you're really, really good at, and maybe you can share actually how all of us can learn a little bit how to do it better, and that's storytelling. And the stories often leans into who we are as the founder. It could lean into our mission or even our customer story. Can you talk a little bit more about how we can use storytelling as a tool of building a brand?
Yes. I love storytelling, actually, and whenever I get my hands on a book or I have the opportunity to sit in front of a master storyteller, my pen is going really fast. So I'd love to share some things with you, and most recently I just got the book and it's just freshly delivered from Amazon because I pre-ordered it. It's called How to Tell a Story. It's written by the people from the Moth Radio Hour. They're brilliant because that's what they do. They just focus on storytelling. And so in the book, and I'm not done reading it yet, but I'm going to share with you in real time, full disclosure, okay? The moth in the book, it says, "Look under your psychological bed to see what you can find." I love that description because it's so visual. What are you going to find? What are you going to discover?
And if you look hard enough you're going to find your backstory. The moments that formed who you are, your beliefs and your values, the things that leave a strong emotional imprint on you. It turns out emotion and memory are closely tied together. If you think of a time when you were bored out of your mind, you may not have a lot of memory of that. But think about something that was super exciting, your first date, your first love, or a big business opportunity, a big business failure. The night before rehearsals for some play that you're doing. The emotions are tied to the memory and the story. So you need to go back in time and you need to mine those stories to bring them to surface. A couple of other things, especially when it comes to storytelling, that the more profound, personal stories that connect tend to be true and things that we've lived ourselves.
This is a quote from the book. "We listen with different ears when we can feel and believe that a story is true." And this is also backed by science. Neuroscientist Uri Hasson did these MRI scans of the storyteller and the listener, and there was an amazing discovery. The parts of the brain between the storyteller and the listener were lighting up in the exact same way. They were syncing up. And so the scientific term for this is speaker-listener neural coupling. I just love that. I need to memorize that. Speaker-listener neural, of the brain, coupling. It's pretty awesome. So this is more ammunition for you all, for you, Anneli, for me, for all of you listening, to tell a true and personal story that requires you to be vulnerable. To let go of perfection.
Now stories, the good ones, have a formula, thankfully, because I don't want you to walk away thinking, "Oh, my God, not only do I have to find my soul, I have to find my two-word brand, I also have to tell my story?" Okay. So here goes, right? Stories need conflict. They need conflict otherwise they're really boring. That means there has to be an obstacle and a moment of making a decision and taking action. Usually there's some kind of dilemma followed by a big decision, a fork in the road, if you will. And there's this expression that's called snafu, S-N-A-F-U, snafu, which says, "Situation normal, all fudged up." And you could replace the word fudge with some other word. I won't. So it's this idea that everything was going according to plan and something came in and interrupted it.
So you can set up almost every story by starting it off like this. This is how everything went, but then one day... Everything proceeded as normal except that one time. Or, but then. So you see how you're setting up? Like everything is just the way it's supposed to be, but the minute when you say, "Except that one time," the audience is like, "What happened that one time?" So there's this quote from David Montgomery. "When I was 14-years-old, I had a deeply meaningful experience. Something so real, so raw, almost divine, that I knew it was going to shape who I was to become for the rest of my life. I saw the Spice Girls on MTV." Look at that twist, setting it up for something to be really profound, but profound to David as a 14-year-old. The Spice Girls changed his life. Stories need to have stakes. The two Ss.
Stories need to have stakes. What happens if you succeed? What happens if you fail? What do you have to gain or to lose? Tell that story. And it's okay to tell a little story. Just make it a big little story. Stories need to have transformation, which is, how did you change from beginning to end? So if we had to relisten to this conversation, there are probably opportunities for both Anneli and I to deliver this information to you in the form of a story. Like Anneli talked about how she was afraid of being judged. There was a dilemma. A decision needed to be made, and then she decided to do this instead of that. And that's how she changed. And in doing so, we share our learnings with the audience so they're learning with us sitting side-by-side, feeling what we felt, seeing what we saw, hearing what we heard.
So just remember something. Storytelling, when done correctly, is an act of courage. So if you don't want or need anything, it's not a story. You have to be driven by need. A need to be accepted, a need to be loved, a need to heal an old wound, to get the acceptance of someone that you care about, to overcome some internal belief. And then you emerge changed. You are a different person at the end of the story than from the beginning. It's something that you can't unsee, something that you can't unlearn, something that you can't unbe. And I'll pause after this quote from Meg Bowles, which is, "Honesty and empathy do not flourish in the expectation of perfection."
See, we talk like this. We say, "Oh, I'm being really honest and authentic. I'm an empath and I want to build empathy and connection. I want my stories to resonate with people, but I'll pretend that I'm a perfect person." See how those are conflicting ideas there? So hopefully the second part that you take away from our conversation, if not more, is to be brave enough to tell the story and let go of your expectations of being perfect. And you'll find that you'll connect with more people, be more loved, be more respected, and you'll start to build an audience of true fans. Back over to you, Anneli.
Anneli, back over to you.
Oh, this is so good. Also, I would love to see companies do that. Do you see companies do this often? And I'm not talking about company brands, a little bit bigger brands?
Do they write things like the time you almost failed? I never see posts like that.
They don't sound like that. Usually when it comes from large corporate brands like Nike or Patagonia, it's sent through attorneys and copywriters, and so it never comes out quite that real, that raw, that unvarnished. However, Elon Musk would write a story like that. Richard Branson would write a story like that. And that's the difference between a company without a leader and a company with a leader, and what they want to say about the world.
You're so right. And that's very interesting because I think not so many companies in here or companies that would listen to this is that big as Patagonia or Nike. But the rest of them, why not try to be a little bit more authentic and real and see what happens? Because we all see it out there. We all have clients that don't have so much engagement on social media. And there's probably a reason for that. We have been going through three steps, how to create a magnetic brand.
The first step was, find your soul because people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Number two was, unlock your personality. There are thousands of people like you out there doing the same thing, but there's only one of you. So be weird, be you, and shine bright. And then third is, attract your tribe. So the vibe attracts your tribe, so let your mission and let your personality be the foundation for all your messaging and stories. You can tell. So invite people to connect with the real you.
Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sandborne for our intro music.
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