How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Posted on May 10th, 2017

You know the old joke:

Q: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: “Practice, man, practice.”

This joke was probably never funny but it was accurate. In the old days before the Internet was as common as sense is not, the ability to do something well was the best predictor of success.

People paid more money for better products. And publications such as Consumer Reports provided consumers with information about which products performed better than their competition.

But then two things happened:

First, the ubiquity of the Internet meant anything was available to anyone at anytime.

Siri and her friends Alexa and Cortana, know everything and are instantly available. Thanks to their promiscuity of knowledge, it’s no longer necessary – or even beneficial – for you to even try to corner the market on brains.

Remember bar bets? It used to be fun and sometimes profitable to actually know who played third base in the second inning of the 1976 World Series. Or what song was on the flip side of Herman’s Hermits smash hit Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.

But today those answers are just a thumb-swipe away. Knowledge isn’t power, knowledge is atmosphere.

Second, function became ubiquitous.

There was a time when people would pay more for Mercedes and Volvos because they were better automobiles. When most cars weren’t made very well, those two marques were known for exceptional reliability, often traveling half a million miles before being sold and shipped off to third-world countries where they soldiered on for millions of miles more.

Having a car that could last for 10, 15, or 20 years mattered when a car purchase was a major percentage of a consumer’s income. But once leasing became the norm for luxury cars everything changed. After all, why bother to pay more for a car that will last for a generation or two when you’re only keeping it for three years? Mercedes discovered that there was no competitive advantage to selling longevity. Instead they had to get their buyers to pay more for something else. In their case, prestige and technology.

It’s the same for professional services. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of my time traveling the world and speaking at corporate conferences and annual conventions. Because of this, lots of my speaker buddies and people interested in the business ask me what they should do to build their speaking careers.

My answer is always the same. “If you want to speak more, speak more.”

“But how do I do that?” they ask.

“Easy,” I answer. “Just land a plane in the Hudson River.”


Days after Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger saved USAirways flight 1549 he became the third-highest paid speaker in the country. He was so successful that Hollywood made a movie about his heroic act. Tom Hanks played Sullenberger.

A few weeks ago Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight and onto a YouTube video that’s been viewed millions of times. If you keep your eye on his career, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find him lecturing about customer service before long.

That’s what Dave Carroll did that after his video, United Breaks Guitars went viral. What does the singer actually KNOW about customer service? Beats the hell out of me. But his video was viewed over 17 millions times. Carroll’s infamy means he can generate interest in what he has to say and people will pay to listen.

You’ll notice that none of their exploits – Sullenberger’s piloting skills, Dao’s unfortunate ejection, nor Carroll’s busted guitar – mean any of them have the capability to do what they promise. But it’s not important. Function has become cost of entry. Today function takes a back seat to notoriety and branding.

I’m not suggesting you don’t have to be good at what you do. Only that those skill sets are NOT the reason your clients are buying your services.

Bill Clinton and Barak Obama are great speakers – yes – but that’s not why they get paid huge fees. Mercedes and Volvos are no better at getting you from Point A to Point B than Kias and Hyundais but they still command premium prices. Sully Sullenberger and Dave Carroll are not better speakers than all my pals in the National Speakers Association, but that’s not why they get high fees or more gigs either.

Today function is the ante you pay to get in the game. But it’s your brand value and your brand awareness that will help you win. Because while you won’t get to Carnegie Hall if you don’t practice, talent and virtuosity are not enough to get you there either.

Believe In Your Brand

Posted on July 27th, 2016

Believe In Your Brand

I’m sitting with a potential client who is building a nascent software company that might – or might not – be the next great discovery in his particular industry.

The problem is Mr. Entrepreneur just got back from his investment road show and he’s still in sales mode. That means he can’t answer any question with a simple response. Instead he hems and haws, pivoting away from every question and barreling headfirst into his prepackaged sales pitch.

He starts each answer with a “so” or a “well” and ends each sentence with his voice raising in pitch until only dogs can hear him. It sounds like I’m listening to a nervous 14-year old girl in the Hollywood Hills.

Finally, a smart woman sitting at the table asks him what he wants to achieve. “Well, I guess, it would be helpful if I was a thought leader” he answered slowly. “So I’d like to get on TV.”

Next she asks, “Do you really believe in your brand? Do you have a blog? Do you write?”

“So, we have a website and we repost articles and thoughts from others in the space. It generates lots of reciprocal traffic. Do you know that when we reposted Peter Thiel’s article about students no longer needing to go to college it got us our highest readership ever?”

“And who benefitted from that?” she asked rhetorically. “You or Peter Thiel?”

“So, I think that if we…”

That’s when the camel’s back snapped in two.

Believe In Your Brand
“You really think you believe in your brand? Do you know you haven’t answered a single question with a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’? Each one of your answers is a diversion, a sales pitch, a bunch of hooey. You’ve been asked the same question from three different people and you haven’t answered it once. No matter what the question is you don’t answer it, you just pivot away to the same sales pitch you’ve been delivering for weeks.”

“You want to be a thought leader? Then declare what you know that no one else does. You want to get on TV? Then believe in your brand and stand for something. If you answer an interviewer’s question the same way you’ve been answering our questions they’ll NEVER ask you back on the air.”

“You know who’s the perfect illustration of this? President John F. Kennedy. In 1961 he proclaimed that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard …because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

“Of course Kennedy had no way of knowing if we could actually get to the moon. There was no technological reason for him to believe it was possible. And everything in the country – from science education to financing to manufacturing – had to change to make it happen. But JFK did what a leader does. He boldly laid out the future and the rest of the country followed him into it. He didn’t equivocate, he didn’t question it, and sadly he didn’t live to see it.

But we took his direction and reached the goal. And we even did it a few months before our deadline. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fulfilled Kennedy’s prophecy when they became the first humans to set foot on the moon.”

The rest of the room just stared back slack jawed. I thought that perhaps she had gone too far but what the hell. In for a penny, in for a pound. She started up again:

“When did you stop believing? You got into this business for a reason, for a big idea. At some point you thought enough of your big idea to quit your job, take out a second mortgage on your house, put the rest of your life on hold, and give everything to this new business. You had to convince your parents, reassure your wife, and explain it all to your boss. And you did it because you believed. You believed in your idea. You believed in your business. And most of all you believed in yourself. You knew you’d get to the moon, didn’t you?”

“Stop repeating what other people are saying. Stop reposting other people’s work. Stop overcoming everyone’s objections. Stop compromising. Stop selling. Stop saying what you think we want to hear. Stop hearing what you think we want to say. Stop upspeaking. Stop saying ‘well.’ Stop saying ‘so.” Stop saying ‘like.’ Stop hemming and stop hawing.”

“Look at Trump. Look at Brexit. Look at Elon Musk. You may not like their politics and you may not like their motivations but you can’t question their passion, their ardor, or their results. Is what they’re saying true or correct? Will Trump be president? Will England be better? Will we have fully autonomous cars by 2020 or a colony on Mars by 2030? Who the hell knows? But they said we will and their followers believe it.”

“If you really believe that your idea can make the world better then do it. Plant your flag. Make your statement. How? Write a book. If you can’t write a book, write a manifesto. Declare your future and lead your employees to it. THAT’S the way to both be a thought leader and to create your own opportunity.”

“All you have to do is to believe in your brand.”

They Don’t Buy What You Sell, They Buy Who You Are

Posted on February 26th, 2009

Today I spoke at a combined meeting of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. My talk was on Building Brand Value and how to use branding to sell tourism in tough times.

I brought along a few of my latest book, but certainly not enough for the group that came up after my talk to ask questions and buy a copy for themselves.

As I was bending down to fetch more copies out of my briefcase, it dawned on me that even though the people were paying for a copy of my book, what they were actually buying was a little bit of me. Not in the metaphorical sense that the book represented my thinking, hard work and writing ability (or lack thereof). Rather, buying the book was the audiences’ way of getting a souvenir of the afternoon and of making the experience tangible.

Two things this experience taught me: 1) that people don’t buy what you sell, they buy who you are, which reinforces the intelligence of using various social media outreach to build relationships with your customers and potential customers and 2) to bring more books the next time I speak.

How can you use this idea to sell more of whatever it is you want to sell?

The Winner of Last Night’s Debate

Posted on October 16th, 2008

From my friend and frequent guest blogger Owen Frager:

One of our first thoughts after last night’s debate: who owns Turns out it’s the domain name of plumber Joe Francis in Amarillo, TX, and it turns out everyone else has had the same idea: Joe tells us he’s been flooded by calls since John McCain and Barack Obama spent most of the debate talking abut Ohio’s “Joe The Plumber”, whose taxes might go up under an Obama administration.

The Joe we talked to seemed to take in all in stride: “It was kind of cool, but I didn’t expect all this… We’re just kind of a small company in Amarillo.”

Among those calling him: Radio stations and people looking to buy his domain name. Joe didn’t tell us exactly how much he’s been offered, but did say it was in the “hundreds of thousands”. And yes, he’s willing to part with the name.

Our advice to Joe: Sell! Immediately!

Merry Christmas to More

Posted on December 19th, 2007

TURKEL is a travel and tourism branding agency with a mission so important we put it on our luggage. But over Thanksgiving there was a mix-up at the airport and our mission got scrambled.

But now you’re here to help us. Visit our site here and put the luggage tags in the right order. If you do it correctly you might win a chance to help those in need enjoy a more joyful new year.

Great review of a great book.

Posted on December 11th, 2007

Thanks to Google Alerts, I found this great review of my book, Building Brand Value, on the Beyond Madison Avenue blog.

Because I believe in always celebrating the good stuff, I thought a quick blog post was in order. Thanks for indulging me! And thanks for the great review!!

Interesting Use Of Negative Space or Negative Use Of Interesting Space?

Posted on December 2nd, 2007

The London-based branding design company, Enterprise IG, part of the WPP Group, decided it was time to change their name and logo. Their solution is “The Brand Union.

Those of you who are students of logo design have seen lots of examples where letters are replaced by their negative spaces. Two triangles replacing the “N” is a pretty common device (I used it years ago for an architect’s logo). But this might be the first logo I’ve seen where every letter is replaced by its negative space (except maybe the “D” which you could argue is actually there even though the positive space is actually the filler inside the letter).

How Do Ad Agencies Brand Themselves?

Posted on November 19th, 2007

Here are some gutsy ads McCann Erikson used to promote their services. I wonder if they could have sold this great campaign to their clients??!!

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